Home Made Science Project: Venus Transit

*Re-posting this from the old blog, June 5, 2012. Obviously, right? Since there has not been one since summer 2012, and won’t be another Venus Transit until 2117.*

I decided yesterday that I was going to try to view the Transit of Venus. I’m sure you heard about the Transit of Venus, the twice in a century occurrence when Venus’ orbital path crosses the sun. It happened in 2004, and again today, and will next occur in 2117.

How I was going to view the transit was a bit more difficult. I’ve made pinhole viewers and used binoculars to view daytime solar events in the past, but read that Venus woudn’t be visible through those tools. Still, I tried to use binoculars to project the sun and Venus onto some white paper. Not surprisingly, that failed–apparently our low altitude and northern latitude make these devices ill-equipped.

So I turned to my telescope to figure out a way to view the transit. I have a small telescope that I love very much. It is among my most prized possessions.

I first tried using the body of the telescope in the same manner as the binoculars, to capture the sun and project it through the mirrors. But that brought me nowhere.

Then, I was holding just the lens, capturing the light and reflecting it to the pavement. It cast almost a perfect circle of the sun. That reflection brought about the answer: a pinhole box, only not with a pinhole, but a telescope lens. Easy enough. I found a box in the basement, taped off the holes, taped in some white paper to catch our reflection.  And voila.

This brought out a wonderful view of a circle filled with a whole lot of specks and spots, none of which were Venus. The lens held dust and specks and a small bubble in the glass, all of which was far more obvious looking at the sun than it ever has been looking at the stars. But I was looking for Venus, and in an attempt to find it, I slowly turned the lens, searching for the spot that did not turn. Nothing.

But I still didn’t quit. Instead, I added another lens to the project, a 2x enhancing lens to  double our luck.  So our new home-science project looked like this box. Essentially I doubled the lens strength (and cleaned the lenses as well as I could, with the help of Luminous Home on that one).

Ok. So I had my viewer. I still had a lot of specks and spots and dust particles mucking up the projection I was receiving on the white paper, but I decided there was nothing more I could do about it, and set about to slowly turning the lens to find the spot that didn’t move. I looked at a live-stream to get a sense of where to search on the paper, and LO and BEHOLD, it was there.  A spot on the paper that did not move with the lens, and seemed a pretty good locational match with the live feed.

So here are some images pulled from a delightful 1.5 hours spent on home made science project. The pics were taken about 6:15-6:25, from Cherokee Park neighborhood in St. Paul, MN.

And another:

And one more:

This is science at it’s most amateur, but about as rewarding as you can get. That said, there are no guarantees here about accuracy. Still, here it is, the  twice a century view of Venus, home made with a telescope lens, a cardboard box, and some enthusiasm. It’s an interesting experience, working so hard to view a speck on a circle of light.

The important point, though, is not the what on the paper but the what of the solar system, and reality. The movement of the planets, the Time and Space inherent in what is being viewed as a planet not Earth travels in front of our system’s sun. This transit is the height of rarity. That event will ever happen again. Another Venus Transit will happen, but not this one, and no one who partook in this viewing of the Venus Transit will be alive next time it happens. To see it not on the computer but through the work of my own two hands, is a special experience. I’m happy to have done it. And Lumious Home seems to think it was about as excited as she has seen me in a while, and that’s saying something. This is rare, breathtaking thing to behold, even if it’s just a speck of shadow on a piece of paper. It’s Venus, as I will never see it again.

UPDATE: Here’s what you’re looking at, from science at its most professional:

image coutresy of NASA

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