Thursday, June 7, 2012


English: Transit of Venus - Venus completely o...
English: Transit of Venus - Venus completely over the sun Italiano: Transito di Venere sul Sole Русский: Прохождение Венеры по диску Солнца (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Why was the recent Transit of Venus across the Sun such a big event and why have I been so enthralled with it?

1.  It’s rare. Even though Venus revolves around the Sun once every 225 Earth days (approximately), the tilt of its orbit relative to that of the Earth’s allows for this “line of sight” view only two times (separated by eight years) every 243 years -

2.  Its duration (around 6 hours) was much longer than other viewable-from-earth astronomical phenomena such as lunar and solar eclipses which last only a couple of hours at most from start to finish.  Therefore, the window of opportunity for watching the event was much greater.

3.  It is unusual to be able to see Venus at all during the day, even though it is easily viewable in the evenings and mornings.

4.  Scientifically, transits of Venus have been very important in that the study of them helped to produce accurate estimates of the distance from the Earth to the Sun.  This distance, deemed one astronomical unit, is useful as a scale for describing the distances between other objects in the universe as well, in particular those of our own Solar System.

Furthermore, the June 2012 transit is anticipated to assist in the refinement of techniques that will be used in the search for exoplanets – planets that revolve around stars other than our Sun:

5.  Finally, it provided a great excuse for professional and amateur astronomers alike to commune and enjoy an important celestial sight. NASA even provided live webcasts of the event from several high-profile venues for people wanting to watch the spectacle, but were without the ability to do so:

Additionally, many other local, formal and informal viewing gatherings were held around the world.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Eclipse AnularEclipse Anular (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ok, it was only an annular solar eclipse, and it was only partially visible from Aspen, but I did see it (well, at least its projected image, that is)!

I had been hearing and reading about this annular solar eclipse for several weeks, but May 20, 2012 snuck up on me, so I was not as prepared as I could have been for the viewing. This being said, I was able to use a binocular image projection technique I had come across in my brief pre-eclipse investigations to view a projected image of this relatively rare event.

(I was warned profusely and adamantly not to use the binoculars to view the Sun directly – so I did not!!!

I did plan far enough ahead to test this technique earlier in the day on the 20th. I pulled out a sheet of white paper and my binoculars, uncapped only one side of the binoculars (recommended by several sources), and oriented them so that the image of the Sun would filter through the binocular lenses onto the surface of the paper.

This worked out even better than I expected - I could even see sunspots!