Transits of Venus

Very infrequently, people on Earth get to see Venus transit the Sun. The pattern seems odd: two transits 8 years apart, then an interval of over a century. Our last Transit of Venus was in 2004, on June 8th. The next one occurs on June 5th. (Unless you happen to be in the Eastern Hemisphere, when it’s on June 6th. It’s that pesky International Date Line thing.)

Even here in cloud-friendly Ottawa, we got a chance to see the 2004 Transit of Venus. I helped run the Canada Science and Technology Museum‘s public viewing event. Well before dawn on a mild June morning, I arrived at the Museum grounds to set up. (Believe me, getting up early is hellish for people who keep astronomer’s hours! 😦 ) Visitors were already there, which amazed me. We had a pretty respectable crowd by sunrise.

In the meantime, fellow members of the RASC Ottawa Centre had set up at a remote controlled observatory in Ottawa’s West End. They were going to try to get some photos with a telescope that had been hastily fitted out with a high-test solar filter. Those are the photos you’ll see in the Flickr widget on the right. Check out the “Transit of Venus 2004” set — that shows the photos in the right order.

I was interested in seeing something no living person had seen — the previous Transit of Venus had been in 1882. But I really wasn’t expecting much of a show. I suppose it wasn’t, if you were expecting some edge-of-the-seat spectacle. Perhaps it was just knowing what I was seeing, but I had to remind myself to let visitors have a look. It was a wonderful (if caffeine deprived!) morning for me. And, I hope, for a lot of other people who came out on that cool, clear morning.

So, good reader, I encourage you to make some plans to see this summer’s Transit of  Venus.  If you’re thinking it won’t be all that much, you might be pleasantly surprised. Being with a bunch of other people seeing a rare event is a really great feeling. And, if all else fails, you’ll have bragging rights and something to bore your kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews with.

If you’re interested in learning about Transits of Venus, there are some great websites out there. The main Transit of Venus site is a great clearinghouse, and the Transit of Venus Project site has gobs of background and history.

I’ve made some plans for this summer’s Transit of Venus. Since I used to be a practicing engineer, I’m still a bit afraid that mentioning this out loud will invoke a visit from the Great Demon Murphy, but I guess I’ve already done the damage.


About Tim Cole

Astronomy enthusiast and educator, all-around fancier of dark skies and starry nights
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