CROSS LANES, W.Va. -- The golden arches of McDonald's helped guide amateur astronomer Rodney Waugh on his successful quest to photograph last Tuesday's Transit of Venus -- that planet's shadowy passage directly between the sun and Earth, which occurs four times every 243 years.
Waugh, of Cross Lanes, a board member and past president of the Kanawha Valley Astronomical Society and a member of the Central Appalachian Astronomy Club, had photographed the previous transit of Venus on a rural hilltop in Jackson County eight years ago.
"At that time, the transit took place in the morning, with the sun rising through the fog," Waugh said. He planned to shoot the 2012 Transit in Jackson County as well, "but the weather didn't cooperate," he said. "All across the Kanawha Valley, it was cloudy and overcast with occasional light sprinkles."
Waugh set up his array of three telescopes in the Ripley area in hopes of catching a glimpse of the transit through a break in the clouds, but the area continued to be socked in, with no end to cloud cover in sight. Since the next Transit of Venus doesn't roll around for another 105 years, Waugh and photographer Ed Connors of Ripley and amateur astronomer Devon Matlick of Moatsville, a member of the Central Appalachian Astronomy Club, decided to hit the road in search of clear skies.
"The weather reports showed there was a good chance that the Great Lakes area would be clear, but it also looked like it could be clearing to the southwest."
The three loaded the telescopes into Waugh's SUV, equipped with signs reading "Venus Transit Expedition," and hit the road, heading initially toward Lexington, Ky.
With no break in cloud cover, the trio called a friend with Internet access, who checked out the latest weather data and recommended a turn to the south. Just before reaching Lexington, they exited Interstate 64 and began traveling south on Interstate 75.
"The Transit started at 6:02, but it was still cloudy so we missed the first contact," Waugh said. "We kept driving south, as fast as we thought safe, but it was still a race with the weather until about 6:30, when we broke out of the overcast and could see the front behind us to the north."
At the nearest exit, in Berea, Ky., Waugh pulled off the freeway, looking for a place to set up his gear. A McDonald's restaurant with an adjacent grassy area caught his eye, and he wheeled into the fast food outlet's parking lot and began setting up telescopes on the patch of lawn.