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The transit of Venus: Svalbard report

7-8 june 2012: Return trip

We packed, visited the museum of Svalbard (didn't get the chance earlier) then flight to Oslo where we arrived on Thursday night. Eating, sleeping (not much) and again in the plane but this time to Brussels where we landed this Friday morning.

That's it. The adventure is over. It was wonderful to follow in the scientists' footsteps, those who made their mark on history with their expeditions to observe the Venus transit! - really a great moment.

Only regret: we didn't see any polar bear. Would they be a legend?


6 june 2012: Resting day

After a very short night (3 hours), we feel tired today...

First an interview on the show "The Forum of Midi", a walk in Longyearbyen, some souvenir shopping, a good meal (thank you Valerie) and the day is already over.


Nevertheless we have worked somewhat, especially to make you enjoy the pictures taken during this adventure and the first video's:

Photo album Svalbard report

Preparation before the observation of the Venus transit (Youtube video)

The Venus transit seen from Svalbard (Youtube video)


Night of 5-6 june 2012: Story of a long night

As the transit of Venus in front of the Sun is approaching, around midnight, is the observation site near the University of Svalbard filling : between 100 and 150 persons are present, among which some are amateur astronomers who came with their own telescope (150 persons on a total population of about 2000 inhabitants in Longyearbyen).

FouleUnfortunately the transit starts under cloudy conditions and the two first contacts are not seen.

Around 1.30am, observers are almost alone as the public left to have some sleep. Some will come back at around 6.30am on time to observe the third and fourth contacts. The bravest, about 15 persons, are rewarded for their efforts as from 1.30am onwards clouds disappear and we had long moments with clear views of the Sun and Venus passing in front.

Photo album Venus Transit

SOIR_team_eclipseAstronomers have come long in advance to install their instruments. Among them, the BBC team who will soon produce a documentary on the transit of Venus came with its own solar telescope and two helioscopes.

This instrument is really easy of use, anybody can operate it; it produces a very neat image of the Venus spot on the solar disc. Another way, within reach of anybody, to easily observe safely Venus in front of the Sun is to place a solar filter in front of binoculars.


A team from the European Space Agency (ESA) is also present with two solar telescopes: one will work in the visible range and the second one, also called Lyman alpha telescope (allowing the detection of Hydrogen) will observe, if clouds permit it, the entirety of the transit.

One of the nine coronagraphs of the Twilight Experiment, under the supervision of Thomas Widemann of the Observatoire de Paris, will be running throughout the entire transit. However, key moments for those instruments are the first and third contacts, in order to study the aureole phenomenon. All the teams of this network were in close relation during the whole observation with their colleagues present on the other observation sites located all around the world.


A deeper analysis of all these data and images will certainly give the opportunity to the astronomers to draw scientific conclusions on this transit and will provide a way to evaluate the instruments in the frame of the study of exoplanets. Nevertheless we enjoyed a magnificent spectacle and a beautiful and unforgettable night.

Night of 5-6 june 2012: Here we are!

  • 11PM (the eve): back at the appartment, put some warm clothes on (temperature is 5°C), drink a coffee and we're leaving

  • 11.45PM: we are on the observation spot. A lot of inhabitants are there as well. Instruments are almost ready (the Twilight Experiment coronagraph and several telescopes). Observers are making the last minute settings. All that under the eye of TV cameras. The first contact is expected for 00.02AM. But the weather is not so good... The clouds have to leave!!

  • 12PM: The weather conditions don't improve much... and we miss the first contact...




  • 12.25PM: The second contact passed under our nose as well... buuuut ... the horizon cleared for a couple of seconds!!

    First image of the Venus transit, recorded with the camera (the clouds acted as solar filter). Venus is visible in the upper left of the disk.


  • 1AM: The clouds and the Sun are continuing their chassé-croisé.

  • 4AM: During sunny intervals we see clearly Venus. No need of any filter in front of the camera: the clouds diminish enough the signal.

  • 5AM: The clouds have disappeared, the sky is blue and the Sun shines : we need a filter, we have to improvise and strap a solar spectacles in front of the camera. Beautifull images !

  • 05.54AM: A thought towards SOIR which is starting its observations from the orbit of Venus Express - clouds are appearing, we need to play with our filter.

  • 7AM: It is over ! We have clearly seen the third contact, less clearly the fourth one. Detailed analysis of the videos will be needed.

  • Venuscope OnSite TheEnd


5 June 2012: The countdown has begun

This morning, scientists are carrying on the meeting. In the early evening, public presentations open to the public are held at the University of Svalbard. They will given by T. Widemann, D. Titov, and D. Grinspoon (see picture). The museum will be exceptionnally open until 1AM.


We still have a few hours before us to regain strength before the long sleepless polar day ahead. The weather seems on our side the sun shines despite a few clouds.

At 1am, after the two first contacts, we will give you some feedback online.


4 June 2012: A boat trip to celebrate the 6th anniversary of Venus Express orbiting Venus

As announced yesterday here is the story of the boat trip last night. We board around 19h. The captain welcomes us onboard. After going through the safety instructions, the crew casts off and let's the show begins.

Consignes de sécuritéUne mer d'huile

We navigate to a glacier that flows into the sea. We can’t get too close because the boat is stopped by an ice sheet. The engine is idling. It is time to start the barbecue! Salmon ‘en papillote’ and whale steaks are on the menu. Our team enjoys the wonderful landscape during dinner.

barbecue à bordL'équipe belge

After dinner, the boat head back to Longyearbyenwhere we arrive under the midnight sun.


4 june 2012: First day of the 28th Science Working Team meeting of the Venus Express mission

We have a meeting today, from 9AM to 6PM with the other scientists and engineers working for the Venus Express mission. ESA and of which ESOC (European Space Operations Centre) is represented as well. Altogether about 40 persons are gathered.

These meetings take place 2-3 times a year to do an overview of the state of the spacecraft and each of the instruments (reminder: there are 6 instruments working onboard Venus Express). Data archiving, collaborations with ground-based instruments, present en future publications, for instance are also discussed. Ann Carine Vandaele is doing the presentation for the SOIR instrument.

During coffee breaks, scientists test their instruments in preparation for the transit of Venus.

Presentation Ann Carine VandaeleDerniers tests avant le transit

Tonight, we will be celebrating the 6 years anniversary of the spacecraft orbiting Venus by a boat trip along the fjords. We will tell you more about this event tomorrow.


3 june 2012: Visit of Longyearbyen and shopping

We arrrived this Sunday in Svalbard. Longyearbyen, the main village of the archipelago, is an old mining town on the shore of a fjord of the Spitsbergen Island. This activity is now almost over, but many constructions still record it.

There are some shops and hotels in the village center, but also a university, a Global Seed Vault, a satellite relay station (SvalSat) and two radars (EISCAT). And of course a huge amount of outdoors activities.


But this afternoon is devoted to shopping and hiking (YouTubeVideo)!

Team in Svalbard

VEX makes the headlines in the world's nothernmost alternative newpaper: Icepeople.


2 june 2012: After a looong trip, the SOIR team arrives at Svalbard

The day starts with an interview for the Belgian television RTBF at Brussels airport made by P. Bollekens.



After 4 takeoffs and landings, the SOIR team, composed of Ann Carine Vandaele, Arnaud Mahieux, Valérie Wilquet and Séverine Robert, arrived at 8:30 PM in Svalbard.

The weather is cloudy, but signals already aware the visitors from the polar bears that inhabit these lands.




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