Monday, June 07, 2004
Transit of Venus
Off my usual topics, but...
Tomorrow, Venus will pass between Earth and the Sun for the first time since 1882. The transit will not be visible in the US since it will occur before our sunrise, but there will be plenty of live web casts from Europe and Africa.
Astronomers of old used to use transits to take measures of our solar system such as the Astronomical Unit (AU - distance of Earth from the Sun). Even though we now have much more sophisticated techniques and technologies for performing these measurements, these events still capture the hearts and minds of astronomers all over the world due to their historical significance. Here is some more history on the significance of a planetary transit.
I found these words by American astronomer William Harkness in 1882 (a day before the last transit of Venus) to be particularly nostalgic:
"We are now on the eve of the second transit of a pair, after which there will be no other till the Twenty-First century of our era has dawned upon the earth, and the June flowers are blooming in 2004.... What will be the state of science when the next transit season arrives God only knows."
If only he could see what has been accomplished over the last 122 years.