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  • Flamsteed Astronomy Society

‘Transit of Venus’ on Blackheath

The crowd gathers on Blackheath (Pic by Mike Dryland)

Grey makes final adjustments to the 90mm Coronado (Pic by Mike Dryland)

Around 140 people gathered on Blackheath at 4.30am on the morning of 6 June 2012 to observe The Transit of Venus. With a thick bank of billowing slate grey cloud to the east, it was not a promising start. Never one to be put off, I unpacked the car which was loaded with Coronado telescopes of varying size together with motorised mounts, tripods, a table and literature.

Flamsteed members enthusiastically transported and assembled the telescopes which mingled with other equipment belonging to visitors from far and wide. As a large group with single purpose, we stood expectantly beneath a cloud streaked sky. There was a great sense of occasion and much excitement as the minutes passed. With light levels increasing rapidly people clustered around various telescopes. The Sun strengthened and then dimmed as bands of cloud moved eastward repeatedly raising hopes.

A fleeting glance of the transit just before 3rd contact. This image won the ‘Our Solar System’ category at the Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards 2012 (Pic by Chris Warren)

The transit just after 3rd contact (Pic by Chris Warren)

Suddenly a cheer went up as a well-appointed Newtonian linked to a camera briefly displayed Venus against the disc of the Sun on a laptop screen. As suddenly as it had appeared the image was gone and everyone returned to whatever they had been discussing moments before. The Coronado telescopes were really struggling as the incredibly narrow wavelength used to create an image is blocked by the lightest cloud. I was kept busy tracking the glimmer of light in the eyepiece manually as the drives within the mount failed.

Grey and the 90mm Coronado (don’t forget to take the lens cap off!) (Pic by Mike Dryland)

Sun just emerging from clouds in the final few minutes of the transit (Pic by Pat Wainwright)

Miraculously, with only minutes remaining, breaks in the cloud allowed us to view this once in a lifetime event. With the Transit of Venus nearing completion we observed the entire disc of our neighbouring planet against the Sun’s fiery surface. At last the Coronado’s performed magnificently and I was surprised how large Venus appeared compared with easily defined Sun Spots. To see the Transit along with surface granulation and the Sun’s prominences was an added treat and it was all I could do to step away quickly and encourage others to look.

Jane and Marek pass the time whilst waiting for the skies to clear (Pic by Mike Dryland)

Frustration as the Sun remains stubbornly behind the clouds (Pic by Mike Dryland)

With little time remaining staff from the Royal Observatory, Flamsteed members and visitors were unceremoniously bundled past the eyepieces. I’m very pleased to say that in the short time available everyone was thrilled and relieved to have witnessed this very special alignment of heavenly bodies so close to home.

Mike and Chris try to keep their spirits up despite the cloud (Pic by Mike Dryland)

Perfect view of the Moon, but we want to see the Sun! Pic by Mike Dryland

A very big thank you to everyone for making this event such a success.

Grey Lipley

Stacked image of the transit just after third contact (Pic by Chris Warren)

The crowd gathers around Chris Warren’s laptop as he gets the first sight of the transit (Pic by Mike Dryland)

The transit of Venus from the south coast (Pic by Malcolm Porter)

Grey struggles with the focus whilst Jane and Roger offer moral support from the sidelines! (Pic by John Bartlett)

Lots of attendees brought their own scopes (Pic by John Bartlett)

Lots of attendees brought their own scopes (Pic by John Bartlett)

The crowd gather beneath a waning Moon (Pic by Mike Meynell)

Setting up an optical telescope with white light filter at the ready!

Looks like some people had been waiting on the heath all night

Viewing the transit through solar glasses

Roger views the transit through the 90mm Coronado