Venus transit party wows crowd
Alexander Tinerella, 6, of Norridge looks through his dad Rosario's welding hood to see the transit of Venus at Ridgewood High School on Tuesday. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2012 6:18AM
“What are we looking at right now? Is it that black spot?” Adrian Kadzielawa, 20, wondered out loud as he squinted into a skinny black telescope.
“That’s Venus. That’s it,” exclaimed Ridgewood High School science teacher Walter Glogowski.
Glogowski had set up four of his telescopes on the front lawn of Ridgewood on June 5 for the Norridge community to witness a rare solar event watched by millions around the world.
He angled each of the devices toward the sun to provide a slightly different view of the transit of Venus, in which the planet passed directly between the sun and earth.
For six hours and 40 minutes, Venus appeared as a tiny mole on the face of the solar system star, an occurrence that won’t be visible to the human eye for another 105 years.
Glogowski had been looking forward to the sky-gazing event since the past fall, when he approached Science Department Chair Brian Eppley and asked to plan a viewing around the astronomical phenomena.
The high school turned the transit into family-friendly party, with entertainment by the school’s band, a cookout provided by the parents club, and plenty of educational games for kids. The most popular involved building and launching high into the sky compressed-air propelled paper rockets.
Ridgewood’s Venus viewing began at approximately 5:04 p.m. At 8:30 p.m. Glogowski aimed the telescopes toward Saturn and the moon to show off Earth’s other neighbors.
His two large reflecting telescopes, and another one that refracts, block 99.9-percent of the sun’s light and ultraviolet rays, he said, which demonstrates the extreme brightness of the star.
A fourth device, a hydrogen-alpha solar telescope, filtered only light from the sun’s hydrogen atoms, causing it to appear as a giant red ball.
Glogowski said location and weather played a big role in how well one was able to watch Venus’ silhouette move across the solar disk.
Most of the world’s Western Hemisphere saw the transit in the afternoon.
Those East of the Mississippi River saw it a few hours leading up to sunset, and Hawaiians – who had the best view – watched Venus from dawn ‘til dusk, he said.
Chicago-area viewers lucked out, too, for the weather cooperated and the sky wasn’t overcast.
“I was literally hoping and praying for no clouds,” Glogowski said.
One of many observers that evening, Kadzielawa was driving home around 7:30 p.m. when he spotted the truck of his former biology and chemistry professor parked in front of the high school.
Kadzielawa, a 2010 Ridgewood alumnae, pulled over to say hello to Glogowski and see what all the fuss was about.
He has a small telescope of his own that he uses to peer at the moon, he said, but was excited to check out the sky with high tech-equipment.
Kadzielawa also appreciated the chance to catch up with his teacher.
“I didn’t get an A in his class – I got a B – but I’ll take it,” he said. “He was one of my favorite teachers.”
In addition to getting non-science folks jazzed about astronomy, Glogowski said the Venus transit puts life into perspective.
Like the size of our planet compared to the sun (Venus is only five-percent smaller than Earth). And the relativity of time.
“One-hundred-and-twenty-five years in astronomical time is a blink of an eye,” Glogowski said.
The last message Glogowski passed on to the Venus viewers– which he admitted to being slightly “cheesy” – is the possibility of someone else gazing back from a far-off solar system.
“If there are people looking back at us, they wouldn’t even know if we existed,” he said.
“There is nothing special about our sun and, yet, we’re here and if that doesn’t make you feel special, I don’t know what will.”