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Transit of Venus - Cockermouth
8th June 2004

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It was a once in a lifetime event. The planet Venus crossing directly IMG_2139_editedin front of the sun’s disk as seen from Earth. It may sound like something that should happen at least once a year, but in actual fact, due to the tilt of the planets orbits, it happens only twice every 120 years or so.

Not wanting to miss the opportunity, we held a public transit watch in Memorial Gardens in Cockermouth. Looking at the Sun through telescopes, binoculars or even with the naked eye is dangerours. Sunglasses and the like are no protection. Our event was, therefore an ideal opportunity for people to watch the event safely using our equipment and techniques.We gave the event plenty of publicity in the local press, and radio before the event, stressing the importance of safe viewing.

Even patial clounds did not spoil the view Partially obscured by cloud, Venus is visible to the lower right. Image: Chris Darwin

Setting up at 6.00am was a bit of a struggle for some of us, more used to staying up until the early hours observing. However, it was well worth the effort. Before long members of the public began to arrive, and the sun was still firmly behind a bank of traditional Cumbrian cloud!

We missed the ‘first contact’ when Venus first cuts into the disk of the sun. Before long there the clouds began to thin, and the first cry of  “I’ve got it!” was heard from the bank of telescopes set up at the south end of the gardens.  Then we’d all seen it, the little black disk on the face of the sun. Definitely not a sunspot, far too perfect a circle for that . . this was Venus.

venus_transit_8jun04_50pc_anim This animation shows the movement of Venus across the sun Image: Robin Leadbeater

Using a variety a techniques including eyepiece projection, special solar filters on telescopes, mylar film and ccd cameras, we showed over a hundred people the transit and answered hundreds of questions on the transit, and astronomy in general.

It was a busy day, but I even found time to set up my scope at my childrens’ school and show my daughter’s class the transit.

The transit attracted much media attention at a national level, with the event being covered live on television. Our local press covered our event both on the radio and in the local newspapers. Robin even had one of his photographs used on the local  BBC Look North television news !

Over 100 people enjoyed the once in a lifetime view A respectable collection of members telescopes was set up in Memorial Gardens

Although the clouds came and went all morning, everyone saw what they came to see. It was just the sort of event we like, the opportunity to show people  the wonders of the heavens.

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Report by Chris Darwin.

More pictures from the transit here.

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