Saturday, August 18, 2007

20070818 - Venus from Drip Rock

Session name:20070818.1020

Last night, I was worried that air traffic controllers wouldn't let the plane land that carried my wife and daughter. It was storming pretty hard with heavy rain, darkened skies, and lightening bolts scrawled across the sky. In due time it did land and that brief, torrential storm was the remedy for hazy and overcast skies we had for the last couple days.

I awoke this morning seeing cerulean blue in the opening of the window shades. I opened the living room window to see the New Jersey horizon crystal clear. It wouldn't be long after breakfast that I announced to the wife that I'd be going to the park for about an hour. Venus was on mind but a feeling of guilt passed since they just returned. It was only to be an hour.

As I approached Drip Rock, I counted 10 homeless men around the lawn and on the rock. I ascended the rock and setup nearby a homeless man with an umbrella that shielded the sunlight. Within minutes I had the Thousand Oaks filter on one barrel of the Takahashi bins pointing at the Sun. I saw nothing on the Sun. Instead I used the sun to calibrate the scale on the Bogen 410 geared tripod head. I intended to find Venus relying in this as I have had with great success in the past.

(shot of crescent Venus on
Venus is magnitude 4.0, 1.0% illuminated, 58.4" in size, and 8°07' west of the Sun. This is pretty close to the Sun and out in the field, Venus was about 3.5° below the Sun and a little more than 10° to the right fo the Sun.

To find Venus in the field of view, I first located the Sun in the solar-filtered tube (the other tube was covered with the lens cap). Placing the Sun outside the edge of the field of view where it would drift in, I marked the 15°-incremented scale on the altitude gear. Moving the Sun diametrically across the field of view, I marked this point on the scale, now have an idea of what a 2° step looks on the scale. From here on it was a breeze. I twisted the altitude gear for about 3.5° lower and panned in azimuth towards the south. I removed the solar filter and the lens covers from the objectives. Carefully approaching the eyepieces so as not to be caught by any glaring reflections, I got my eyes right in to the field. Seeing nothing I retreated the bins back up the sky where a large, bright, crescent Venus was just off the field of view. What a pleasing view. The crescent was tipped in a 1:30 ~ 7:30 orientation in my field of view.

Observing through a slot on the binocular tripod adapter I was able to shield the Sun and look at a very narrow piece of the sky. Coincidentally, some cumulus clouds passed which allowed me to pick a specific spot on the sky through the slot and detect Venus naked eye. I did it twice but after the clouds passed I was unable to duplicate the naked eye sighting. I even looked down the edge of the barrel with the greater part of the bins shielding the Sun but with no luck. In both of these cases, the clear blue sky yielded no glare.

A couple of women from BRC homeless outreach approached and spoke with the man near me. They asked him if everything was okay. He removed the umbrella and sat up, squinting his eyes in the sun. I kept my back to them so the homeless man would think I was minding my own business. As they left him, they looked my way. When I responded to the womens' question that I was observing Venus, he echoed, "He's looking at planets." It sounded more like a statement than a question. I invited all to the eyepiece where the acknowledged seeing the crescent. The tempered excitement made me think this was their first time looking at a planet, especially Venus in the daytime.

Afterward, I finished my notes and packed up. Gerard, I overheard the homeless man's name, looked up from the beneath the umbrella he had returned to and said good bye. I responded with the astronomer's farewell, "Keep looking up."

Gerard had the last words. "Thank you."