The Eddington Astronomical Society in Kendal arranged a public viewing of the planet Venus in Kendal’s Abbot Hall park for tonight as part of the International Year of Astronomy. Venus is a well known sight in the night sky, though many people won’t realise what they are looking at. As the planet is close enough to the Sun and the Earth to be reflecting brightly at dawn or dusk, but not so close as to set immediately with the Sun, it shines as either the first ‘star’ of dusk or the last ‘star’ of dawn, depending on whether the planet’s position is such that it is in front of the rising Sun or behind the setting Sun. This gives Venus its names of The Morning Star and the Evening star. But of course, it is no star, it is a planet.
Located between the Sun and the orbit of the Earth, and between the orbits of the Earth and Mercury, Venus is the second largest of the terrestrial planets. Being inside the orbit of the Earth, and in similarity to Mercury, Venus is able to show it’s dark side to the Earth (as it passes between us and the Sun). All the outer planets only show a mostly illuminated disk. As a result, Venus seen through a small telescope or binoculars will show phases like the Moon. This can be seen from all over the world and just requires Venus to not be between us and the Sun, or on the other side of the Sun.
Unfortunately, tonight something else was between us and Venus, the fluffy menaces themselves, clouds. A glimpse of the planet shining brightly and faithfully occurred partway through the 45 minutes the audience waited enraptured for, but sadly the decision was made to call the thing off. As Stuart Atkinson dismantled the telescope brought for the occasion, the planet made another appearance, shining brighter than before, but not brightly enough or long enough to put everything together once more. Dissapointed children were hustled away by their parents as an object more than 12,000 km across was obscured by a few well placed drops of water, such is the nature of public (and private) astronomical viewing events.
As I walked home up the hill, watching the by now very bright and long shining planet in the sky, my only comfort asides from the public interest from those who had turned up and those passing who stopped for a chat, was that I had taken a few interesting photographs, some including long exposures that showed clouds and astronomers round the telescope and a group picture. Sadly, I activated the browser, opened up the blog and flickr to get everything uploaded and for only the second time in the two years I’d had the admittedly third hand camera, the photographs were corrupted. Even the one I had risked life and dark adaption (of the others) to use flash on. One of the Venus watch survived, two of a recent family outing also made it, but ten other photographs have now vanished behind clouds of their own.
Lets hope the skies clear later on and the comet rides to the rescue.