It’s been an exciting week in astronomy. The big event was the transit of Venus, where Venus traveled across the face of the sun as seen from here on earth. You could be excused for thinking that this might happen fairly frequently, and thus not be worth getting excited about, but that’s not the case.
As it happens, due to some peculiarities about the orbits of Earth and Venus, we only see a transit of Venus happen fairly infrequently. We see two transits about 8 years apart, and then nothing for over 100 years. This transit this week was the last one until 2117, a gap of 105 years. So, unless there’s a fairly major medical breakthrough, none of us currently on the planet will see another one in our lifetimes.
I considered taking some or all of the day off from work to go look through telescopes to see it, but my conscience, and the need to fix stuff for a customer got the better of me. Instead I satisfied myself by watching a live Internet feed of the event. While I guess it’s not the same as seeing the transit through a scope, at least I did get to see it.
I think perhaps that watching the transit on a computer may have been a little less exciting than seeing it live through a telescope, and it got me thinking about an event which sparked my interest in Astronomy. Back in 1986, I was lucky enough to see Halley’s Comet (and boy do I feel old when I realise that it was 26 years ago…). I was in primary school at the time, and we learned1 a bit about the comet, and a few bits and pieces about astronomy.
I can remember bugging my dad to take me outside to see the comet at some ungodly hour of the morning, and while the small fuzzy blob I saw wasn’t anywhere near as spectacular as the pictures I’d seen, it was still enough to spark what has been an ongoing interest ever since. I can’t help but wonder if the transit of Venus has had the same effect on a new generation of budding astronomers.