Transit Adventures & Summer Observing

The night sky has all but disappeared leaving local amateur astronomers with only solar and lunar observing.

There are many perks to solar observing using only solar safety approved filters and gear. First of all, the sun makes for an easy target to find, and second, it is very easy on the budget.

The best part of solar observing is that we are coming into the solar maximum—a time of maximum solar activity and sunspots—so there is plenty to see.

The last month or two have been rather action-packed with the partial solar eclipse and the partial lunar eclipse. We were lucky enough to get somewhat clear skies for the partial solar eclipse, but it was raining when the partial lunar eclipse was taking place.

For the transit of Venus, (this is when Venus crosses in front of the Sun), the weather was less than cooperative to say the least. I took the day off work so I had plenty of time to set up. After all, you will not see this transit again for another 105 years.

The transit was to begin at 3:09 p.m. and I was ready by noon. By 2 p.m. the clouds were so thick that I could barely see the sun at all, even with the solar viewing glasses. By 3 p.m. the clouds were so thick you could not even see the sun at all in the sky.

I had figured that even with the clouds I would be able to see the transit. Apparently I was mistaken—the clouds just got thicker and then it started to rain.

All was not lost as I was determined not to miss the Venus transit. So, I turned to technology and all those wonderful toys.

First, I loaded the NASA 3 from the internet on one computer, then loaded the live view of the transit from Bryce Canyon on another computer and then again from some friends in Ontario, where they had fabulous viewing conditions.

It was an unique and very comfortable way to view the transit of Venus. While I was practising “arm chair astronomy” I could also visit on my tablet and see everyone’s pictures from all over the world as they were posted to the website.

Other local astronomers went a little further and tried to “outrun the weather” so to speak. One such enthusiast drove up the Dempster Highway and ended up getting the shot from behind the garage at Eagle Plains while getting his vehicle repaired.

His reward for his hard earned efforts: seeing the Venus transit live and a flat tire.

On June 19 there was a new moon for observing, and June 20 is solstice, so summer has official begun in the north. With a keen eye and an excellent observing site on June 21 you will see the little planet Mercury.

Just look for the crescent moon at dusk and then look up about six degrees (a field of view in a binocular is five degrees) for a small “star like” object. This is Mercury and with a small telescope at even 50-power magnification you can easily see that it has phases similar to our own moon or Venus.

As this takes place close to the horizon it makes for an excellent photo opportunity as well.

If you have binoculars, spotting scope or telescope then on the evening of June 25 locate the moon and then look up for a small red dot. This is the planet Mars and even though it is too distant to be seen as more than a small point of light by backyard telescopes it is always nice nice to visit an old friend.

June 26 brings the first quarter moon, and on June 27 the moon is four degree below the bright star Spica and seven degrees below Saturn in the evening sky. These objects are bright enough that they should be easily seen in binoculars or a small high quality refractor.

The planet Saturn can be found in the southwestern sky in the evening and will be with us all summer.

Jupiter will be returning to the dawn sky after zooming around the backside of the sun. That means that we have Saturn in the evening and night, and Jupiter just before sunrise—not bad for summer viewing.

Finally, on June 30 Mercury is at its greatest elongation or greatest distance from the sun, about 26 degrees. The further from the sun, the better the view. If you are a planet hunter, this is your time to step up to the plate.

I am off for the summer touring star parties in southern British Columbia. Yukon Night Skies will return with the stars and those amazing northern lights in the fall.

Thank you for all your support and emails, have a safe summer and don’t forget to look up once in a while.

Clear skies!

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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