The Bucket List Astronomy Tour (BLAsT) Class, a group of 10 Sam Houston State University undergraduate students on a journey to witness some of the best astronomical events of a lifetime, had the opportunity to witness the transit of Venus from a pretty cool location — Parkes Observatory, just outside Parkes, Australia, which hosts the 64-meter Parkes radio telescope. Kevin Mulcahy, a senior studying computer animation, shares his reflections:
After second contact, which happened at 8:34 a.m., we went over to Parkes' radio telescope, nicknamed the Dish, to continue watching the event. We had a pretty good view of what was going on for the first two hours. The sky was totally clear. At the dish, several telescopes had been set up to view the transit as well. These were stronger than ours and had different kinds of filters on them, which made the Sun look different colors. There was one like what we had, which made it appear orange. Then there was a Hydrogen-alpha filter that made the Sun look blood red and actually showed some structure to our star.
The sky ended up clouding over in the afternoon, so we didn't see the third contact, as Venus exited the Sun. But John Sarkissian graciously gave us a personal tour of the Dish, allowing us to walk up through the control room and even go out on the walkway right underneath the Dish itself. The Dish looked big, but up close, when you're on it, it's huge. We didn't get to play cricket up on it or take a hayride like in the movie The Dish, which we watched on the bus ride home. But it was pretty awesome seeing all the places in the movie, though a lot of it has been getting upgraded since. There were some astronomers preparing for upcoming projects that include communicating with various NASA spacecraft and surveying pulsars (the Dish has discovered more pulsars than the rest of the world put together!). But these onsite astronomers are going to become extinct soon. They're making it now so astronomers will be able to access it and do their observations remotely from anywhere around the world via the Internet. This seems a shame because it is an experience all its own to be physically at the Dish.