Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Head in the Clouds

Today was the Transit of Venus, an event that won't come again for over a century.  I didn't get the specs for my eyes, or the cover for my camera lens, and just when I thought I would only be able to see this event second-hand, I stumbled across a website that explained how to make your own sort of telescope.

It took binoculars, a tripod, duct tape (natch), two pieces of cardboard, and pretty much that was all there was to it.  In theory.


The weather has been total crap for the past two days.  Storm after storm, rain, winds, even snow.  Figures, right?  Major celestial happening, and this is what the sky looked like at 6:00 tonight when the show started:

Before I put the telescope together, I took this shot of the Valley.  In person it was very dramatic: light and dark, sun and shadow.

Then, ever hopeful that the clouds might break, I put the telescope together, fingers crossed that a) I could actually do it, b) it would work, and c) I could get a photo of Venus moving across the Sun.

I decided, rather than go outside, mainly because the weather was too dicey, I would just set up right in the living room at one of the big windows.

Basically, you cut two holes in a piece of cardboard that will fit over the binocular lens; duct tape the binoculars to the tripod; focus and adjust the twin suns on another piece of cardboard you hold in your hand, then put a cap over one lens. If all goes well, you will have one Sun on the paper, and a wee black dot that is Venus.

I was really amazed that it worked.  When I held up that piece of paper, and there was the Sun and--OMG!!--there was the black dot of Venus, I could hardly believe it.  It was most excellent. I had a little bit of trouble keeping the tripod steady as the binoculars made it top heavy, but with a bit of foot action, duct tape and the strap hooked over a chair, eventually I got things balanced.

The next obstacle was how to take a photo.  I had to hold the cardboard, get my camera between that and the binoculars, focus, shoot and not move the camera, the tripod or the cardboard.  My first attempt was a total failure when everything shifted, I grabbed for the tripod, creased the cardboard and inadvertently snapped this lovely shot...

At least three times, just when I got set up and ready, the Sun was covered in clouds.  Once I gave up completely because there was a great thunderstorm with hail and rain and wind, and I figured that was it for my Venus pictures.  I even gave the dogs their dinner, and had my own.

But just as the Sun began to head toward the mountain peaks and out of my range, there was a sudden break in the clouds and the whole living room lit up like High Noon.  I managed to get these two pictures.

[You will definitely have to click on the photos.  In the middle, on the right side edge, you will see the black dot of Venus as she tiptoes across the face of the Sun.]

I'm really happy that I got to see an event that won't come again for 105 years--2117 to be exact.  It was so cool, even on a small piece of cardboard, to see such a wonderful thing.  And I swear, my camera is just beyond brilliant.

Then, whilst still reveling in the excitement of the moment, the duct tape came unstuck from the chair, the strap slipped, the tripod tipped with the weight of the binoculars, and once again I took an unintended photo--a photo I actually didn't know I'd taken until I downloaded the pictures.

It was sweet to have built my duct tape telescope, and have it work.  Turned out to be a good day after all, even with my head in the clouds for most of it.

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