Transit of Venus
June 8, 2004
Tenth floor of the AUM Library Tower
Montgomery AL

Considering the hour of the day and that it fell in the middle of a work week for most of us, little serious thought (and no planning) had been put into organizing a group meeting for this historic event.  That was before we were contacted by Mr. Joe Albree of the Department of Mathematics at Auburn University at Montgomery.  Joe teaches the History of Mathematics course at AUM and saw this as on opportunity to have his class experience first-hand, the kind of event that was used to determine the Astronomical Unit – the distance from the Sun to Earth that they had studied.  Joe called to ask us if we would be interested in sharing our solar filtered telescopes with his math class. Just like Blanche Dubois, we’ve  always depended on the kindness of strangers. We jumped at the opportunity.  Here's Joe's background on the event and its history:
 
 

 
 

Joe Albree, Department of Mathematics, AUM

A Transit of Venus is not one of the heaven’s more spectacular events, but it is so rare an  occurrence that no one alive today has ever seen one.

What exactly is it?  When the Sun, Venus and the Earth are in perfect alignment, Venus will appear to trace a path across the disk of the Sun.  If Venus were only bigger, as seen from the Earth, this would be an eclipse.  Instead, Venus appears as only a black dot on the Sun’s face.  Over a period of up to nine hours, Venus’ shadow will move from one side of the Sun’s disk to the other — it will transit the face of the Sun.

In 1716, Edmund Halley (1656-1742) [“A new Method of determining the Parallax of the Sun, or his Distance from the Earth,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, vol. 29] first described how to use several carefully timed observations of a Transit of Venus from different locations on Earth to obtain what we now call the A.U., the Astronomical Unit.  (Halley’s original paper is available online through NASA’s Transit site; see below.)  In outline, the procedure was direct: calculate the Sun’s parallax from the multiple observations of the Transit’s ingress and egress; find the distance between the Earth and Venus at the time of the Transit; and then finally use this distance in Kepler’s Third Law to calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun at this time.

Halley went on to confirm the “schedule” of  Transits of Venus.  Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) had predicted but did not live to see the Transits of December 7, 1631, and December 4, 1639.  Halley predicted the Transits of June 6, 1761, and June 3, 1769, knowing that he would not live long enough to see either of them.  However, because of Halley’s paper (and because of his stature), the 1761 Transit stimulated the world’s first large-scale, multi-national scientific endeavor, and in 1769, the scientific efforts were even greater.  Practical results, however, were somewhat disappointing due to the weather, politics, and other contingencies. 

The next Transits of Venus occurred on December 9, 1874, and December 6, 1882.  As we can see, these Transits come in pairs, the Transits in each pair separated by almost exactly 8 years, and the pairs themselves separated by either approximately 122 years or 105 years.

In Alabama on June 8, 2004, the Transit of Venus will be in progress at sunrise, 5:37AM CDST in Montgomery.  Depending on the how much the horizon deviates from the ideal, we should be able to begin observing the transit shortly thereafter. The transit will end about 6:26AM CDST.  (If you want to plan ahead, in Alabama, we should be able to observe all of the June 5, 2012 Transit of Venus!)  The AUM departments of mathematics and physical sciences would like to join forces in some way with the Auburn Astronomical Society to view the Transit of Venus on the morning of June 8, 2004.

See www.transitofvenus.org  for vast amounts of information and links to NASA and other pertinent sites.
— Joe Albree, Department of Mathematics, AUM. May 1, 2004
 
 

Joe visited with us at our May meeting and discussed his plans for viewing the transit.  Special emphasis was placed on the safety aspects of observing the Sun by using only a safe solar filter or projection method be used to observe this rare event.

On the day of the event, I arrived at AUM at 4:30AM.  Several people were already set up in the room on the tenth floor of the AUM Library Tower that  Joe had selected. Originally, Joe had sought the availability of the roof of the AUM Library Tower, but learned that WSFA’s Weather Radar was putting out dangerous levels of RF energy up there.  Plan “B” was the  The East Room -- a large conference room located on the tenth floor.  Ray Kunert visited the room and reported, as Joe told us at the May meeting, that although the windows in the room are recessed, viewing to the northeast will be good.  The windows have permanent blinds (adjustable tilt, but not “raisable”) within the double panes, but they posed no problem with the Sun’s image when focused at infinity.  This minor problem was more than offset by being able to enjoy the event in the comfort of air conditioning!

Venus would be nearing the end of her transit at sunrise in Montgomery on June 8, 2004 at 05:33.  The Sun rose at 62 degrees azimuth into a bank of clouds on our otherwise unobstructed northeastern horizon, and spoiled the first several minutes of the event. Venus then teased us like and exotic dancer, with sneak peeks between the clouds until about 15 minutes before she exited, stage right.  The atmosphere in the room where we were gathered was one of  quiet ecstasy during the transit.  Everyone had a good view at one time or another as we took turns at the telescopes.  At the end, we gave her a round of applause and a curtain call , but there was no encore -- not for another 8 years anyway.  It was a truly memorable experience.

Ray Kunert observed chromatic aberration (red tinge on one side of the image – blue on the other side) above and below Venus with his 10-inch Meade SCT.  We mused over why this might be as the phenomenon had never been seen in this instrument before.   Subsequently, we read numerous reports of this on astronomy mail lists.  The consensus seemed to be that it was atmospheric chromatic aberration and that it was more pronounced when seen using larger apertures.

Joe Albree:   Thanks to all of you in the Auburn Astronomical Society for making last Tuesday really special.  I know that the students and faculty who we did have there benefited from having all of you there also.  With the death of President Reagan last week, I believe the coverage that the Transit would have gotten was probably scaled back in most newspapers and TV stations.  But, how many events from that day 122 years ago (even those that made the front pages of all the newspapers) are still remembered?  Without meaning any disrespect to Mr. Reagan or expressing any political partisanship, in the long view of history, I think we arguably had an event that was at least as newsworthy.

We are looking forward to Frank Williams' photos also, and I hope to post some of them on our bulletin board.  I'm confident that he would welcome publication of some of them in "Astrofiles."  I've forwarded your note to him.

Joe Albree
Department of Mathematics
Auburn University at Montgomery
Box 244023
Montgomery, AL 36124-4023

Thanks to all who pitched in.  Attending were:   Paul Williamson, Susanna Fillingham, Casey Curran, Mark McGregor, Robert West and grandson Tom Mooneyham, Rhon & Joyce Jenkins, Rod Havens, Robert Rock, John Clifton, Russell Whigham, Ray Kunert, Mike Holley, Taylor Jernigan, Ricky Woods - Math Club President, Randy Russell – AUM Astronomy Professor, Jack and Gina Franz & family.  And finally, special thanks to Joe Albree – Math Professor and event  organizer, for making this happen.
 

Nearing 4th Contact

John Clifton:  Here's the best shot I got of Venus this morning. I was having problems aligning the scope on the sun. I should have just had the computer go to Venus, D'oh!  The SAC-7 camera seems to do a pretty good job out of the box. I'll have to get it out under dark sky later this month and see what it really can do!


 
It was still dark when we arrived in the conference room on AUM's Library Tower.  After setting up our equipment, we examined all of the other telescopes there.
Rod Havens, Tom Mooneyham (seated) Robert West, and Taylor Jernigan anticipating sunrise.
Paul Williamson, Susanna Fillingham, Mark McGregor, and Casey Curran, 
Paul Williamson making a digital image of the "Little Black Spot"
A clear horizon, but not a totally clear sky added some anxiety to the event.
Mike Holley and Ray Kunert look on as John Clifton readies his CCD imaging software.
Mark McGregor, Paul Williamson, Casey Curran, look on as AUM photographer, Frank Williams, takes a picture of Susanna Fillingham at the eyepiece. 
Jack and Gina Franz and  family as AUM astronomy professor, Randy Russell checks out the prospects for the C-8 that he has set up for eyepiece projection.

Others observed the event from various locations in our area:

Gail Smitherman:   I got to see a smidge of the end of the Venus transit through the tree limbs [in Selma]. Enough to say I saw it!!!!

Wayne Padgett:  I will be in Auburn Tuesday morning, visiting my parents (Tom and Mary Lou Padgett).  I am considering trying to visit Cliff Hill's farm to view the transit.  If you hear of a location closer to town that others will use, I'd love to hear about it.  I'll be able to check my email while traveling, so please let me know.  Thanks.
-Wayne Padgett

 [When was asked to tell us about himself, Wayne replied:]

I grew up and got my B.E.E in Auburn, and my parents are still there (here, at the moment).  My father, Tom Padgett is a former director of the the Co-op Program, and big into ballroom dancing.  Rhon Jenkins knows them from dance class, and I know he has a telescope.  I have a very small telescope, but I've been working to get the kids into astronomy so I can get a bigger one. :)

I built a homemade little solar projector so I can do sunspot watching with the kids during the day - the web page is the first hit on Google for 'cheap solar projector'.  I haven't finished putting up my best images from it (not very good) or the math to figure the length of the tube from the lens and screen spacings.

I guess I'll try to find Hill's farm in the morning (maybe I'll run out there today to see if I can find it in daylight first).

Later, Wayne reported:  My father and I went out to the farm, and we saw Mr. Hill, who came out to chat for a minute.  There were low clouds, so the sun wasn't visible until about 6 am, but when it came up over the clouds, it was still before 3rd contact.  My homemade scope worked well, and I got some pictures and video of the transit on it.  Neither device was easy to focus on the projected image, so all my records are a bit blurry compared to what I saw, but the venus shadow is clearly visible (just not sharp-edged).  I will put up some of the photos on the cheap solar projector page soon.

I was disappointed nobody else showed up, but I guess they found easier places to see the sunrise from.  Mr. Hill came back by as we packed up and looked at the video I took on the camcorder.  So, thanks for having a nice place to go and look from.

Jim McLaughlin:  I was in Gulf Shores 6/8 and a bank of clouds on the eastern horizon blocked the sun til about 6AM, at which point I estimate Venus was within 2 diameters of egress. Saw first contact with the limb at egress with a slight "teardrop" effect and last contact but views were interrupted by scattered clouds, but it was worthwhile seeing planetary orbital motion in real time.
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From: Scott Thompson
 

 Attached is my Venus Transit picture from Alex City. It turned out quite good with the clouds partially covering the sun and the color was just awesome. The picture info: AP7, Prime Focus f/9 with the Canon 10D, no solar filter. Once the sun cleared the clouds and the horizon I applied the filter. See the other images at http://68.184.59.11/what's_new.htm . I also have a few neat images out there. 
 
 
 
 

 Clear Skies,

 Scott