All over the Internet, June 5th was hailed as a once in a life time event. A few places got it right though. It was actually a twice in a lifetime event. I helped at the local planetariums public event 8 years ago when the last transit occurred. I even have a little pin to prove it! On that date, the transit was “catch it as the sun rose” and this time from Florida, it was “catch it before the sun sets”.
I had grandiose plans for this one. Somehow, I foolishly had forgotten to schedule around it. My “moonlighting” job is teaching OpenGL to game development students at Full Sail University in Winter Park. Full Sail is amazingly accommodating to me, and their scheduling department always moves my class schedule around my traveling or events calendar. Somehow I had forgotten to send a note about this date, and what do you know, I have a lecture from 5p.m. till 8p.m., right through the entire transit!
It does not escape the attention of my students that I am an astronomy nut, and I often talk about how I use OpenGL in my astro-programming job. Most students are enthusiastic about this and very interested in the topic, so I decided to rework our break schedule to allow for a field trip to the parking lot. I brought a little short dob with a solar filter, my camera, and one of those sun spotter projection things to allow for a wider audience. As they say about the plans of mice and men though, mother nature had other ideas. Specifically to water Florida heavily and thoroughly… very thoroughly. The entire state was blanketed on the satellite, and there were actually thunderstorms moving through the area just before class started.
All through class we’d do quick checks of the weather and sky. Completely overcast. Sigh… a twice in a lifetime opportunity lost. Or was it? I managed to finish class just a little bit early, and out in the parking lot near my car, I saw the sky was glowing fiercely in the west where the sun was setting. There was a thinning of the clouds there, and the sun was peeking through. It was actually raining at the time. I grabbed my umbrella and stood under a tree, and pointed it west. Only during a setting sun can you get away with pointing a lens and looking at the sun without a filter. I cranked up the focal ratio, set the exposure to the smallest possible on my camera (1/8000th of a second!), and started shooting. I took dozens of pictures, tweaking focus, previewing the image, etc. I tried using some Baader solar filter foil, but that didn’t work too well as my rubber band wouldn’t hold it on the lens properly (always try these things first ahead of time!). I was very lucky, and many of my shots showed the disk of Venus very clearly. Not all were in focus, and I had crud on my lens from the rain for a few of them. There was a striking keeper though I thought, and was just fortunate enough to have been looking when the sucker hole of a life time opened up for me.
In the end, one of my students saw was I was doing and joined me. He held my umbrella and I quickly set up the scope so he might get a peek. Alas, it was too late, and the momentary sucker hole was gone. He told me he had considered a career in astronomy before deciding instead to be a game programmer. I know as well as anyone how careers can cross over. Maybe it’s not too late for him either 😉