A Little Black Spot On The Sun Today… An Optimistic Perth, Australia Adventure – #TransitOfVenus

NOTICE! Tomorrow, at Horizon Planetarium, City West – Thursday, 7th June at 7pm, there is a free presentation: SKA Q&A – presented by Prof. Peter Quinn, the Director of ICRAR. RSVP at http://www.trybooking.com/26478 and learn all about the Square Kilometer Array site decision and what it means for Australia!

6:05 am - WHERE THE HELL IS MY CAMERA?

6:20 am - give up looking for camera, decide to use the camera in my phone instead. It’ll be easier to sent Tweets that way, anyhow.

Find shoes, SciTech volunteer t-shirt and settle down to watch the Google Hangout with Pamela Gay, Nicole Gugliucci, Fraser Cain and Zach Weinersmith. Tweet a few live-observations about Pamela’s efforts to demonstrate the path of Venus using what appears to be a model made out of Christmas tree decorations.

7:14am - head out to catch the 531 bus to the train station and go to the Perth Cultural Centre (just outside the Art Gallery). Notice that the sky is a solid grey, with a small band of golden light on the horizon where the sun is making a valiant effort to glow through spits of rain.

Sod, damn, bugger, bottom and hell. I decide to be optimistic about it and see how the morning turns out. Maybe it’ll turn sunny?

8:10amWhere Is Everybody?? I walk around outside the Art Gallery, looking at the posters advertising “From Picasso to Warhol”, feeling both rained on and lost. Everyone else on the planet are briskly running past me with umbrellas, on their way to work. Wonder if I should remove my hooded top to reveal the SciTech volunteer shirt, as maybe everyone else is hiding their identifying logos under jumpers too.

8:15amI Discover Everybody! I find Jeff and the team, with a bunch of boxes behind the planter box by the state library, surveying where we’ll set up. The now-completely-clouded-over poses a massive problem for viewing, let alone the rain when it comes to handing out flyers.

We decide to unfurl the Horizon / SciTech banners and pop them up under the State Library next to the bike racks, until we can relocate. Some people wander over to check out what we’re doing and pick up our pinhole cameras:

Working out how to set up the pinhole cameras:

8:25am - we realise that there’s a little spot under the trees near the Polly Coffee Bar which coffee shop which provides a little shelter from the spitting rain. They also have nice coffee and a rather cute business card. I get a cappuccino and check out the fancy lemonade that they sell.

One of the other SciTech volunteers asks if I was ever a teacher at a certain high school… yes, I was. Turns out that she wasn’t in any of my classes, but remembers “Sturgo” around campus and how I appeared “busy all the time”. This is, by the way, about five to six years after I’ve left the school in question. I’m not sure whether to blush or avoid telling her that I’m honestly trying to be less busy, it just doesn’t seem to work out so well!

8:45am - the first lot of interested people pop over to collect our flyers about tomorrow’s information session at Horizon, City West (RSVP at this address if you’re free!) – school groups and occasional pairs of people wander slowly past and ask questions about the pinhole cameras and what on earth we’re doing out in the sprinkling rain.

9:25am – a very nice librarian from the State Library comes over and takes some of our pinhole cameras to feature at the information desk! She says that she’s following someone on Twitter… who happens to be me. Second blush of the day. I tweet about meeting her and she responds! WAHHHH!

9:29am - a science (?) teacher wanders over and says that she saw that we were advertised as appearing here on some kind of site online… which turns out to be my blogpost about how I was going to be doing this today. I’m starting to run out of flyers to blush behind. She takes some of the pinhole cameras for her students too, and regularly checks up to see if we have any sun yet!

9:30am – 10am – school groups and the general public (many who know of the Transit of Venus and say what we’re doing is “awesome”) continue to filter past – we hand out flyers and chat to each other and passers-by about:

  • Why Pluto isn’t a planet anymore;
  • How BADLY things went for the astronomer Guilliame Hyacinthe Jean Baptiste Le Gentil, when he tried to see the Transit of Venus (he would have been happy if he JUST had rain to put up with, quite frankly…);
  • How the Amnesty International spruikers who are sharing the Centre space with us have such cheerful dispositions;
  • How hypothetically we CAN see the sun and where Venus is positioned, but only thanks to an iPhone app:

The sun is there, we just… can’t see it. Despite the cracked iPhone screen, I’m impressed by the Star Chart app and I start looking on my phone to see if I can download it too.

Over on the Big Screen in the Cultural Centre, I notice that Matt Roger’s “Stephen Fry’s Language” video is playing and quickly tweet him a message!

10:21 - SUN!! THERE’S SUN! 

Everyone RUNS to get the Sunspotter out and we flap around the pinhole cameras to see if there’s any chance of using them too:

(Yes, we’re eating apples, we’re a healthy lot of Venus Transit spotters).

10:24am - We get the Sunspotter lined up… and I THINK we see the dot. The little black dot on the sun, passing to the side of the glowing white circle… I think.

We peer and adjust, as a small crowd gathers around, asking questions about why we’re jumping up and down, scattering raindrops everywhere:

You have no idea how happy this makes us. SUN!

11:20am – the sun has set behind the clouds again and we decide to pack up everything and head off home. But we’re happy. We got lots of people coming past saying that they were interested / wanted to know more and we got a good glimpse of the sun and possibly some transit-ing while we were at it. I think I saw a little black dot, anyway. And I was there to make an effort to see it and talk about it to other people, and that’s fun too.

11:45am – on the train, heading home. I look at dozens of tweets from people, around the world, on how we took part in different ways.

12:50pm - Sit down to type this out with a cup of tea and a grumbling cat who promptly sits in the puddle where my cup rests (“Why couldn’t I go too? Were you going to the vet?”)

2:07 pm – Collapse.

Oh – and here’s a look at Venus through the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory AIA instrument – so, if you missed it, this is what Venus was up to today:

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • Josh

    Cool write-up of a very cool day’s activities, Kylie. Thanks!


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