A Transit of Venus

Today was the transit of Venus. That’s when the earth’s orbit lines up with the orbit of the planet Venus in such a way that we see Venus silhouetted against the sun.  In San Francisco, it went from 3.09 p.m. to 9.49 p.m.

As spectacles go, this was quiet: a tiny black dot moving across the sun and taking nearly seven hours to do it. As special occasions go, it was very special: This is the last one for the next 105 years. Not in our time, or our children’s time. Maybe our grand-children or great-grandchildren will see the next one.

I definitely wanted to see it.

Mary Allen, in a comment on my post about the eclipse, mentioned solar-viewing spectacles available from Edmunds Scientific, but also that they were back-ordered. (Thanks, Mary!)  Though I ordered them right away, they didn’t arrive in yesterday’s mail. Too bad.

So I made my way to the roof of the California Academy of Sciences at 3.20. I’m a member there, and their e-newsletter said they’d have scopes set up.  They did, and quite a few people had gathered to see what was going on. We got there just in time to see the little black Venus dot start its transit across the sun on one of the solar viewers.

“It takes the light 8 minutes to get here from the sun,” someone said.

“Yes, but only 5 minutes from Venus,”  said someone else. “If you got here 8 minutes ago, you wouldn’t have seen the dot.”

After a while, we left.  We had 6 p.m. evening engagements that we needed to prepare for.


The doorbell rang at 5.30 p.m. There on the doorstep,  just in the nick of time, were the solar viewing glasses. I opened the box, picked a pair, and went to the window to see the phenomenon. Sure enough, there it was.   I actually got to see it, not just an image of it:

Next planet over, crossing in front of our favorite star.

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