Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stuck In Transit

Transit of Venus, Transit of Venus
How shall I rhyme thee
Without using "penis"?
         --- From "Lord Byron: Notes Scrawled On The Privy Wall"

So. It's bright and sunny outside. Yep. Beautiful. Clear, with the kind of crystalline quality you only get on a crispy, wintry day in a place that actually has a winter. And of course, Venus is in transit.

That's right. Across the sun, yep. Little black dot. Very important from a scientific viewpoint, oh, yes. And it won't be happening again for a hundred and four or five years, apparently.

That being the case, I set about attempting to view said transit with the kids.

Attempt #1 - Simple Pinhole Camera. Obtained large cardboard box. Punched small, neat hole in one side. Put clean white paper on opposite side, interior. Aimed pinhole at the sun.

Result: Round dot of light on piece of paper. No visible Transit of Venus.

Attempt #2 - Focus Through Binocular Lenses. Brought out bird-viewing binoculars. Recycled nice, clean white paper from Attempt #1 above. Pointed big end of binoculars at the sun, shone the output onto the clean white paper.

Result: Somewhat larger fuzzy round blob of light on the paper. No visible Transit of Venus.

Attempt # 3: DSLR and Useful Lens. Attached 75-300mm lens to Canon DSLR. Manually set focus to infinity. Carefully lined up with the sun using tripod, etc.

Result: lack of filter means no real resolution - just a fuzzy white ball. No visible Transit of Venus

Attempt #4: Video Camera and TV.  Connected handheld JVC digital video camera to television. Stood outside the window with camera in hand, using camera LCD screen to find the sun, and shouts from children inside to guide attempts at zoom/focus

Result: Lack of filter makes camera very unhappy. No real focus. Large, fuzzy white blob. No visible Transit of Venus

Attempt # 5: Welding Goggles. Sent boys off in pursuit of my welding goggles, with the aim of using them as a filter for one of the various cameras. Boys argue bitterly over which of them last used the welding goggles to pretend to be a Steampunk mad scientist villain. Both boys are sent to fetch firewood in punishment. No welding goggles found.

Result: Still no motherfucking Transit of Venus.

(Pause to think...)

Attempt # 6 Camera Motherfucking Obscura.  Dirk remembers accounts of Renaissance painters converting entire motherfucking rooms into giant fucking pinhole cameras, oh yes. Dirk grabs a BIG-ASS sheet of cardboard, and goes up to the CinemaZone shed. He jabs a target arrow through the cardboard sheet, and uses it to block the northern window into the very large, very dark loft. He then traces the solitary beam of light, and places a nice, clean, white sheet of paper in its path, some four metres from the source.

Result: a nifty, clear, round image of the sun some four cm across. And... what's that? What's that? Yes! It's a little black blot near the upper left quadrant... exactly where it ought to be. It's a little unfocused, yes, but it's definitely there, and it's quite clear. YES! MOTHERFUCKING YES! WE HAVE TRANSIT OF VENUS!!!!

Dirk and children stand around in the dark shed looking at the blob of light for about five minutes. Fuck-all happens. Venus is In Transit.

Epilogue: return to house. Sign into the Internet. Check in with NASA, find a live feed of the Transit of Venus. Big, red-filtered sun, very clear round black spot. Hmm. Looks just like a computer graphic, doesn't it?

Never mind. Time for some hot chocolate, maybe.