2012 Venus Transit and Annular Eclipse

I’m gearing up for two big eminent celestial events. On May 20th I’ll be near Page Arizona observing an annular eclipse of the Sun and on June 5th, weather permitting, I’ll be in St. Louis watching Venus creep on the disc of the Sun for the last time in my lifetime.

Eclipses and transits are spectacular events for amateur astronomers and innocent bystanders. Of the two eclipses offer the greater spectacle. In fact, for sheer unbridled awesomeness, it’s hard to beat a total eclipse of the Sun! You can add up all the World Cups and Super Bowls ever played and they would barely register on the logarithmic total solar eclipse spectacle scale. The one total solar eclipse I saw easily ranks as the greatest thing I’ve ever seen and I’m including the births of my children. The May 20th solar eclipse is annular so it’s not in the same galaxy as a total but annular’s have their charms. At maximum eclipse the Sun appears like a perfect blazing ring of light. In Page it will be 10 degrees above the north-western horizon: a good altitude for composing solar landscape pictures.

By comparison the June 5th transit of Venus will not be a big show. Without proper equipment you won’t be able to see it at all. During transit Venus looks like a little black dot on the Sun. The best way to see this event is with telescope or binocular projection. Under no circumstances should you look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection!  For safe transit viewing techniques look here. In 2004 I used binocular projection to view the last transit of Venus from Ottawa Canada. Transits of Venus come in pairs, eight year apart, followed by over a century before the next pair.  After 2012 you will have to wait until 2117 to see another transit of Venus. This is our last chance people. Yeah mortality seriously blows.

2004 transit of Venus from Ottawa Canada. I used 10×50 binoculars to project an image of the Sun. The little dark spot on Sun’s limb is the planet Venus.

5 thoughts on “2012 Venus Transit and Annular Eclipse

  1. How such a ‘filter trick’ could work can be seen in http://twitpic.com/24qckx and http://twitpic.com/24qdfp I got by taping several layers of ‘space blanket’ to a bus window (see http://www.astro.uni-bonn.de/~dfischer/stories/tse2010 for context). For *landscape* photographers the best situation would be a uniform layer of not too thick clouds or dense fog – http://www.astrofoto.ro/category/astro-photo/sun/2011-pse has some striking examples of the latter situation during a partial eclipse last year in Romania. Good luck …

    1. Neat idea. It would have never occurred to me to try something like this. I might just give your method a shot. Lesser artists borrow great artists steal!

  2. Annular eclipses are awfully hard to “compose” with landscapes unless they are extremely low on the horizon or otherwise heavily extincted by haze or a cloud layer of the perfect thickness: since a substantial amount of photosphere remains unocculted, the task is the same as compositing the normal Sun with foreground – with a properly exposed Sun, that is. With other words: impossible to begin with (unless you employ distinctly unnatural tricks with a half-filtered field of view) …

    1. Thanks for your advice. The last annular eclipse I saw was in 1994 and the Sun was high in the sky. I watched with a crowd in downtown Syracuse New York and most people were amazed at how bright the Sun remained even with the moon forming a perfect bulls-eye on it. This effect was even more dramatic on a total solar eclipse in Zambia. The sky and ground remained well illuminated with only a tiny portion of the Sun’s disc exposed. When the moon covered the last tiny sliver of Sun it was like turning off a room light. The corona burst forth, the purest white imaginable, and the sky instantly turned into a deep dusk. I’ll try my best to get some decent shots. There are dramatic river canyons near Page. With a little luck I might be able to work in a neat foreground but you are right that I will have to resort to “tricks” to get a properly exposed Sun and landscape.

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