Flamsteed Astronomy Society

Transit of Venus 2012 Blackheath

June 6, 2012

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Report by Grey Lipley


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Grey Lipley


An historical background on the Transit of Venus can be found on the following pages, along with further images from the event.


A Channel 4 news report which mentions the Blackheath event can be found here.


You can also read the Guardian report on our event here.


The crowd gathers on Blackheath [Pic: Mike Dryland]

Grey makes final adjustments to the 90mm Coronado

[Pic: Mike Dryland]

A fleeting glance of the transit just before 3rd contact

[Pic: Chris Warren]