Today, I was standing at my friend Andrew’s house outside, baking in the Texas sun. He had told me that his wife was home and would be there to lend me a couple of welding masks. She wasn’t, but that was OK, we worked it out, and he was doing me a favor after all. I’m supposed to pick up the masks in just a bit.
But it is that time of year when the angry Texas sun starts to remind me of my mortality. It is kind of like putting your hand really close to the coaled remains of a really hot fire. You know that you are mere inches from destruction, but it feels good tempting fate for the few seconds that you can actually stand it. Living in Texas after the month of May feels just like that.
I was borrowing the welding masks in order to stare at the sun. No, not in one of those “Some guy in Indiana hasn’t eaten in 20 years because he gets all of his energy from sun-gazing,” kind of way. But because today a celestial event is occurring that won’t happen again for another 115 years. Starting about 30 minutes from the time I am writing this, the planet Venus will be traveling between the sun and the earth, causing it to form a little tiny shadow on the sun.
The last time I was a part of a space event like this was when I was a small child. Halley’s Comet was arriving on its journey through space, as it does every 80 or so years. We were really excited to see it. We talked about how the next time it came through I would be a really old man, and my parents would be dead. It was a pleasant thought for a small child to entertain.
My family got up at middle-of-the-night thirty in order to go to an observatory to see this ice cube in the sky. It was a really overcast night and so the astronomer told us that we wouldn’t see anything through the high-powered telescope, that’s too bad, because if we could have “it would be super-cool.” We looked anyway. We didn’t see anything, and went home. I suppose some day if I live long enough I’ll get the chance again.
The main reason I want to see this Venus transit is because Halley’s Comet screwed me over as a child. I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that the universe has been against me every since then. If I see this, it will be getting the galaxy back for its cruel joke ever so many years ago. Plus, Venus is about 900 degrees Fahrenheit. That is a little bit hotter than Texas gets in the summer, so I’ll feel a bit cooler.
But the clouds are rolling in. Tonight it is supposed to storm badly. It would be just like the cosmos to get me once more. I’ll meet with the teenagers in my group in just a bit and explain that if the clouds weren’t there, they could see something that they will never get to see again in their lifetimes.
I’ll be the lucky one, though, because some day 60 or so years from now, I will bring my great grandchildren (OK, let’s just pretend I’m a spry old coot) at some ungodly hour to the Observaplex 9000 fission-powered Televiewer. The astronomer will tell us that it is overcast, and if we could see the comet it would be “super-cool,” and we’ll look anyway, see nothing, and go home. It won’t be the revenge I’m looking for, but Venus will still be hot and my descendants will get to carry my bitterness into future generations. —Ryan
I actually saw it, and although it is a poor and grainy camera-phone image it does show that I did see the event. By the way, no you can’t see Venus in the below image. It is much too crappy, and Venus was a barely discernable speck on the sun.