Venus Transit

Daytona beach, FloridaU.S.A.

June 8, 2004

Article by Philip Steffey

Photos by Matt Allard

*click on any thumbnail to see the full size image

                                                                                               

Shortly after 6 A.M. on June 8, 2004, we arrived at Sun Splash Park on the beach to observe the final hour of an event that had last occured 122 years ago, beginning at sunrise.  Thick, somewhat broken clouds over the Gulf Stream hid much of the ocean horizon from southeast to northeast, but their motion and low tops made us optimistic.  Roger Hoefer, Curator of Astronomy for the Museum of Arts and Sciences and Volusia County Schools, already had telescopes set up, aimed toward where the Sun soon would rise.  A few visitors milled around him, and other people played on the beach sand beyond.

My 80 mm refractor was set up with a full-aperture Sun filter for direct viewing as soon as the Sun broke out of the distant clouds, also a 15 year-old projection box to display Venus on the solar disc to several people at once when the sunlight was intense enough to form a bright image on the white screen.

The sunrise wasn't clear but it was beautiful, with brilliant, pale yellow cloud edges, orange gaps, and crepuscular rays appearing briefly against the higher, bluish, clear sky.  The calm ocean surface in the low foreground was milky-glassy.  A weak southeasterly breeze made for comfort without disturbing our telescopes.

About 6:35 most of a low, yellowish-orange Sun appeared in a narrow gap in the distant clouds, then thinning, and at only 15X my 'scope showed Venus as a sharp, black spot well inside the southern limb.  For the next 10 minutes, with brief cloud interruptions, several visitors were treated to this view.

Then I removed the filter and projected an 8 inch-diameter solar image into the box.  Although the Sun's altitude was only 4 to 11 degrees for the rest of the transit, the projected image was adequatelybright to show Venus well.  The "seeing" was very good, probably because we viewed through stable, moderately humid air.  Third Contact occured near 7:07 and the planet became a half-disc, then a tiny notch in the solar limb till 7:30.

 In Roger's 4-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope at medium magnification, Venus was very sharp, and I saw no atmospheric halo around its black disc.  There was no sensible "black drop" effect before Third Contact in the image projected with my refractor.  Finally, to me, Venus appeared larger than its actual 1/32 of the Sun's diameter when the whole solar disc was seen.

We were fortunate to see anything of this rare event, on the last of  several mostly clear mornings.  The public turnout was about 30 people.  The event had no scientific value, at least using our instruments, but we hope it was aesthetically pleasing and educational to all who participated in our showing.


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