mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

This Day in History, 2004: Transit of Venus (Personal)

Exactly one year ago today, gnomi and I woke up before sunrise and went to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to observe the Transit of Venus. I noted the event briefly in this post, but gnomi wrote a more substantial report in this post.

To remind everyone, a transit is when a planet appears to cross the disk of the Sun when viewed from another planet. Here on Earth we can observe transits of Venus and Mercury, but such events are quite rare. Transits of Venus themselves occur about twice every 120 years or so. Before last year, the previous two had been in 1874 and 1882. The next one will be on June 6, 2012, and then the event won't occur again until 2117 and 2125.

Because of the rarity of this event, when gnomi and I went to observe it along with a large crowd of like-minded people, I felt a strong sense of history. I was part of a long chain of astronomers, reaching into both the past and the future. I was reminded of Sir Robert Staywell Ball, the Astronomer Royal of Ireland, and the words he published in his 1886 book The Story of the Heavens:

The intrinsic interest of the phenomenon, its rarity, the fulfillment of the prediction, the noble problem which the transit of Venus helps us to solve, are all present to our thoughts when we look at this pleasing picture, a repetition of which will not occur again until the flowers are blooming in the June of A.D. 2004.

It is my hope to observe part of the 2012 transit in seven years, and that in 2117 and 2125, someone observing will think of their connection back to me as well as their connection to someone in 2247 and 2255.

For more information: Wikipedia entry on Transits of Venus
Tags: astronomy, history

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