Many would-be viewers have traveled great distances to see the Transit of Venus, only to be frustrated. The 2004 Transit was not visible from Seattle. But our oldest son and his family live in Istanbul, Turkey, and we’d been planning a visit. We scheduled the trip to coincide with the Transit, and hoped. We’d sent an e-mail to Dr. Tamer Ataç of the Kandilli Observatory asking if visitors would be accepted there for the occasion, and had had his positive answer back, so we felt a responsibility, clouds or no, to appear. Kandilli is one of the many areas of Istanbul that dot the shores of the Bosphorus, and the Kandilli Observatory sits on the crest of a hill above the Strait. Tuesday morning, June 8th, we pulled up at the Observatory just after a rain shower.
Once there, Dr. Ataç graciously welcomed us. He apologized for the weather—hardly his fault!—and then showed us the one picture on the Observatory Web site of an early moment in the Transit when the clouds had parted. “Such bad luck,” he said, “that it should be cloudy today.” “Never mind,” we answered. “We’re happy to be here and to meet you.”
“Then let me show you our telescope.” We went up a couple of flights of winding marble stairs and into the dome. There the telescope, controlled by Hulya Yes,ilyaprak, was pointed at the clouds.
Kandilli Observatory telescope
Hulya Yes, ilyaprak and graph
“If it weren’t rainy, we would have set up another ‘scope with its solar filter in the yard,” Dr. Ataç said. Just then the clouds thinned. As we watched, a shadow crossed the sheet of graph paper that had been positioned under the ‘scope. All at once, the bright image of the Sun appeared, sharp and clear, and the dark spot of Venus stood out, unmistakable, almost unbelievably real.
We all gasped. “It’s there! We saw it!” As quickly it was gone again. For another hour we watched and visited as the clouds came and went, now allowing a faint shadow of the planet to peek through, now a sharp image, and now nothing. Hulya Hanim (Miss Hulya) pointed out the planet to visitors as it appeared. The Observatory recorded the transit electronically. We were impressed by the competence of the staff, the quiet skill with which Hulya Haným handled the big ‘scope, and the ease with which the increasing number of visitors were accommodated. Before we left, the weather had cleared a bit (it never did open up completely), and the portable ‘scope was positioned outside so we could look through it directly at the Sun. The Kandilli Observatory was founded in 1868; its telescope has been in operation since 1935. It is an equatorial refractor with a 20 cm objective diameter and a 307 cm focal length. In 1982 it became affiliated with Bogaziçi University in Istanbul.
Since 1947 the major ongoing work of the Observatory has been to observe and report sunspot activity monthly to the Sunspot Index Data Center and the National Geophysical Data Center. It has received recognition for this from the American Association of Variable Stars. In 1973 They began to operate a low frequency radio receiver in order to research solar-terrestrial relationships. A staff of seven people works at the astronomy laboratory. More than 150 people are involved in research projects, including earthquake research, the design and production of optical instruments for astronomy, and plans for research on the Solar eclipse that will cross central Turkey the afternoon of March 29, 2006.
Pictures of the Transit as recorded by the Kandilli Observatory can be seen on http://www.koeri.boun.edu.tr/astronomy/VenusTransit/index.html For more about the study of the sun, see http:/www.koeri.boun.edu.tr/astronomy/solphys_lab.html
Bill Edmonds, right, with Dr. Tamer Ataç
The library of the Observatory is a repository of works on astronomy dating from the 11th century to the 21st. Among them are writings by the famous 16th century Ottoman astronomer, Taqi al-Din. Taqi’s observatory offended Sultan Selim II’s Grand Mufti, who ordered it destroyed.
For Bill and me, the experience of being included in watching the Transit at Kandilli was one we’ll never forget. We’d seen the photographs of the 1882 Transit, and of course we could have watched this one in the comfort of our home, on our computer screen.
We didn’t need to be in Turkey. That said, the computer projection, as scientific (and unclouded!) as it was, would still have been like a textbook subject, scientifically verified, but one step removed from reality. Instead, with our own eyes we saw the event as it took place.
We saw a planet almost the size of our Earth as a minuscule pimple against the huge Sun, and had for an instant an insight into the truth of astronomical research and into the magnitude of our Solar System. It was an unforgettable morning.
Transit of Venus, Kandilli Observatory ( All photos by Anna Edmonds)