In June, the University Lowbrow Astronomers made plans to observe an unusual event. On July 17th 2001 the Moon was going to occult Venus. From our perspective the Moon would move in front of Venus for about an hour. This would have been an awesome spectacle had it happened after the Sun has set or before the Sun has risen, but alas, this was not be the case (at least not from our point of view). Nevertheless, it would have been a very cool and exciting spectacle if clouds hadn’t interfered. Using nothing more than a pair of binoculars and a clear sky, you could have witnessed this rare occultation without any problem. If you had a telescope with a clock drive, you could have photographed or video taped the event. The July 2001 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine (page 100) had a very nice article on this event. If you live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the last time the Moon and Venus played this little game of hide and seek was on April 19th 1993, a little after noon local time. The next time will be March 5th 2008, about 3:25 PM (these times/dates are different if you live at some other location).
Some of the Lowbrows planned to set up a daylight observing session at the Leslie Science Center in Ann Arbor to observe this event (it was reminiscent of the Mercury transit of the Sun on November 1999, see “Mercury Transits the Sun.” by Dave Snyder, December, 1999). It was set to begin at 2:21 PM EDT (after Venus is only 2/3 illuminated) and end at 3:29 PM EDT. The sun was 42 degrees east of the event and that should have made it easy to see. Those with very keen eyesight could have watched this occultation without optical aid.
However this was possible only if you were observing from a location without clouds. Furthermore occultations are visible only from certain locations (this one was visible from certain locations in North America, but not visible from Europe). The afternoon of July 17th brought thickening clouds, but that didn’t stop Bob Gruszczynski, Jim Wadsworth, Doug Warshow, Charlie Nielsen, Bernard Friberg, John Causland and myself from setting up some scopes at the Leslie Science Center to view the Venus/Moon occultation. We got to show some of the kids a few sunspots, but the clouds never afforded us even a small glimpse of the Moon.
Some of the Lowbrows were set up to show and view this unique event at Leslie Science Center, but the clouds had other plans.
Mark Deprest, Judy (one of the kids at Leslie Science Center), Bernard Friberg and Doug Warshow quickly decide that they are looking in the wrong end.
Charlie Nielsen and his “Sun-Spot” set up shows a small group of kids what the magnified bottoms of clouds look like.
While Bob Gruszczynski sets up his equipment and Jim Wadsworth takes a look at cloud bottoms, Charlie explains the proper way to do the Sgt. Sacto salute to his young friend.