Venus Descending


A wonderful sight tonight, as I caught Venus in its last days before the transit, shining as a glistening crescent low in the evening twilight.

Venus was visible to the unaided eye after sunset, but not for long. It set soon after the Sun. But for a short while it put on a beautiful show as a large crescent (large for a planet that is), easily resolvable in binoculars and stunning in a small telescope. One could almost make out, for brief moments, the sight of the backlit atmosphere going all the way around the disk. But I suspect it was more imagination at work than reality shining through.

The inset blows up the boxed area, to reveal the crescent-phased disk of Venus, despite this shot being taken with no more than a 200mm telephoto lens. I used a Canon 60Da camera at ISO 100. A plane is flying just below Venus.

So this was May 30, 6 days before the June 5 transit, with Venus 9.5° east of the Sun. How far up to the Sun can we catch it, before it crosses the Sun on Tuesday?

— Alan, May 30, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Venus Sinks Sunward


Here’s a last look at Venus before its historic transit across the face of the Sun on June 5.

I took this Monday evening, May 28, with the Sun still up and Venus about 13 degrees east of the Sun but low in my evening sky. Venus appears as a razor-thin crescent, like a tiny “new Moon.” Most of the daylight side of Venus now faces away from us; on the side of Venus turned toward us now all but a sliver of a crescent is dark — we’re looking at the night side of Venus. On June 5, all we will see is this dark side of Venus, appearing in silhouette in front of the Sun’s brilliant disk as Venus moves across the Sun in a transit not to be repeated for another 105 years.

This is a single still-frame grab from a movie shot I shot with the Canon 60Da camera, set in Movie Crop Mode, for a movie 640 x 480 pixels wide. This mode magnified Venus considerably on the frame. I shot this through a small 80mm apo refractor at its f/6 prime focus, so with only 480mm of focal length. But Venus is now so large it doesn’t take a lot of extra magnification to show its disk and phase.

The view through the eyepiece was stunning. The rippling image and sparkling colours, though from distortion in our atmosphere, added to the beauty of Venus, fitting for the goddess of love.

– Alan, May 28, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

Eclipse — A Parking Lot Partial


This was the view Sunday evening as the Sun descended into the northwest sky, accompanied by the Moon covering part of its disk.

I shot this near mid-eclipse with a handheld camera and filter dimming what would have otherwise been a vastly overexposed Sun. A liberal use of Photoshop’s Highlight recovery and Shadow details tools compressed the dynamic range even more, to bring out details in the sky and clouds and in the dark filtered image. But this is a single image, not a composite.

As you can see, even at its best the Sun shone through light cloud, which added somewhat to the scenery of the sky and the weird quality of the light at mid-eclipse. But all told, I’d rather do without clouds at any eclipse. They make for anxious moments I could live without.

I took this shot from the TELUS Spark science centre, where we set up sidewalk telescopes for viewing the eclipse, looking over the parking lot and hill to the west of us. It’s where the Sun will also be for the transit.

— Alan, May 21, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Partial Solar Eclipse — from Calgary


This was the first significant solar eclipse in many years that I did not travel to. For the May 20, 2012 eclipse I was content to stay at home on the sidelines and take in the partial eclipse of the Sun.

From Calgary, the Moon covered about 62% of the Sun at mid-eclipse, which this shot captures, taken at maximum eclipse for us. Here, a big sunspot group is just being uncovered by the passing Moon. Having lots of spots on the Sun this day made the partial eclipse all the more interesting, though still no comparison to the annular eclipse visible over the spectacular landscapes of the southwestern U.S.

I would have been there, in the Moon’s ant-umbral shadow, had it not been for the fact that at home I am very much involved in the opening of a new planetarium and digital dome theatre at the science centre, TELUS Spark, where I work. This is a milestone event in one’s life, one I’ve had the privilege of experiencing twice before, in 1984 in Edmonton with the opening of its new science centre and planetarium, and in 1996 when we converted the old Calgary Centennial Planetarium into a then state-of-the-art tilt-dome theatre. Oddly coincidental, I missed seeing the May 15, 1984 annular eclipse in the SE United States due to the imminent opening of the Edmonton theatre. History repeats itself — a Saros cycle of science centres perhaps?

For this eclipse we conducted a public viewing session and managed to grab excellent views once clouds cleared away before mid-eclipse. Eclipse anxiety was running high leading up to and through the initial minutes of the eclipse as it looked like clouds were going to skunk us. But wonder of wonders, the sky cleared and the eclipsed Sun was revealed, to my great relief. Missing the annular eclipse is bad enough; I didn’t want to miss the partial eclipse, too!

Now, we just need clear skies on June 5 for the transit of Venus.

— Alan, May 20, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer