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Quest for Transit of Venus fulfilled at Kentucky McDonald's

Courtesy photo
On a lawn adjacent to a McDonald's restaurant in Berea, Ky., Rodney Waugh of Cross Lanes smiles after finding clear skies in which to observe and photograph last Tuesday's Transit of Venus.

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.

Equipment used in the observation included Waugh's 90-millimeter H2 Coronado Hydrogen-Alpha solar telescope, a Coronado hydrogen alpha Personal Solar Telescope and a Celestron C-8 telescope with a white light filter.

"From about 6:50 until just before sunset, when the clouds came through again, we were able to see the Transit," Waugh said.

The McDonald's manager and about 30 customers and passers-by also saw the transit using the West Virginians' gear. To those who viewed the cosmic event, Waugh handed out pre-printed "Official Venus Transit" certificates, stating that the bearer had observed "the last Venus transit in my lifetime on June 5, 2012."

"The people really seemed to enjoy it," Waugh said. "The McDonald's manager was particularly interested. He said the difference between seeing the tTransit on television and seeing it through the telescope was like the difference between seeing a baseball game on TV and in person at the ballpark."

"In Hawaii, people were able to watch the transit for almost seven hours," Waugh said. "We saw it for about an hour and a half, and were happy to have had that. When the clouds came back just before sunset and shut us down, we packed our stuff up and went out to get something to eat."

The 460-mile round trip to Berea was well worth the effort, Waugh said. He got numerous images of Venus transiting across the sun and gave dozens of other people the once-in-a-lifetime chance to safely view the event.

"This one was it for all of us," Waugh said. "The next Transit of Venus doesn't happen until 2117."

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

 


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