The Independent Workers Party would like to thank all the folks who stopped by our event at Jackson and Canal Sts. in downtown Chicago yesterday to observe the Transit of Venus! It was fun to meet you and to share this rare celestial even with so many people, many of whom were not aware that they could actually observe it from downtown Chicago, or who were thinking that they would not get the chance to see it due to work schedule conflicts or time constraints.
We were able to put together a number of instruments to safely observe the Venus Transit. We had a telescope that we intended to bring, but as it was deemed impossible to make it 100% safe for small children, we left it at home. We constructed 3 “pinhole camera” solar projector boxes, which, unfortunately, proved to be not of much use in observing the transit, as the images projected were too blurry to delineate the disk of Venus.
The weather conditions could not have been better: it was about 72 degrees (F.) and not a cloud in the sky.
Fortunately, we had purchased a couple of 4.5″ x 5.5″ pieces of #14 welders glass, which we duct taped to the cut-in-half tops of some bankers boxes we had lying around. We just cut out a rectangle from the center of the half-box-top 3/4″ smaller all around than the glass, and duct taped it onto the inside of the box top. This made a nice shield from the sun for the face and gave a nice big area in which to see the solar disk.
Our observations began at 5:00 PM using both the projector boxes and the welder’s glass. It was obvious right away that the projector boxes would not work very well, as the image of the sun, even on the 6′ long box we made, was large enough but too blurry. The welder’s glass, though, gave a nice, crisp image of the Sun… and within a few minutes of the start of the Transit – in commenced at 5:04 PM Chicago time – I (a rather experienced but very amateur astronomer – could barely make out the small semicircular “bite” that had been taken out of the solar disk at about the 1:00 position; others who tried to see it could not. As the transit proceeded and the entire disk of Venus was surrounded by the solar disk, the planet Venus was clearly visible to nearly everyone who looked through our viewers. Only a couple of people with apparently very poor eyesight and, thanks to our country’s lack of universal health care, no corrective lenses, were unable to see the black dot on the face of the Sun. Those with good eyesight and those who wore glasses correcting nearsightedness could immediately see the disk of Venus once it was engulfed by the solar disk.
We were somewhat surprised at the large number of people who passed us by, completely ignoring our offer to “See the Transit of Venus! Next time you’ll get to see it is in 2117”! Probably 85-95% of the hundreds – perhaps thousands (I wasn’t counting, but it was in the middle of rush hour) of people who passed us either ignored us or, obviously not having heard or understood what we were saying, said “no, thanks” or “not today” – as if those responses made any sense at all. America is indeed a country where most people are conditioned to ignore their fellow citizens and to avoid making even brief eye contact with strangers. Americans are, quite simply, afraid of each other. The brutality of the capitalist system of the United States, which pits every working person against their fellows in a savage struggle for survival of the fittest results in the dehumanization of the population. Even beggars exhibiting the most pitiful and undoubtedly authentic signs of extreme physical and psychological distress are callously ignored and brushed aside by the citizens of the United States with heartless comments like “not today” or “no thanks”! Americans are afraid to look into the eyes of the homeless because they seem to fear that doing so would cause them to “contract poverty” as if it was a communicable disease. But it is just this kind of social dislocation and refusal to act together and to take the responsibility to care for our unfortunate brothers and sisters on the streets that sets the stage for our own downfall when we lose our jobs and find ourselves facing homelessness! As long as we stick with the capitalist economic system we are all at risk of “contracting” the “disease” of poverty!
At times, I I felt as if I could have been standing there at the corner of Jackson and Canal with a bag of nuggets of pure gold, giving them away for free and the vast majority of the people would have just walked right past me without even glancing in my direction.
The redeeming feature of the event was, of course, that 10-15% of genuine human beings who either saw others viewing the sun through the viewers and were curious as to what we were doing or who knew about the Transit of Venus already and jumped at the chance to see it. They were not ignoring what was going on around them and many heard my spiel and walked on a bit, only to turn around and come back and ask: “Can you see it from here?” Some had heard about the event but were unable to get to the Adler Planetarium for their big public celebration of the transit, and thus who sadly expected to miss the whole show.
We stayed at Jackson and Canal until about 6:30, when the sun started to go behind the roof of Union Station. We then had to edge east along the south side of Jackson following the rays of the sun until around 7 by which time we had crossed the Chicago river at Jackson and the sun disappeared behind the rows of office towers. There were a bunch of people waiting for the CTA bus there who took a peek at the transit just before the sun disappeared – many others just brusquely walked by. After that, we moved to a location southwest of Union Station on the north side of Clinton, where the sun was clearly visible across a parking lot there. Here, we met with a handful of curious people who enjoyed a view of this rare event and thanked us for it.
Finally, I had catch a METRA train to make a trip out to the suburbs, so I had to leave. It was getting close to impossible to find a downtown location with a clear view of the sunset anyway. I hopped on the train heading to Fox Lake, which was going northwest, which I assumed would give me another chance to do some observations as the Sun would be visible from the left side of the train. This turned out to be true and I made several observations of the transit while in transit* – and was able to share the view with several of my fellow passengers, while, just as before, the majority either didn’t care to look or were afraid to ask to join us as we observed the event. Thanks to everyone on the Fox Lake Metra train who observed the transit with me – I believe we are part of a very select group of human beings who ever observed a Transit of Venus from a moving vehicle! And you were able to see it because you were not afraid to ask the man with the piece of welders glass taped to a box top what he was doing. Congratulations to you!
I had hoped to continue sharing observations with more people once I arrived at my destination, but by the time I got there, the sun had descended so far in the sky that it was no longer visible above the treeline a block or two away.
Our Transit of Venus event wasn’t entirely utterly altruistic: there was an element of shameless but (I hope) unobtrusive promotion of the Independent Workers Party that took place as part of the event. I passed out some business cards promoting the IWP to a number of people who stopped long enough to chat a bit or who frankly asked “why are you doing this?” In this way I was able to meet a bunch of people from Chicago and even some folks from out of state and at least one person from another country who were interested in the Party and said they’d check out the blog; we’ve had another 30 hits on the website since yesterday, so I suppose they did just that! In fact, since I posted the “Transit of Venus” article on June 5th, our daily hits have more than tripled; so I conclude here by thanking everyone once again for making the Transit of Venus event – our Party’s first public event! – a successful one!
PS: If you missed the Transit of Venus and would like to see some amazing videos of the event taken by a couple of NASA’s solar observation satellites, check out these websites:
http://venustransit.gsfc.nasa.gov/ [amazing views of the surface of the Sun as well as the transit];
http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/home.html [In these videos, Venus passes outside the solar disk due to the fact that this spacecraft’s orbit takes it below the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, giving it a different view of the event (see article at link below).]
An excellent article on the transit from the SOHO website is here along with an amazing story of a French Astronomer, Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Autoroche, who risked his life – twice – to obtain accurate observations of the Transit of Venus in the late 1700s is here: