Where can I see a clear western horizon around Chicago?
April 25, 2012 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Where can we get a clear view of the western horizon at sunset to see the transit of Venus, in or near or within a few hours' drive of Chicago?

In 2004, I lived in California, and missed the first transit of Venus to happen in my lifetime. June 5, 2012, will give me a second shot at it, so I'm determined not to miss it. Unfortunately, I live in Chicago and won't be able to travel or take more than a few hours off of work to make sure I see it. Where is the best place I can go to see a clear view of the horizon from around 5pm CST to sunset?

Any other Venus-viewing tips from astronomy buffs would also be appreciated. Will we need a telescope to get a good view? Is it necessary to have a solar filter for my camera lens even if I have solar eclipse glasses on my eyes? (And if so, do you have one you recommend?) Thanks!
posted by booknerd to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
June 5 happens to be my birthday, and I was half-planning on going up to the Sears Tower skydeck that night for a clear view of the western horizon. Barring that, I'm hoping that some kind of organized viewing will pop up as the date approaches.
posted by theodolite at 9:54 AM on April 25, 2012

The Adler Planetarium is having an viewing event, even though they obviously don't have a clear view of the western horizon. So you don't necessarily need a clear view of the horizon, though of course you'll get more viewing time the longer can see the Sun.

When I viewed the 2004 transit (from Promontory Point, down in Hyde Park) I used the optical projection method with a pair of binoculars, which worked pretty well. I didn't actually look at the Sun at any time.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:24 AM on April 25, 2012

You might want to try and contact the Wheaton College Astronomy Department. They have a brand new observatory and I think their new telescope should be in by then. While they normally are open to the public on Friday Nights they might be open to the idea of making a special night because of the transit.

The last time I was up there I recall being able to see the western horizon pretty well. At least better than the Adler. =)
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:53 PM on April 25, 2012

The highest natural point in Illinois is Charles Mound, about 3 hours straight west of Chicago. Of course you would need to bring your won viewing equipment etc.
posted by timsteil at 5:52 PM on April 25, 2012

Once you get much southwest of Bolingbrook you'll have pretty flat terrain. Or follow the highway around to Michigan and watch the sun set over lake Michigan. It's not like you're looking for comets or faint Messier objects and going to need super dark skies for this.

If you're using a telescope or camera, YES, you will need a filter for that device since it's lens is probably much bigger than than the lens of your eye and it will focus much more sunlight onto the steaming remains of what was once your retina! There are probably amateur astronomer types who are using this as an excuse to set up bunches of telescopes in a field somewhere, but I have no solid advice for tracking them down.

If you want to go equipment light, you could probably observe the transit using a pinhole projection (like people do for eclipses) and even circle and note the time of the shadow of Venus at various points.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:06 PM on April 25, 2012

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