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Transit of Venus from Abastumani
in the Republic of Georgia

8th June 2004

The climb to the Georgian National Observatory at Abastumani is awesome – half an hour of winding, twisting hairpin bends in a 4 x 4 Landcruiser through a mixed deciduous and pine forest that is home to bears and timber wolves. The top of the mountain (I think about 6000 feet above sea level) has the appearance of a volcanic caldera in which nestles about a dozen world class telescopes beginning with a 1930s 400mm German refractor to a bunch of reflecting telescopes each in excess of 1 meter diameter via a radio telescope array. I was only able to see about half of these, the site is so large. How many astronomers are there? NIL! Zero! The site is mothballed. One of the security men for the company I work for (BP) has a doctorate in astrophysics and 8 years research at the Abastumani observatory. This is not uncommon. The 5 million Georgians are an amazing people, highly educated, largely Christian and located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia on the old silk road. The country is a paradise of mountains, forests, old castles, almond and peach trees and famous for its honey, grapes and wine. Tea used to be grown here but like the telescopes the bushes have recently been abandoned. The whole of the country’s infra-structure including the observatory is mothballed due to lack of money. Recently, Georgia pulled out of the USSR and lost its financial base.


Up in the mountains of Abastumani on the morning of the transit, I was the only astronomer on site, armed with a £45 solar scope and a friend’s digital camera – mine had been left on a departing vehicle by accident the night before! Mischa, the security man who looks after the site, indicated that the best place to set up the ‘scope would be on the upper balcony of a 1.25 meter telescope – which would give full view of the transit un-impeded by trees. The sky at this time lived up to its reputation for clarity. The forecast indicated 100% cloud, but the thin mountain air was crystal clear! Being so far south meant that the sun at the start of the transit was located much like an 11 am sun in June in Ireland. Then, at 10 past the hour, with nine minutes to go before first contact, high cloud appeared. At first contact we had 100% cloud cover – the accuweather forecast was accurate. However, holes appeared in the cloud and I was able to take photos of the venus transit by timing manual alignment of the scope with approaching holes in the cloud then priming the camera and snapping away furiously. After seeing the last mercury transit, I was surprised at how big the planet was on the face of the sun – also it did not move across the sun in a straight line as expected but over the 6+ hours of viewing through holes in the cloud it performed a little dance, moving into the middle of the sun and exiting the same edge. Suddenly the wonders of relative elliptical motions and viewing from a rotating frame of reference became a reality. Towards the end of the observation, the sun was vertical above the telescope and finding somewhere to place the camera was near impossible. If anyone is contemplating watching the solar eclipse in Turkey in a couple of years, note well the problems of moving telescopes and cameras through the zenith! But do not let this put you off! My thanks are extended to Mischa and the Observatory for enabling me to use the facilities (I stayed over night at the Observatory for a fee of 15 Gel (about £3.50).

In the evening one of Mischa’s friends invited me for dinner and we spoke (with his children translating) about the beauty of the forest where he lives – in the shadow of some very fine instruments. I intend on my return to Georgia in a few days to speak to the director of the observatory to see if we can in some way help to restore the observatory back to its full potential and perhaps enable amateurs and professionals to use the fine instruments which are sitting idle at present in need of some loving attention. Fancy a night with clear, dark skies and a big MakCas?

Clear skies!


Les Gornall



Another clear night for Les during the Lunar Eclipse
May 4th

Once again, where ever Les goes, the clear skies are sure to follow!!! EAAS Member Les Gornall is currently working in Georgia, Eastern Europe and sent us some photos of the eclipse.

"We saw the darkest, most awesome lunar eclipse in clear sky (after days of rain and fog)from the mountains of Tetritskaro!  My equipment was of the travel light variety, so no great pictures but a great night with 10 x 50 binoculars, tripod and the digital camera."



Lunar Eclipse 8 and 9th October 2003
Solar House, Magherafelt


The forecast was for 100% cloud but the airstream was coming from the SE over Lough Neagh and this can produce a large hole in the cloud above the site. Eventually it did! At 1:20am we saw a magnificent clear sky framed in a circular picture frame of white cloud.

Orion standing mighty and proud in crystal clear air, Sirius sparkling like a jewel, the horns of Taurus set with Aldebaran and due south hanging in the center of the misty frame a totally eclipsed moon bathed in the light of all the sunrises and sunsets in the world - magnificent.

30 people saw it at the Lunar Eclipse Party. Families brought children who had a wild time shooting off rocket ballons all night. Inside the house between soup and sandwiches, talks by Terry Moseley on the Solar Eclipse Bulgaria expedition, and Lunar Eclipses -expertly delivered as always. Les Gornall showed short powerpoint presentations of the annular eclipse from Stornoway from May this year and also the Aurora of the 29/30th October 2003. The patience of the observers on a very cloudy (but dry) night was finally rewarded and some 8" telescopes showed very fine views of the full moon looking very 'spherical' and hanging in space with many stars in the background.

Not much time for setting up for good photographs but, given the cloud conditions , it was very satisfactory and a most enjoyable evening. Contributions of £120 were collected for the Rainey School Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award expedition to Africa fund. Thanks to everyone who came to make the evening so enjoyable.



Solar House
14 Ballymoghan Lane
Magherafelt BT45 6HW
Phone: 028 796 32615
Fax: 028 796 31759

From Magherafelt town centre
Head towards Cookstown
1 Mile from Main roundabout, turn Left into Killyfaddy Road (opposite Highfield petrol station)
Go down the road for about 2 miles – the road narrows – a lot.
You will meet Ballymoghan Road at a cross roads.
At this cross roads go straight across.
Down the single track lane for 300 yards look for 3 old quarry ‘garages’.




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