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Monday, June 4

Watching the Venus transit?

On Wednesday morning (6th June), as the Sun rises, a transit of Venus will be in progress. This is a rare astronomical event, so rare that the next one takes place in December 2117 (yes 2117!). So a few people have been in touch asking if we are holding a public event similar to the one we held in Memorial Gardens back in 2004 for the last transit. The short answer is no . . .

There's a couple of reasons why we have not organised an event this year. Firstly the transit is already well underway when the sun rises at around 4.45am. That's early for most people, especially on the day after a long bank holiday weekend. Secondly because the event is in progress at sunrise to get the best views we need a low eastern (north eastern actually) horizon to allow us to see the event as soon as possible. Here in west Cumbria we are not well provided for with low eastern horizons so that means travelling some distance and/or height.

So, no public event then, but if the weather is kind (and unfortunately the forecasts have been consistently poor, but fingers crossed . . . ) it is still worth a go. So that leaves the question of where to view from?

Before I carry on and talk about where you might observe the transit from, word of caution. Viewing the transit involves looking at the Sun. As always, the advice is NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN through a telescope or binoculars, or with the naked eye for that matter (even with sunglasses). That's an excellent way of damaging your eyes. There is plenty of advice around about how to view the sun safely through filters, via projection etc. For some good advice try this link from SpaceWeather.com.

Back to 'where?' . . .

My first thought was Whinlatter Forest Park. It's easy to get to, and a short walk gets you to a viewing point high above the valley with an excellent view east over Keswick. However at this time of year the sun actually rise in the northeast and I suspected that would put it behind Skidaw. A quick, and pleasant, walk up there on Thursday evening confirmed that.

I then found this NASA solar calculator which allows you to plot the sunrise and sunset direction for any location on google maps. That illustrated the problem. . .

So my thoughts moved further east, beyond Keswick and out towards Penrith, putting most of the Lake District hills behind us. I settled on one of the lesser known and lower lakeland fells, Great Mell Fell. It offers a bit of height, relative proximity to the A66 and that all important low north-eastern horizon (as does the adjacent Little Mell Fell). A quick check on the NASA solar calculator confirmed its suitability.

The magic of the internet allowed me a virtual view from the summit via Andrew Leaney's excellent 'The Lakeland Fells' website with this summit 360 degree panorama.

If climbing fells that early in the morning is not your cup of tea (and I'm not sure it's mine yet!) then there are perhaps some viewing points on, or near, the A66 if you park in one of the laybys and head for high ground.

Obviously large telescopes are out of the question if walking a distance from vehicles, so probably the best approach is the projection technique using a pair of binoculars (or half a pair to be precise). I'll have the society's solar telescope available which is relatively portable, and my trusty binos.

So. That's it, no public event, no guarantee of good weather, no firm plans. But, if the weather is kind, and you (and I) have enough dedication and a dose of good fortune we may see this chance in a lifetime event. And I may see you on top of one of Wainwright's lower fells.

Good luck.


P.S. If you have any good ideas for viewing locations, please share them in the comments.


  1. The car park above Caldbeck should be a good spot. Number 2 on this map
    It was used for the 2003 partial eclipse at the same time of day and date as this event. http://www.threehillsobservatory.co.uk/astro/astro_image_44.htm


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