Passing By

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.

Horizon, just before the transit of Venus

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:

Transit of Venus 1

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.


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15 Responses to Passing By

  1. rpg says:

    Well done, sir. I applaud your innovative spirit and characteristic doggedness. Very British.

    I thought it would be too cloudy, so I didn’t bother getting up for it this morning. But I did find the pics I took for the 2004 transit, and put them on Flickr. It was a similar set-up to yours, and here’s what I managed to capture:

    Venus transit 2004

    • Stephen says:

      Nice one Richard. I should have brought a tripod with me but am glad that I managed to snatch a photo at all.

      • rpg says:

        Yeah, you did well. If you check out the other pics you can see I didn’t use a tripod either–it was balanced on a plant pot holder! Amazing how one can do this stuff with such primitive equipment.

  2. Stephen, that’s a lovely photo. You must be so chuffed!

  3. Gillian Warrior says:

    That is so brilliant Stephen! Thank you!

  4. cromercrox says:


  5. John Gilbey says:

    Excellent image! Perhaps it is not necessary to confirm this, but in Wales – guess what – it was cloudy. And now very wet. Why didn’t I think of re-locating to the south of France…. (exits, grinding teeth in frustration…) 🙂

  6. Awesome. Well done Stephen (and rpg, although the congratulations are 8 years late). Innovative solution to the problem in both cases. 🙂

  7. We set up the large binoculars and a piece of card on the front doorstep and got to see it for pretty much the whole time – clouds were minimal for once. I took a few photos (blurry mostly) and some of the tourists going past got a look too. (We live on Baldwin Street).

    Score!!!! 🙂

    viv in nz

  8. Stephen says:

    Thanks all for the comments – I’m doubly glad now that I forced myself to get out of bed. It was definitely an act of will. But you can’t beat celestial mechanics for making you feel part of the universe…

  9. Grant says:

    [off topic]

    Any comment from Brits? –


    Comment in NZ:

    Somewhat on-topic, in NZ there was a science/science communication event based around the transit. (There’s reportage on this somewhere on sciblogs.) Great to see your efforts to witness it.

    (Hope I get a chance to meet a few of you in a few weeks time!)

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