Venus (and Mercury) Transit Observations at Berry College

Mount Berry, GA


The Transit of Venus

On June 5, 2012, Venus passed between Earth and the Sun. This so-called "transit of Venus" caused a very mild partial solar eclipse. As Venus passed across the Sun (from our viewpoint here on Earth) it appeared as a small black disk on the bright body of the Sun.

Venus transits occur in pairs about 8 years apart, but with more than a century between different pairs. The 2012 transit was preceded by a transit in 2004, but the next two transits won't take place until 2117 and 2125. Historically the transits of Venus were very important because they were used to determine the distance between Earth and the Sun.

For more information about this fascinating topic, see  www.transitofvenus.org.

Observing the Transit at Berry College

The Department of Physics, Astronomy, & Geology at Berry College held a public viewing of the Venus transit on the evening of June 5, 2012. The viewing session was hosted by Berry undergraduate physics major Kalen Maloney. Kalen is an avid amateur astronomer and serves as the assistant director of Berry College's  Pew Observatory. The observatory director, Dr. Todd Timberlake, helped organize the event but was unable to attend it because he was out of town (in Hilton Head, where the skies were completely clouded over....).

The equipment for the transit viewing included two 8-inch Celesteron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes with solar filters. One of these telescopes was dedicated to photography and video recording of the transit, while the other was used to allow visitors to view the transit.

A small crowd (it was summer, after all) of Berry students, faculty, and staff and other interested people gathered to observe the transit starting around 6 PM (before the start of the transit) until after 8:30 PM when the sun was no longer visible. The transit lasted until about 1 AM on June 6 (Eastern Daylight time), but the second half of the transit was not visible from Georgia. The images below show the group gathered to see the transit, as well as Kalen photographing the transit.



Photographs of the Transit

Berry Transit Photos

The images below were all taken by Kalen Maloney at Berry College on June 5, 2012 using an 8-inch Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a solar filter and a Canon T2i digital SLR camera. These images have not been processed in any way. The images are arranged in time sequence, with the time each images was taken displayed along with some brief commentary. All times are Eastern Daylight time.
VenusTransit1

6:19:13
Disk of Venus partially visible at the upper right limb.

VenusTransit2

6:38:03
Disk of Venus fully visible.

VenusTransit3
7:33:20
Disk of Venus has moved toward interior of solar disk.
VenusTransit4
8:06:03
Some clouds in the way.
VenusTransit5
8:09:48
Sun begins dropping behind some low-lying clouds.
VenusTransit6
8:10:00
More cloud cover.
VenusTransit7
8:30:24
Lots of clouds covering the bottom of the Sun.
VenusTransit8
8:30:54
Our last image of the transit.

NASA Transit Photo

By way of comparison, the image below was taken by  NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft that orbits Earth and continually monitors the Sun.

Source: NASA/SDO

VenusTransitNASA

Mercury Transit

On May 9, 2016 Mercury transited the Sun.  Mercury is much smaller than Venus and it is farther from Earth when it transits, so it makes a much smaller spot on the Sun.  In addition, there was a fair bit of cloud cover that day at Berry.  In spite of these challenges, Dr. Timberlake (with assistance from Berry physics major Vedant Mehta) was able to get a few decent photographs of the Mercury transit.  The camera orientation was not the same for all images because we used one telescope for both photography and viewing by eye, so we had to take the camera out and replace it multiple times.  The next transit of Mercury will occur on November 11, 2019.  Hopefully we can get some better photographs then!

MercTrans11AM

Mercury transit around 11 AM.  Mercury is the circular spot above and right of center.  Below and left of center is a notable sunspot group.  There were some wispy clouds obscuring the Sun when this image was taken.

MercTrans2PM-1

Mercury transit around 2 PM.  Mercury is slightly below and well to the right of center, with the sunspot group above and left of center.  Note the change in camera orientation.

MercTrans2PM-2

Mercury transit around 2 PM, but this time with cloud cover obscuring the Sun.

MercTransKalen

Berry physics alumnus Kalen Maloney stopped by to see the transit.