I was determined not to miss the transit of Venus today. Life’s too short. But this week I have relocated to St Raphael in the south of France for a conference on picornaviruses and had to leave my telescope behind.
Despite this lack of equipment I roused myself from bed at 5:20 and went in search of the sunrise, hoping to be able to catch the tail end of the transit. I installed myself at the top of an avenue that descended towards the east and waited and watched as the rays from the sun gilded the wispy clouds clinging to the horizon.
I waited and waited. The light, a living thing almost, shifted and changed among the scattering of clouds. Slowly the brightness of the horizon increased.
And then suddenly there was a blaze of light above the horizon that quickly formed itself into a globe.
With no telescope and no solar glasses to protect my eyes, I was planning to use a small pair of binoculars to project an image of the sun onto the back of the program booklet from the conference. This was tricky. My hands unsteady, the image of the sun danced and wobbled across my cardboard screen. I had to play with the distance to try to bring the image into focus.
But then there it was — wasn’t it? I could see a black speck near the bottom edge of the sun: the shadow of Venus blocking the light from our star. The image dipped and defocused. I steadied my hand and tried again. Yes, for sure there was a speck. I smiled. With my camera in my other hand I snapped this image:
The planet Venus has moved between the Earth and the Sun. The motion is simply a part of the Solar System, the collection of planets that is our home. The conjunction has happened before and will happen again, countless times. But the next occasion will not be until 2117; not in my lifetime.
Why did I drag myself from bed to see this? It is just that, since we were both passing through the neighbourhood at the same time, I wanted to be there.