Transit of Venus Award!

This past June gave us a rare opportunity to see the beautiful transit of Venus.  In order to commemorate the event, the Astronomical League put together a special observing award just for the transit.

Well, when we heard about that we just had to do it. After all, how many people can say they’ve received the Transit of Venus observing award? How many people can say they have two awards? Wait – what?

I know we keep saying that this is a rare event, but there was one in 2004. These rare events come in pairs! The first transit was in 2004, the next in 2012 then nothing until December 2117, which is, according to, 38,328 days and 10 hours (at the time of this writing) away.

2004 Transit of VenusIn 2004, we also had a great observing event overlooking Lake Michigan. We were able to see the whole event that day because it started early in the morning! The Astronomical League had an observing program back then too, and guess who did that one? Me! So not to boast or anything – but I’ll have them both!

So – what does it take to complete this type of award? Well they both involved the timing of the contacts, sketching the event and making a calculation of 1 au (astronomical unit, the distance between the earth and the sun) which is roughly 93 million miles.

I’m very happy that I’ve received both certificates – they will be proudly displayed side by side!



Getting organized

LynnOver the years, we’ve had a number of speakers talk about how to keep your observations organized because over time, you start to accumulate a lot of them. I’ve been a club member off and on since the early 70’s, and believe me, in 40 years you can end up with a lot of sheets of paper scrawled with descriptions and drawings.

And once they’re spread all over your house, it’s impossible to lay your hands on that one asteroid observation you made at Tony’s, or the 2004 transit of Venus observation that you need to get the AL’s Planetary Transit Special Award. Sigh.

I’ve always been fairly disciplined about including dates, times, locations and sky conditions for every observation that I made over the years. I also often included descriptions of an object whether it was needed for observing program or not (although many of them are pretty lame – how many ways can you describe a globular cluster viewed through a pair of binoculars?)

After watching Amy and everyone else in the club get awards, I started thinking maybe I should start organizing my piles and boxes of observations and start applying for some of these awards myself. It was time to get my observing act together.

One snowy afternoon a few years ago, I dragged every box, folder and pile of astronomy papers I could find up into my living room and started sorting them into piles. I ended up with about eight piles – one was general club stuff, another was astronomy-related articles to keep, one pile was mystery observations that I hadn’t properly identified (bigger than I’d like it to be) and the remaining piles were related to observations, and I broke them down into AL programs – the Lunar Program, Binocular Messier, Constellation Hunter, etc. Then each pile went into a folder.

A few months later, on another snowy day, I picked up one of the folders and, after sitting down by the computer and actually recording my observations for the Universe Sampler Program, I was stunned to discover that I only needed one more observation to finish that program. A few weeks later, I picked up the Messier folder and wow! I only needed about eight more Messier’s to finish the Binocular Messier Program.

What’s made all this possible was my realization early on that it is important to keep good observational notes with all the information needed to officially record them. Date, time, location, seeing conditions, equipment used and a brief description is usually enough for most AL observing programs. And I ALWAYS (almost) forced myself to take the time first thing the next morning to review my notes from the night before to make sure that all the necessary information was written on each sheet.

So now I’m stoked. I still have some folders stacked up here that may be just a few observations away from getting a pin, and Amy’s starting to talk about the Master Observer Award. Sure, it’s going to take 400 Hershel’s to get there, but if we start chipping away at it now and keep good records, we’ll get there someday. Luckily winter is nearly here and there are plenty of snowy days ahead to work on my observation records because now, I also need to start working on submitting them!