Armed with solar viewers, crowds gathered well before sunlight to witness rare phenomenon

At the B. M. Birla Planetarium in Guindy, telescopes fitted with solar filters, sun spotters and projectors were stationed at their positions as early as 5 a.m. on Wednesday to receive the celestial guest. Astronomy enthusiasts, teachers and students waited with bated breath to get a glimpse of Venus when the sun rose.

Initially, clouds played spoilsport but within a few minutes, at 6. 15 a.m., the sun came out bright and shining bringing the celestial guest along. Not bothering to focus their telescopes, enthusiasts ran with No.14 welder's glasses to get a better view of the small black dot on the Sun's northern limb.

But the view through the special computerized Celestron global positioning satellite telescope (aperture of 8 inches) was breathtaking. The otherwise fiery and big sun looked small, cool and calm. Crawling across it was Venus in its new moon phase. More than five sunspots were visible through the telescope with their penumbral region clearly outlined. Though the images obtained through sun spotters and projectors were clear, they lacked finer details.

Much to the joy of the astronomers, the principal events or the phase egress — contact III and IV — of the transit occurred precisely as predicted. Contact III took place at 10.04 a.m. That was when the planet reached the opposite limb of the Sun. As it appeared to cross the outer edge, it seemed to slightly elongate and its edge appeared deformed. This phenomenon, called the ‘black drop effect' was subtly visible through the projection method. Contact IV occurred at 10.22 a.m. when the planet finally quit the Sun's disk completely.

Amateur astronomers such as Dr. Suresh and his team who were interested in more than just the transit felt lucky to observe solar flares and prominences through a special solar telescope. “The telescope allows wavelengths of light only in the red band enabling one to witness various kinds of solar activity,” said Dr. Iyamperumal, executive director, Birla Planetarium.

Public viewing of this rare celestial occurrence, which will not happen till 2117, was organised at Birla Planetarium. “We want people to see and enjoy the transit which is a bit like an annular eclipse. We have made a lot of arrangements for all to see the planet comfortably. We are also distributing biscuits to dispel the myth that it is wrong to eat during an eclipse.” Crowds kept growing through the morning to see the wobbly walk of Venus across the Sun.

Students of the physics department at D. G. Vaishnav College felt they were lucky to catch a glimpse of the celestial event. “It is a long astronomical phenomenon. It kindles students' interest to delve deeper into the subject,” a youngster said.

A few students of Madras University, SRM University and Amirta University, Coimbatore, were involved in a project where they tracked the path of Venus, to determine the distance between Earth and the sun. Ishwar, a class X student of Chettinad Vidyashram, said it was hard to believe that the planet, which is nearly as big as the Earth, has been dwarfed by the sun.

Sankar, director, Teacher Recruitment Board, appreciated the efforts made by planetarium authorities to create awareness about the phenomenon through workshops and training programmes. “Teachers in Tuticorin, Kancheepuram and places all over Tamil Nadu were able to project the event to their students through projectors, welder glasses and solar filters. I am sure the event would have inspired young minds to not only pursue astronomy but also instil a scientific temper in them,” Mr. Sankar said.

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