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My Transit of Venus, 2012

So Venus could be seen transiting across the face of the sun yesterday, starting in the late afternoon where I live in Mississippi. This happens only rarely, twice in an eight year period every 115ish years or so. I had only seen pictures in 2004, and decided to try for a more personalized experience this time around. I wanted to see it with my own eyes.

I knew that one can’t look at the sun (without special eye armor I hadn’t acquired) unless it’s the big dim orange disc on the horizon, so I tried to think of places I could actually see that from – I considered pulling over at the top of a hill on the highway, hand-waving my way past the desk and into the elevator to a 20-something floor conference room at a local hotel (would’ve been nice if they’d had a public event), climbing onto my roof, climbing the large sweet gum tree in my back yard (which I threaten to cut down every year when it litters the ground with spiky gumballs, but I do appreciate its shade), etcetera ad infinitum.

But the deal breaker in all of these was that my family couldn’t partake. My daughters are probably among the most astronomy-literate kids short of the children of actual astronomers. I wanted them, and my wife, to see this. So when I got home, we made a quick pinhole projector using a couple of paper plates and the tin foil in the cutout square. The sky was clear. We saw the disc of the sun, but it was too blurry.

I got the binoculars. After I figured out which way to turn them, presto, there was the sun, there was Venus. A tad of focus revealed a perfectly clear little black dot the size of a pinhead. The family had wandered by then, and I ran giddily hooting into the house to retrieve them. I grabbed some books to set the binocs on (so they’d be perfectly steady). The family liked.

I took some close ups of the setup and projection from a couple of inches away. I should post them. They came out well. As I fooled with the setup for a while, the sun lowering, some nice shadows appeared within the projected disc, pine needles in perfect focus, and what looked like a little multi-stemmed flower, I think some seed pod from another treetop. Best and one-in-a-million was the astounding appearance of a perfect little silhouette of a bird – which had to be flying directly toward or away from me – with outstretched wings flapping slowly like a little animation in the sun’s disc. About three seconds, and it was gone.

I went inside then and got the kids interested in the various online presentations, we alternated between Phil’s and NASA’s.

All in all, a great experience, the experience I had aspired to.