The Transit of Venus

In 2004 Venus crossed the face of the Sun, a rare event that only occurs twice every 243 years. At 5.00am on the 8th of June that year, I met with a number of other enthusiastic members of Astronomy Ireland in the Phoenix Park in Dublin to observe the transit of Venus.

Over the course of six hours, hundreds of members of the public gathered at the Fifteen Acres to witness the event. I used my 114mm Celestron refractor scope to project an image of the sun onto a makeshift piece of card, which allowed a number of people to watch the event at the same time. It was a great way to spend a morning, answering general questions and meeting some interesting people (including Rich Bentley from the Centre of Astrophysics & Space Sciences, UCSD, who was holidaying in Ireland at the time, and who has worked on some interesting projects including Pioneer 10 and 11, and the Hubble Space Telescope).

Observing the Transit of Venus, Phoenix Park, 8 June 2004

Venus crossing the face of the Sun at approx. 8am. Click to enlarge the image to see the small dot at the top of the disc.

By 11.30am it was all over. We were lucky that day that the skies stayed clear and that we managed to observe the whole event. I am unlikely to witness the next transit in 2012, as this will only be visible from Alaska, Hawaii and Australia. And I'll definitely miss the next transit of Venus, 105 years after that.

Full report here.


Stargazing - 23 May 2010

One of the benefits of living in Sligo is the lack of light pollution. On the rare occasion of a completely cloudless sky, I have the opportunity to do some real stargazing. For back garden viewing I have a Meade ETX 70mm motorised reflector scope. This compact, lightweight telescope is great for impromptu sessions.

A perfect night for observing last night: clear skies, warm night and lots to look at. Despite using a hand held camera, I got some nice pics of the Moon through the viewfinder. Also managed to observe Saturn and Mars.

The dark grey plain in the middle is the Sea of Serenity (Mare Serenitatis). Above it to the right, on the terminator (the line of shadow) is the crater Archimedes which is 83km across.

In the middle of the picture is Saturn. The camera shot isn't great but the rings were observable last night, although they're are almost side on at the moment (Click to enlarge).


Astronomy Heroes

The May edition of the Jodcast (the Jodrell Bank podcast) featured an exhibition of portraits of astronomers, taken by a photographer called Max Alexander. In the interview he explained the background story to each photo, which were tailored to reflect the field of research of each featured astronomer.

The 44 photos themselves are compelling, but hearing the story behind each one makes them fascinating. The first one, for example, features Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, photographed beneath a portrait of Sir Isaac Newton. Its only when you recall Newton's famous quote,

"If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants",

that the image takes on more significance.

Listen to the interview with Max Alexander.

I'd love to go to the exhibition that is currently on in Glasgow, but in the meantime I'll just have to make do with the gallery here: