The Transit of Venus

Venus in transit

Our arrival to the island was the culmination of over 24 hours of sailing. The initially projected time became possible thanks to the favorable winds. The captain had suggested 2:00 pm arrival time and at 1:53 pm we were crossing the north end of the island. It was soon clear that arriving to the area did not mean an easy transfer to land.

Anchoring was not an option and it was the Marine Park Authority that came to pick Alex and myself up. One at the time, we were transferred to land. Four meter swells made sure that no object would remain dry in the short trip. After an adventurous entry through the break, coordinated from land, we arrived to a media welcome committee.

The preparations for the Transit of Venus happened without inconvenience, no last minute lost objects or major changes. We went to sleep ready for a great day to come. By the morning, the atmosphere was less positive. The 54 knot wind gusts and horizontal rain was threatening to prevent the observations of the highly demanded planet.

With the equipment already assembled, we reached our destination but it was impossible to setup due to the weather. Instead, we set up base camp at green café, only a hundred meters from the observation site.

By the time of the first contact, at 8:40 am Lord Howe Island time, no evidence of the sun could be seen, although conditions were changing. The wind turned southerly, and hope slowly approached the island. At 10:30 am, hope became fact and the first observations became possible by using solar glasses.

We ran to set up the main telescope on a corner where it would be protected from the wind. The great work of the IT team put us online within 5 minutes and we could finally start streaming over the satellite connection. Given the wind and the unstable weather conditions, the telescope needed to be moved constantly and stable live streaming only became possible over short periods.

By 11:30 am, the wind had calmed down. We were finally able to bring the second telescope into the field. More and more locals arrived in hopes of catching a glimpse of the transit.

The now famous Vu Vu Venus, a projecting device built by Sydney Observatory, made its Lord Howe Island debut shortly before midday. By allowing several viewers to observe the transit at the same time, it quickly turned to be the favorite target for our visitors’ cameras.

Vu Vu Venus in action

The observations continued throughout the day with partial cloud cover. A final shower invited us to break camp. By the time our hopes of capturing the last two contacts were gone, a small opening in the clouds allowed us to re-stage our equipment. We were lucky to observe the planet Venus transiting for the last time in our lives.

A clear calm day would have led to better technical measurements, but the adventures of the trip on board the HMB Endeavour replica and the storm in the morning of the transit served as a reminder of the challenges of scientific observations in history.

It has been an honour to be part of this enterprise; my next adventure will begin in a month when my first child will be born. There are plenty sleepless nights ahead, although that is not a big change for an astronomer.  Thanks to all our friends following. Until next time…