Transit of Venus — Two Words: Hydrogen. Alpha.

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The transit through a hydrogen-alpha telescope. iPhone Photo by Monica Lopossay.

There’s no way our 14-month-old son Asher will remember the experience, but my wife and I took him to see the transit of Venus, anyway. The thought of him confronting me about it later (“Dad, if you love me, why did you let me miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event?”) was just too much to bear.

So we got a small crew together (me, Asher, my wife Melanie, and our photographer-friend Monica) and headed to the east end of Lake Montebello with plenty of time and waited for clouds to pass and for local astronomy enthusiast Herman Heyn to set up his bulky telescope.

Monica told us that a few of her friends planned to watch the transit from a rooftop staring through their camera’s telephoto lens (but according to a post-transit text message, “the sun is too bright” for that).

When everything finally got up and running (and some clouds finally moved out of the way of the sun) a long line had formed, and to tide us over Herman passed around a piece of welder’s glass, through which we could all stare at the sun safely and pretend that we could see the little black zit of Venus without magnification. (We couldn’t.)

My brother posted this "photo" of the transit to Facebook, writing "In case you missed it, I took a picture."

Through Herman’s schmidt-cassegrain reflector telescope you could see not only a very sharp Venus, but plenty of sun spots, which I at first mistook for lint on the lens. Through another man’s hydrogen-alpha telescope (which is too technical for me to understand so I’ll just tell you it makes the sun look red) set up a few feet away you didn’t see any sunspots, but you did see some very detailed solar flares — or as our second community-minded amateur astronomer called them, “sun hairs.” (The name doesn’t do justice. These “sun hairs” blew my mind. I don’t expect anyone who has never hydrogen-alphaed to understand this, but I think I will be forever changed.)

Of course Asher didn’t care about any of this. He was far more interested in trying to fall down a break-neck hill and trying to grab at the welder’s glass. Anyway, we got a photo of him near the telescope for evidence later, and headed out.

I’d love to hear more TOV narratives. Anyone try to see it and fail? Anyone see it through a different type of telescope? And no offense, but in my personal opinion, you haven’t seen a transit of Venus until you’ve seen it hydrogen-alpha.



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