Venus Transit 2012 – The Event

“So I was standing on the third rock from the Sun, watching the second rock from the Sun, on the Sun.”


If my looking forward to this for some time has been a secret, it has been badly kept. After all it’s a once in a lifetime happening event, and I’ve pretty much felt like a nine year old waiting to be taken to the fun fair. With the time frames in play, chances are that our children’s children won’t see the next one, 105 years from now, but their grandchildren, my great grandchildren, may. Weather permitting.

Note: All time references are in 24 hour format, so no AM/PM.
Sorry about that, Americans

These days the media make it easy to watch such an event even if you’re in a place that makes direct observation impossible or awkward, there’s a plenitude of other observers elsewhere in the world, and some are equipped with cameras broadcasting the whole thing on the Internet. I watched the beginning of the Transit on the live camera feed from the Mt Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii, since it happened at a time when the sun was below the horizon here.

Venus Transit 2012 Montage
Click image for larger sizes on


From where I sit, the transit started just four minutes after midnight, and the sun didn’t rise until 04:15, when Venus was well two thirds into its crossing. By that time, however, I was ready with tripod, camera, a 300mm lens and a home-made solar filter. A few annoying clouds were in the way, but stayed low on the horizon. By 05:03 the sun was clear of them and I could start taking pictures. All in all I spent three early morning hours on the east balcony, adjusting focus and exposure, capturing several steps of the planetary journey across the burning face of Sol.

Transit camera setup

Which brings me to the pictures. I made several exposures, picked the 14 best or most significant ones and put them together in a montage. The top two images show the clouds that were in the way at sunrise. I had planned to shoot the sun and Venus as they touched the branches of the rightmost tree, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. The leftmost image on the upper row of sun pics is green because I took it through a welding mask filter (a 60×110mm plate of nearly opaque glass) attached to the lens with two bits of tape. It didn’t come out as crisp as I had hoped, but I couldn’t be bothered with tweaking the exposure settings, so I replaced the welding filter with a pair of solar eclipse glasses, mounted on a cardboard frame with a hole cut for one eye and similarly taped to the lens. This worked much better. All the time stamps are in local time, UTC plus two hours (Oslo time, which is GMT + 1 hour + Daylight Savings).

As reasons for sleep deprivation go, I’ll rank this as one of the better ones 🙂

The Sun isn’t very big at a distance of an entire Astronomical Unit (150 million kilometres, 93 million miles). This is how it looks in a full camera frame using the 300mm lens at full zoom.

This is the full pixel size at 05:17. The entire width of the Sun spans a mere 435 pixels in this 10 megapixel picture (3872×2593 pixels total). What really excited me about this is that I managed to capture sunspots!

So why do I bother taking pictures of an event like this, when half the world is doing the same, producing millions upon millions of photographs practically identical to or far better than mine? I think it is because it makes me feel that I am a part of the Universe around us. The distances and the powers in the Cosmos, even those in our nearest planetary neighbourhood, are beyond the imagination of most humans if not all. To capture such an event takes me a little closer to it all, in a way that way that cant’t quite be matched by looking at someone else’s pictures, even if they’re far, far better than my own.

I consider myself lucky for having had the opportunity to witness and photograph not just one but two Venus transits. This was the second. The previous one was on June 8th, 2004, and my photo kit at that time was far less sophisticated, but nevertheless quite functional, which goes to show what you can do even with pretty simple tools.

Fast rewind to June 8, 2004

at 11:57 CET (DST)

The transit started around 07:20, and lasted until 13:20, totally six hours. This picture was taken about 2/3 into the transit. Equipment used was a Canon Digital Ixus 400 camera, a pair of 8x pocket binoculars, a tripod and a pair of solar eclipse protective sunglasses.

She looks so little against the face of the Sun. Just a tiny shadow walking across the yellow circle. It is hard to imagine that she is almost as big as our own Earth. Or is it too frightening a thought that our Earth is just as small? And just moments later, she is lost in the darkness again.

This morning did not look promising at all. Totally overcast, not a shadow anywhere, you couldn’t even tell which general direction the Sun was shining from. That was 7:20. Four hours later, at 11:30, the scene had changed completely. The sky was about 75% clear, and although the Sun was playing hide-and-seek behind the few clouds that were left, it did come out in the open quite often.

I have to say that even though taking pictures like this one, with a pair of binoculars instead of a proper tele, is doable, it is also a pain. It’s absolute vital that you hold the binoculars steady as a rock, and focusing isn’t all that simple. This was my seventh attempt, and the only one that came out close to good – and my arms were going silly trying to keep it all steady and locked.

On hindsight, though, it was definitely worth it!

(08.11.2015) This post has been updated with the Venus Transit of 2004.


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