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The Transit Of Venus. June 6, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today was supposed to be the last Solar transit of Venus, i.e. its passage between us and the Sun, for 105 years.

The next such transit will occur when I’m 163 years old, and I might not be looking, so I was sorely disappointed to find the day heavily overcast with intermittent heavy rain.

Oh, well.  I had bought the necessary filter to protect my camera and keep me from going blind, but the weather is the weather, and there’s no getting around that.

So instead of sitting home sulking, I went down to Northampton for the Tuesday Market and brought Musician Extraordinaire Peter Blanchette a present – a print of a photo I’d taken a week earlier.  He seemed genuinely pleased, and I was delighted by his reaction.

I bought some home-grown shitakes and headed home through the gathering gloom, then the intermittent rain, lamenting the lost opportunity for a celestial feast.

At home, I unloaded some groceries and fired up the ‘puterbox, forlornly checking the weather.  As I pulled up a graphic map of the next six hours, I saw…

…a hole in the cloud cover moving down from the North.

Shit!   A potential opening, and me sitting here at my computer!

I threw everything I thought I might need back in the car and sped southwestward toward the high meadows of Windsor, hoping my path would somehow intersect the parting of the clouds.

I got there just as the sun waxed and waned through an impending thinning of the clouds.  Setting up Gizmo and his 2X tele-extender, I noticed a knot of Cedar waxwings on a tree a hundred yards to the southeast, doubtless anticipating one last blast of sunlight before the clouds regrouped and left them cold:

They were well over a hundred yards away, but with 800mm of lens and a stiff crop, this is what I got.

I threw on my Orion Solar Filter, and suddenly the daylight became night.

To the West, the sun was showing itself through substantial clouds:

True Solar filters have a believable reddish hue, whereas welder’s glass makes viewing safe but imparts a vivid green cast to viewing.  Between the preferred fiery cast and the fact that Solar filters are made to lock firmly onto the end of a telescope (or long lens,) I was glad to have the Orion in my kit.

As the clouds thinned, I captured this image of Venus piercing the margin of the sun:

…along with a dozen or so sunspots visible at this magnification/resolution.

I was thrilled!  My expectations, dashed an hour earlier, were being exceeded by this small meteorological miracle.

The clouds wafted by in thicker and thinner bands as the sun slunk toward the horizon, and I took well over a hundred photographs, tweaking the focus and exposure in an effort to bring something worthwhile home from this last-in-a-lifetime event.

Another shot through clouds:

…here with Venus totally committed to the Sun’s disk.

I shot skads, but culled the lot down so as not to bore you.

A few more of the ones I saved:

…and finally, Sol sinking into a sea of obscurity, still early in Venus’ transit but approaching sunset here on the East coast:

The sunspots and clouds added a lot to these shots, and were accidents well outside of my doing.  But I planned ahead and drove fast and worked hard for these images, so I’m grateful for the happy accidents which augment them.

Thank you, Father Sky.

Prepping For The Transit Of Venus. May 26, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Love and Death.
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On the evening of June 5th (here in the Western hemisphere) Venus will “transit” the sun, that is, pass in front of it from our perspective here on Earth.

It turns out that, because the Earth and Venus orbit the sun in slightly different planes, this is a rare event.  Transits occur in pairs, eight years apart… and separated from the next pair of transits by 105 years.

So if you missed the 2004 transit (as I did,) this is your last chance, unless you expect to live another 105 years.

And as I personally am skeptical about my chances of still being here at the ripe old age of 163, I’m going to try to see this coming transit.

Weather permitting, of course.  A cloudy evening could render all of this moot.  But hey, if it’s clear and I miss it because I thought it might be cloudy, the joke’s on me, right?  I mean, the only real guarantee of failure is the failure to try.

So here’s the gig thus far:

Looking at the sun, whether it’s fully exposed, transited by a planet, or eclipsed by the moon, will do substantial (and possibly catastrophic) damage to one’s eyes.  We’re constantly implored to observe our frequent Lunar eclipses only with proper eye protection or appropriate projection techniques.  The same applies to ANY solar observation.  Inexpensive eclipse glasses can be bought online.  If you’re just gonna look, PLEASE, take at least this precaution.

Now, photographing  the sun is another whole ball of wax.  Pointing any camera directly at the sun will yield nothing good, and in the case of a digital camera like mine, will fry the sensor.  With my Canon 5D Mark II, that’s a $3000 mistake.

And I don’t happen to have a spare $3000 kicking around at the moment.

So a very specific filter is in order – a Solar filter.

While a piece of #16 welder’s glass (if you could find it) might be duct-taped to the objective end of a camera lens, the result would be an unnaturally green image, coupled with the possibility that one’s Rube Goldberg contraption would fall apart in use, frying the sensor and possibly blinding the operator.

This, to me, sounds like a non-starter.

So a while back I did the (physically if not fiscally) prudent thing and ordered a real Solar filter from Orion Telescopes.  It was relatively inexpensive as filters go, though far from free.  And it renders the sun in hues of red and orange, rather than the sickly green afforded by welders’ glass.

Still, I’ve been reticent to try it.  My 5D is my future, and without a real income, destroying it isn’t an option.

So this evening I took advantage of several concurrent Mitigating Circumstances to get brave and shoot the sun – a gathering of thin, high clouds and a scrim of trees right here in my front yard.

The filter fitted nicely over Gizmo’s objective end, and with Liveview (mirror lock-up/LCD display) in play, I panned the sky for my prey, then focused on the intervening trees to get this shot:

I know, I’m skirting the issue, dodging the bullet, approaching this project with my tail between my legs.  But in this case I don’t see the advantage of boldness; I’m not willing to trash my 5D to prove my manhood.

The next step in this process, as I envision it, is to photograph some subtle, low-light scenes and try to determine if my sensor has been affected in any way.  Then it’ll be on to photograph a less obscured sun and repeat the evaluation.

With any luck I’ll have allayed my fears and learned enough about this set-up to be ready to photograph the Transit on June 5th.