Sic Transit Venus

Venus and the Sun, a family portrait.I was disappointed, but completely unsurprised, that with the exception of one guy I heard talking on the phone a few desks over, not a soul at work mentioned the transit of Venus. In case you haven’t seen the news, the orbits of the Earth and of Venus lined up this morning so the silhouette of Venus crossed the sun’s disc. Because the orbits of Earth and Venus are tilted in respect to each other, a transit of Venus is comparatively rare. The last one occurred in 1882 when William Harkness of the U.S. Naval Observatory said:

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 — God only knows.

Spooky, isn’t it? It’s like this man, now long dead, was talking to us. It took about six hours for Venus to pass across the sun and unfortunately, I didn’t see any of it. My sleep, being what it is, wouldn’t really allow me to get up early enough to leave home and see it from some vantage point with east exposure. My apartment doesn’t face the proper direction, so I would’ve had to leave. The bright side of my missing it is a quirk of orbital mechanics. Transits of Venus come in close occurring pairs with about ten years between transits and over a century between close pairs. The next will occur on June 6, 2012 and I’m determined to be prepared because to see the one after, I’ll have to wait until December 11, 2117. I’m not likely to be in the mood come the twenty-second century.

A close-up of Venus as it begins its transit on June 8, 05:34 UT. The photo was taken by NASA's Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) satellite.

A close-up of Venus as it begins its transit on June 8, 05:34 UT. The photo was taken by NASA’s Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) satellite.

What I did hear people talking about at work was reality television and Jennifer Lopez’s marriage. What repeatedly came to mind was something I read many years ago:

The heavens call to you, and circle around you, displaying to you their eternal splendours, and your eye gazes only at the Earth

Dante


Whole sun photo ©2004 The Associated Press

Venus silhouette close up courtesy NASA

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