Transit of Venus
Witness Venus pass across the sun from the Britton Observatory
by Christine Baksi
June 1, 2012
The Transit of Venus was photographed in 2004 by adjunct professor Mark Brown.
As the sun sets in the Western Hemisphere on Tuesday, June 5, it will be met by the planet Venus in one of the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena known as the Transit of Venus.
The transit occurs in pairs with more than a century separating each pair. The first of this century’s pairing was observed in June 2004, and the second can be observed at sunset on June 5 in the Western Hemisphere and at sunrise on June 6 in the Eastern Hemisphere.
Dickinson will host a direct viewing of the Transit of Venus in the Britton Observatory in Tome Hall of the Rector Science Complex at 343 West Louther Street. Weather permitting, the viewing will begin at 5 p.m., one hour before the start of the transit, and will be led by Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Robert Boyle.
Prior to the 2004 transit, no currently living person had observed a Transit of Venus and very few will see it again after Tuesday. Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Windsor Morgan says the next Transit of Venus pairings will be observable in the years 2117 and 2125.
A rich history
According to Morgan, the transit was important to 17th-century astronomers including Edmond Halley, whose suggestion it was to use the transit to determine the distance between the Earth and the sun and to calculate the size of the solar system.
“Setting the scale of the solar system was the Holy Grail of astronomy. Nations sent explorers to observe the transit,” adds Boyle, noting that Captain James Cook’s 18th-century exploration to observe the Transit of Venus, chartered by the Royal Society of England, was one of the most expensive endeavors of the era and was fraught with the inherent dangers of travel to remote observing sites in the 1700s.
“The Transit of Venus represents endeavors which elicit pride, energy and commitment to science and exploration,” says Boyle.
Morgan will discuss the rich history of the Transit of Venus and its influence on 19th-century popular culture, in a public lecture on Monday, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. in the Stafford Auditorium, Rector Science Complex.
Learn more about the Transit of Venus from associate professors Boyle and Morgan.