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My Photos of Venus Against the Sun: Last Transit Until 2117!

Updated on August 30, 2014
Greekgeek profile image

Daughter of a rocket engineer, granddaughter of a planetarium director, I've been a huge fan of astronomy and space exploration all my life.

My Photo of Venus in Transit

Transit of Venus, June 5, 2012. 6:25 PM Pacific Time from Orange County Great Park, California.
Transit of Venus, June 5, 2012. 6:25 PM Pacific Time from Orange County Great Park, California. | Source

A rare solar system alignment

Following my photos of the May 20, 2012 solar eclipse using a point-and-shoot digital camera and a backpacker's telescope, I decided to get my money's worth out of my mylar, duct tape and butter tub homemade solar filter.

On June 6, the planet Venus passed exactly between the Earth and the Sun, creating a mini-eclipse or black spot against the sun. This is called a transit, from the Latin for "across" and "go." (Here's NASA's chart of Venus' path.)

It's not spectacular: even with a better telescope than mine, all you'd see is a black circle. But it's humbling to realize that Venus is basically Earth's evil twin, only a few hundred miles smaller (and a few hundred degrees hotter). Yes, our own planet is a speck, just like this.

In southern California, Venus' amble across the solar disc started at 3:06 PM and was not quite finished when the sun set. Again, we're fooled by astronomical distances and scales. The Sun's diameter is 864,949 miles (See this comparison of the Sun and Earth). Despite what it looked like, Venus isn't snuggled up against the Sun: the second planet is 67 million miles away, speeding around the Sun at 78,341 mph!

Too many numbers, Mr. Spock! The point is: Venus is moving really fast, but it's so far away, and the Sun is so big, that watching a transit of Venus is like watching the hour hand on a wristwatch.

Sizes of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars Compared

Relative sizes of the inner planets from NASA's multimedia gallery.
Relative sizes of the inner planets from NASA's multimedia gallery. | Source

Why It Matters

Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens
Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens

Read the amazing story of how the 19th century international community set aside wars and came together for a grand scientific project: to discover a "celestial yardstick" (as astronomy Edmund Halley put it) that would allow astronomers to calculate the size of the solar system and the distances of Venus, the Sun and Earth from one another.

 

So What's the Big Deal?

This is an extremely rare astronomical event. All the planets are orbiting the sun at their own speeds, and those orbits aren't perfectly flat: they're tilted a little this way and a little that way. This means it's very uncommon for two planets to line up exactly like a pair of croquet hoops with the sun as the post.

Venus last transited in 2004, but before that, 1882. When will it happen again? The next transit of Venus will be in 2117.

So, why is the transit of Venus important enough to garner attention, other than the fact that it doesn't happen but once or twice in a lifetime? It's just a curiosity now, but in the 1800s, an amazing international scientific project was launched to measure the transit of Venus accurately from many different locations in order to calculate its distance from the Sun, our distance from the Sun, and the rough size of the solar system. That tiny black speck helped us understand just how vast the universe is. (See this article for a rare photograph of the 1882 transit: it looks a lot like mine!)

A Few More of My Photos of Venus Against the Sun

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The sun pre-transit: 2:42 PM. Testing the rig. That's a lot of sunspots! The sun's activity waxes and wanes in an 11-year cycle, and "solar max" (maximum flares/sunspots" is in 2013. Transit of Venus has begun. 5:26 PM. (Note: photo is a mirror image due to my telescope's optics -- it's flipped right-to-left.) Transit of Venus 6:10 PM. It's moving! Also, the sunspots are changing slightly.7:28 PM. As sunset approaches, the sun changes from white to yellow as its light hits us through more of the Earth's atmosphere.Speaking of sunset (7:47 PM), towards the end, the Sun encountered thin clouds or a haze layer. Also, near the horizon, the solar disc appears flattened. It reminded me of Saturn with its light bands, flattened shape and dusty yellow color.
The sun pre-transit: 2:42 PM. Testing the rig. That's a lot of sunspots! The sun's activity waxes and wanes in an 11-year cycle, and "solar max" (maximum flares/sunspots" is in 2013.
The sun pre-transit: 2:42 PM. Testing the rig. That's a lot of sunspots! The sun's activity waxes and wanes in an 11-year cycle, and "solar max" (maximum flares/sunspots" is in 2013. | Source
Transit of Venus has begun. 5:26 PM. (Note: photo is a mirror image due to my telescope's optics -- it's flipped right-to-left.)
Transit of Venus has begun. 5:26 PM. (Note: photo is a mirror image due to my telescope's optics -- it's flipped right-to-left.) | Source
Transit of Venus 6:10 PM. It's moving! Also, the sunspots are changing slightly.
Transit of Venus 6:10 PM. It's moving! Also, the sunspots are changing slightly. | Source
7:28 PM. As sunset approaches, the sun changes from white to yellow as its light hits us through more of the Earth's atmosphere.
7:28 PM. As sunset approaches, the sun changes from white to yellow as its light hits us through more of the Earth's atmosphere. | Source
Speaking of sunset (7:47 PM), towards the end, the Sun encountered thin clouds or a haze layer. Also, near the horizon, the solar disc appears flattened. It reminded me of Saturn with its light bands, flattened shape and dusty yellow color.
Speaking of sunset (7:47 PM), towards the end, the Sun encountered thin clouds or a haze layer. Also, near the horizon, the solar disc appears flattened. It reminded me of Saturn with its light bands, flattened shape and dusty yellow color. | Source

NASA Satellite Timelapse Photography in Multiple Wavelengths

Comments

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    • Greekgeek profile imageAUTHOR

      Ellen 

      6 years ago from California

      Melis Ann: I can't really hold with astrology, having been born minutes apart from and in the same room with a Olympic-class athlete with a gift for social graces and an utter indifference to academics. And yet...and yet... something happened yesterday that *almost* makes me believe in that kind of thing. The timing was eerily appropriate. I wrote about it on my mythology blog:

      http://www.mythphile.com/2012/06/the-transit-of-ve...

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 

      6 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Very interesting. So, what strange occurrences on Earth can we blame on this rare planetary alignment... Great photos of the transit of Venus by the way!

    • LawrenceS profile image

      Lawrence Stripling 

      6 years ago

      I enjoyed it, and great pics. Thank you for sharing!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Very interesting. I am now aware of the phenomenon, the transit of Venus. You have a fascinating hobby, thank you for sharing it with your story and photos.

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