By Paul D. Maley, NASA Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society, Houston, TX USA

We observed the Transit of Venus from very close to this giant gas crater at Darvaza, 70m in diameter and 20m deep. On one evening I was looking at viewing predictions downwind from the gas fumes and a gust of wind pulled those predictions up into the air and down into the crater, never to be seen again.  P.Maley photo.


The transit as photographed by Spencer Young.  TeleVue Pronto, aperture 70mm, FL 480mm, 2.5X barlow. Filter: Coronado 60mm h-alpha. Camera: Nikon D7000, ISO 1250, 1/200 sec

 The best Venus transit projection device: the Sun Spotter of Bob Hammarberg.  Photo by P.Maley. Photos on this site are by P.Maley unless otherwise accredited.

RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS succeeded in observing the second and last Transit of Venus of the 21st century from near the remarkable gas crater at Darvaza, Turkmenistan. Our group of 16 persons plus guide and support staff set up camp about 200m south of the crater to take advantage of the prevailing wind and to enable all participants to observe from their tents. We had traveled for the previous 13 days from Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan before arriving here.

The RING OF FIRE EXPEDITIONS group for the 2nd Transit of Venus. Left to right:  Lynn Palmer, Paul Maley, Linda Pohlman, Mia Lindholm, Byron Braswell, Spencer Young, Betsy Vobach, Jeff Pohlman, Debbie Moran, Deb Hulse, Jimmie Lappin, Colleen Pinales, Bob Hulse, Dee Holisky, Bob Hammarberg.   L. Pohlman photo.

On transit day skies were 100% clear with a wind from the east at 15 to 20 knots and temperatures in the low 80’s F. At sunrise the transit had been in progress for several hours so we were able to observe it from 5.38am local time to 9.53am which corresponded to last contact (whenVenus was no longer visible). Seeing conditions were quite good except near the horizon. Note that we had clear skies for 12 of the 14 days on our tour.

Happy is the person who observes her first Transit of Venus: Betsy Vobach.  D. Moran photo.
Even happier is the person who has observed her 2nd Transit of Venus: Lynn Palmer, running around the Darvaza gas crater during the final moments of the Transit.
Bob Hammarberg and Dee Holisky watching the Transit with one-power eclipse glasses. D.Holisky photo. 

L.Pohlman and J.Pohlman with equipment. L.Palmer photo.

The Darvaza gas crater before dawn June 6. P.Maley photo.

Our camp at Darvaza just before sunrise June 6. The sun came up to the left of the hill where several members watched the sun before the rest could.  C.Pinales describes being able to view the Transit naked eye for <30 seconds as it popped above the horizon at a depressed horizon angle.

A sand lizard, one of the few critters to be seen in the Karakum Desert. P.Maley photo.

The sun illuminates the Gas Crater and our observing team as seen from the top of the promontory just east of our camp. C. Pinales photo.

To secure the tripod legs 3 bricks from the previous night’s cooking configuration were used to support the Meade. A compass and inclinometer set North and the latitude.

Paul with Meade 4 shortly after Transit start. L.Palmer photo.

In order to overcome the wind conditions toward the last two hours of transit viewing I had to place my Meade 2045D inside the tent.  Prior to doing this, the wind actually blew the Baader filter material out from in front of the objective and I had to chase it down the road.

 Part of our photographic quest was to see if we could simulate the Black Drop effect. In this TRACe satellite image of the 2004 Transit of Venus, you can clearly see that there is no such effect from space. This means that historical observations were impacted by atmosphere.  In our 2004 ground expedition to Mauritius, no such Black Drop was seen.
In the above drawing, the Black Drop is shown as was documented during the Transit of Venus in 1769. 
Image 1
Image 2
Image 3.  The above images show an apparent Black Drop effect. P. Maley photos. 1/4000 sec at ISO 3200. 
The photo team:
Bob Hulse 

Byron Braswell
Debbie Moran
Spencer Young 
Jeff Pohlman

The following images are from Jeff Pohlman.  They are the best of the best on this trip.  The specifications of these excellent photos are:

Telescope: Questar field scope fl 1300mm f/14.6
Filter: Baader AstroSolar filter film ND 3.8
Camera: Canon EOS 50D  ISO 125  shutter speed 1/2000 Image size 4752 x 3174 Images saved as JPG not RAW

The above image shot by Jeff does NOT show the Black Drop. His site was just adjacent to P.Maley. This suggests that the Black Drop is more instrumental than anything else and not necessarily a function of local seeing.

