Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wild Plants And Wooly Bears

The Amazing Transit of Venus

This past week of continual rain, cold and clouds surely dampened my spirits. Several outdoor events went forward despite the rain, but the weather put a damper on both.

Additionally, mosquitoes, enlivened by the cool, damp and gloom, have made it difficult to spend time foraging for potherbs. Consequently, I was and am consigned to foraging for lettuce, chard and turnip tops in my greenhouse…thank goodness for that.

Amidst all of this, I looked forward to the Venus transit on Tuesday afternoon. This would be the last time Venus passes between earth and sun for over 100 years, essentially making it an once-in-a-lifetime event for most of us.

So when Tuesday rolled around and with it, rain and leaden skies, I only naturally assumed that we here in Maine would be cheated out of this one-time opportunity to witness a spectacular astronomical event.

But with perhaps one hour to go, a patch of blue showed up in the western sky. I had an appointment to meet a fellow amateur astronomer in Brooks. We planned to each bring a telescope and set them up on the bridge in town. This place offered a wide-open view to the west.

Rain returned after the little bit of blue sky, that teaser, had me thinking that just maybe things would turn out okay. But again, the rain stopped and the blue sky returned. So I loaded the scope in my car and headed for Brooks, not really expecting to see the transit.

My friend was already there and had his scope set up. I wasted no time in erecting mine and at that point, the sky to the east, south and north was dark and cloudy, but the sun shone brightly to the west. At about three minutes before the appointed time for the transit to begin, several rainbows appeared to the east and some people standing nearby ooh’d and aaah’d at the sight. But my friend and I had our gaze riveted on the eyepieces of our respective telescopes, waiting for the transit to begin.

The time came and went and nothing happened. Perhaps my watch was set too fast. Or maybe it was all a sham. All manner of thoughts flashed through my mind. And suddenly, a tiny dimple appeared on the bottom edge of the sun. This was the leading edge of the disc of Venus.

I hollered out, “I see it. It’s beginning.” My friend confirmed the sighting. We both kept our gaze upon the scene, watching, as the disk grew larger and progressed further into the larger disc of our sun. Then in a wink it was fully inside. But for a brief moment, I saw what looked like a black link between Venus and the Outside edge of the sun’s disc. Was this the famed “black drop” I had read about? I don’t know, but I am certain that I saw it, whatever “it” was.

At this point, some passers-by had stopped and we invited them to look through our scopes. Each person had a different reaction, but my favorite was from a young lady who simply exclaimed, “Wow.”

And so it went. People stopped and we beckoned them to come and look at this once-in-a-lifetime scene being enacted before our very eyes.

And then the sun grew low in the sky and trees intervened. So we called it quits and packed our scopes and headed home, awed by what we had witnessed and completely satisfied.

Later, the sky darkened once again and rain threatened. It was the same this morning. Our open area of sky where the transit occurred, was it just an accident? Or were millions of people’s prayers answered and the clouds kept away so that we could witness a stupendous, heavenly event?

I’ll leave that to the readers to decide.

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