As Skepchick’s token astronomer*, I feel it is my duty to inform you dear readers of all the awesome cosmological things that are happening in the universe. You may have already heard that a very rare, twice in a lifetime event is happening this Tuesday/Wednesday, the transit of Venus across the Sun as viewed from Earth. I have all the details on how to observe this amazing event without burning your damn retina and making yourself blind. I’ll also tell you how to join in on the action even if you are in a part of the world that will miss the event due to nighttime and/or bad weather.
(UPDATE, yo! The Webcast mentioned below will be hosted by Virtual Star Party on Google Plus, so go circle or bookmark or whatever it now to make sure you don’t miss out.)
Of course, all of us at CosmoQuest have been working hard to make sure you get all your transit information. The Bad Astronomer also has all the information a budding space nerd could want! Here, I’m going to give you some of the highlights and show off my setup. Get yourself ready for The June 5th event by checking the transit time for your location.
In 2004, when Venus last passed across the disc of the Sun, social media really wasn’t a “thing” just yet. Since I was in a part of the US that couldn’t actually see the transit, a bunch of us astronomy kids crammed around our office computers to watch the transit happen online. The internet has come a long way in the interim, and there will surely be dozens of live feeds broadcasting the event. I can just about guarantee that the most hilarity will be happening on Google+ in a live Hangout (find your time) hosted by Fraser Cain, Pamela Gay, and Phil Plait. I’ll be there as well, using my homemade observing apparatus that I just put together an hour ago.
As those who helped me move halfway across the country over the last month know, I own several telescopes. Two of these are busted, dusty, cracked old telescopes that got me through childhood. In fact, one of them is already partly melted from observing sunspots in high school. Let this be a warning to you… THE FOCUSED ENERGY OF THE SUN CAN MELT AND BURN THINGS. Don’t put your eye in the way, and protect yourself, okay! Don’t come crying to me when your retina is on fire. You have been warned.
So, I took my 3-inch Newtonian to make a “sun funnel,” following the instructions here. The materials are cheap and the instructions are easy to follow, so I set out to make one of my own for the webcast.
Well, that was the idea, anyway. I got a bit frustrated with the hose clamps and couldn’t find quite the right funnel… sorry confused Home Depot dude. Much like my last car, the apparatus is being held together with duct tape. This is durable, but I won’t be surprised if things start melting and getting gross. I’m already going to have to de-sticky-fy my nice eyepieces. I also did this *just now* in preparation for Tuesday, so I didn’t get the fancy projection material, just a plain white bandana. Oh yeah, and sanding down of the plastic after sawing off the ends? That’s just aesthetics. My version took a whole 10 minutes, so give it a try.
This will work well for any telescope, but a simple projection onto white paper will work with a telescope, even a Galileoscope, or binoculars. I have all those materials on hand in case I need to switch it up during the event, and I’ve used such a setup before to view sunspots. You can even make a pinhole camera out of a cardboard box if you want to be really low-tech about it.
The safest way to view the transit will be with an online show such as ours, but there is something special about seeing the phenomenon with your own eyes capturing the photons. Safely, of course. Much has been made about safe solar-viewing glasses, but they are already in short supply since we just had an annular eclipse. If you decide to go that route, make sure they are from a reputable dealer, and don’t accept any homemade substitute. Regular sunglasses will NOT protect you when staring at the sun! Though I have a pair of safe solar glasses, thanks to NASA, Venus will be a tiny spot on the sun’s surface, just barely resolved by your eye. My eyesight is pretty bad to begin with, but the glasses are SUPER COOL! (sarcasm)
I was super excited to watch the annular eclipse a few weeks ago with friends on the interwebs even though it was cloudy at my location. I’m even more psyched to watch the transit now that I’m actually prepared! No matter where you are, you can watch live in real life or online, so I don’t want to hear any excuses of, “Oh I missed it!” The next time this happens will be 2117, so unless you plan on being a cyborg or head-in-a-jar, you probably won’t be around to see it.
*Sorry, Phil. I know how much you wanted this job.