This is a tripod mounted shot of the Transit at 3rd contact also showing some evidence of the Black Drop. B.Braswell photo.

A second image just at 3rd contact. B.Braswell photo.

Lynn Palmer using Binomite binoculars to watch the Transit. P.Maley photo.
The German newspaper Die Welt had the Transit of Venus on its front cover June 7.
Breakfast in at the camp on Transit day.  P.Maley photo.

Dinner entree being prepared the night before the Transit. B.Braswell photo.




2 domes at the Tian Shan Observatory

Large Cassegrain scope inside one of the big domes. L. Palmer photo.

A telescope mount left out in the open. The sign asks as a favor to please not touch the scientific hardware. We certainly could not do any more damage by touching it than by leaving it out in the elements. L.Palmer photo.

Old Soviet style astronomical observatory at a local school in Almaty

Big Almaty lake. L. Palmer photo.

Kazkah spices. L.Pohlman photo.

Russian orthodox church in Almaty


At first, this could be a monument to the Incredible Hulk, but alas it is a war memorial in Bishkek

Dawn over the Tian Shan mountains as seen from Bishkek. S.Young photo.

Military parade in Bishkek or maybe they were just waiting for our group! L.Palmer photo.

Kyrgyz presidential caravan on the way to work.

Changing of the guard. D. Holisky photo.


Along the roads you can see flocks of sheep.

Kujend outdoor market. D.Holisky photo.


Local women of Uzbekistan. D.Moran photo.

An astronomer’s grave in Bukhara

Something else to buy?

Fresh baked goods in the market daily. L. Palmer photo.

A madrassah in Bukhara

Mosque in Bukhara

Ornate exteriorsUzbek faces. D.Moran photo.


Bread cooking in the ceiling of an outdoor oven. L.Pohlman photo.

Uzbek faces. D.Moran photo

Marionet. D.Moran photo.

Textiles being created in Uzbekistan. D.Moran photo.

An example of part of our lunch in Khiva

A late afternoon fashion show in Khiva

A big ‘crowd’ watching the minaret. B.Hulse photo.

The 15th century Ulug Beg Observatory in Samarkand. The remains of a quadrant are located in the underground structure.

The 15th century quadrant. B.Hulse photo.

An early morning run in Khiva with the sun just illuminating the buildings. L.Palmer photo.

Burial mounds in Khiva

Amazing ‘frisbee bread’, staying fresh for days. L.Palmer photo.

A mosque in Khiva

Mosque details. S.Young photo.

Mausoleum of Tamarlane. S.Young photo.

While at dinner one night we stumbled upon a local wedding activity

City walls. L.Palmer photo.

Our Transit of venus 5k run was held in Khiva. Left to right: Betsy Vobach, Lynn Palmer, Paul Maley.

What is odd about this. Ulug Beg is depcited above. He is shown with a small refracting telescope. Except the telescope was invented long after he died.

A roadside bazaar. L.Palmer photo.

The wide variety of dried fruit in markets. L.Palmer photo.


Big dust devil seen after the fortress visit along the road. Heights appear to be 300m or more. B.Hulse photo.

The Karakum desert in infrared light. S.Young photo.

It is not uncommon to see several camels together moving along the highway from Darvaza to Ashgabat

Not an attempt to launch a rocket, but this is the Arch of Neutrality, one of the amazing buildings you can see in Ashgabat.

Should you wish to get married, this is the building you have to find!

Ministry of foreign affairs.

More of the unusual architecture of Ashgabat

Pristine, ornate buildings line the central streets. But where are the people?

Beers of Turkmenistan

Monument to the victims of the 1948 earthquake. B.Braswell photo.

10th century fortress of Yzmykshir

Immense apartment buildings made of marble

Elevator in the Grand Turkmen Hotel. J.Lappin photo.


Packaged ice cream was good and not hard to find. Coke Zero was much more of a problem in Turkmenistan. Luckily I found both at one location. L.Palmer photo.

Another ornate Ashgabat structure. L.Palmer photo.

A gold statue of the current Turkmen president is central to this monolith. B.Braswell photo.