Dogs are from Venus

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Ms. Antimatter - telescope
Let me tell you about one of my first experiences as an amateur astronomer. Did I say amateur? ...just checking! It was an early morning in June 2004 and I set out to witness the transit of Venus across the Sun. This was the second-last time the transit would occur for another 243 years! I got up at dawn, loaded myself and my telescope into the car and drove to a nearby conservation area. However, after setting up my telescope, fastening the solar filter and aiming it at the Sun, I soon realized that when I looked through the eyepiece everything in the morning sky just looked uniformly grey. Where the heck was the Sun? The Sun was definitely in the sky, I could see it with my naked eyes, but when I looked through the eyepiece, no luck. The problem? There was no color in the sky and negligible contrast, a side effect of using the solar filter which I had only just purchased from an astronomy store in Toronto. I hadn't had time to experiment with it yet. Big mistake. A solar filter is used to filter out approximately 99.99% of the Sun's light and is a necessary tool when viewing the Sun otherwise we would destroy our retinas. Safety is imperative but I'll declare that without contrast and color, the Sun is more ghostly than gleaming.

I fumbled with my telescope for a half-hour, desperately trying to resolve something recognizable in the morning sky, but still nothing. Tick-tock, tick-tock, I started to panic looking at my watch realizing that I only had about eight minutes left before the transit was over. Then a rather strange and funny thing happened. A man jogging with his dog came around the bend where I had my telescope perched. We exchanged a cordial "good morning", but as he passed, his dog ran up to me, tail wagging, and bumped the aluminum legs of my tripod. Now this would normally cause a novice astronomer to wince, especially using a manual telescope. However, when I looked through the eyepiece again expecting my frustration to resume, I realized that the gentle bump had aligned my telescope perfectly with the elusive ball of plasma. What are the chances? With a little focusing, there it was - the pale disk of the Sun with the minuscule black silhouette of Venus passing in front of it, only millimeters from the edge!  I was awestruck. I almost missed witnessing this rare event, save for this capricious canine. I shouted to the dog who was now halfway down the hill, "thank you", but I don't think he heard me...

It's been years since then, but don't worry, I can now find the Sun, no problem - as well any other celestial object I set my mind to! I'm still using that same manual telescope attached to that same aluminum tripod, but now it feels more like a prosthetic limb rather than something to be intimidated by. Looking at the telescope now, as it stands in my living room, I giggle. My own precocious dog, Dario, chewed the aluminum leg of the tripod a few years back much to my horror. Dario used to chew lots of things but that's a story for another day. Anyway, I never got around to replacing the tripod, partly because it reminds me of him and partly because I love wonky things ;) I'll admit, it's a little more difficult to adjust the legs, but overall, the tripod still serves its purpose, so let's queue up the next astro event!!

 

This is the photo I took that morning. I held a simple digital camera up to the eyepiece and clicked. It's upside-down, but that's how telescopes roll. If you're thinking that my photo looks unimpressive, it's okay; it's just another diggable planet transiting an average yellow dwarf.

...but I get goosebumps when I look at it!

 

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