Yesterday I live tweeted/instagrammed/blogged/Facebooked the transit of Venus. All that running up and down stairs, stopping the telescope and screen from falling over, searching for the sun, swearing at Telstra as my mobile internet goes out again, and trying to take photos while balancing everything in the wind was exhausting. Thank whatever deity for fast shutter speeds so I got some photos of the wildly shaking things on my screens.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to find the sun? It’s that big, bright, obvious thing in the sky. How can it be so hard to find??? And then NOT looking at it through the telescope. So you have to find a landmark, like the power lines. Carefully move around looking for something to be a bit brighter, then head towards the brightness. When it gets really bright shut your eyes and try to tighten the tripod adjustments without moving it all around. Then
rescue line up the screen and try to gently move the telescope tiny amounts until you see an image. Attempt to tighten everything again while keeping the image on the screen and not leaning on anything, because as soon as you stop leaning the image disappears.
Manoeuvre the camera towards the screen and snap lots of photos of the insanely dancing image before anything blows over. Repeat with phone, except this time you have to try to balance it and touch the button with your left hand so you aren’t in the shot and not hit anything on the touch screen accidentally. Now I know why all the old paintings of astronomers are inside looking through windows. Seventeenth century glass may have sucked but it was still better than wind.
Keep everything upright and the image somewhere on the screen while you check the instagram filters to see if it’s clear enough to use. Otherwise repeat. If it is, wave the phone around and try to get the wifi signal from the house back so it will go. Otherwise run inside where it is stronger and wait for the phone to come back online. I occasionally used to think I should secure my home wifi but figured I live in the middle of nowhere and I wasn’t going to mess with it. I am now so grateful I didn’t, and reassured that it barely reaches my driveway so anyone stealing it will be very obvious. At least when Telstra messes up the mistakes cancel each other out! (Technically the unsecured internet is my fault rather than Telstra’s, but when the tech walked me through setting it up he did it unsecured and I wasn’t game to change it on my own.)
And then stop and marvel at what you are seeing. It’s not just lights on a screen and technical things that need to hit all the social media channels. That is another planet. It isn’t a little point of light but a full circle, and it’s roughly the same size as Earth. Think how enormous that makes the sun. I no longer have to believe or think that the Sun is bigger than the Earth, for I’ve seen it and now I know.
The transit took about 6 1/2 hours, which sounds like a long time but is really a cosmic instant. I no longer have to wonder or calculate how quickly we are flying through space – an entire planet passed us in only a few moments.
Think of how many people have gone before you. Captain Cook was sent to Tahiti to observe the transit of Venus in 1769 before continuing to map the east coast of Australia. Kepler worked out how to use a transit to find the distance to the Sun. Edmond Halley of comet fame observed Mercury in 1676 and proposed using the 1761 Venus transit. And now it’s going to help us learn about exoplanets in other solar systems. Think of all the people around the world who are doing the same things as you. This is something amazing that connects us to the past, the future, and shows us we are a tiny part of an enormous whole. That’s why I’m running up and down stairs and made my kids late to school – they will never have another chance to see this.
There were quite a number of live feeds available, I even had one on my blog. And I’m sure it is all over YouTube and the internet by now – Wikipedia were updating during the transit. But in a world where you can see anything you want in high definition at a convenient time, there is something magical about sitting in the dirt to adjust a telescope and watching a tiny little image on a children’s whiteboard.
It’s real. I really saw the shadow of a planet, with nothing between us but some glass and atmosphere.
That little dot on the left – I held it in my hand.
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