Transit of Venus - Topics in Astronomy


Topics in Astronomy - a special event at the WSU Planetarium.

Wednesday, May 30th at 7:00 PM Jonathan Kade of the Warren Astronomical Society presented: 






In the days before space probes, each tiny scrap of data about the solar system was acquired with a lifetime of hard work: from Copernicus turning the universe inside-out, to Galileo charting the orbits of Jupiter's moons, through Kepler discovering the true shape of planetary orbits.

Kepler determined the relative distances between the Sun and the planets in 1609, but nobody knew the scale. What was the true value of this "astronomical unit," the distance from the Earth to the Sun? More than half a century later, the scientific world hit upon a possible solution: time the transit of Venus from locations around the world, then perform some simple trigonometry. But little did they know...
I will take you on a tour of the adventures, triumphs, and failures of one of the first worldwide scientific efforts. From the first transit of Venus seen by human eyes, through the desperate efforts of astronomers worldwide to travel to where the transit was occurring (with both hilarious and tragic results), even to a well known local observer who in 2004 took an iconic image of the infamous Black Drop effect.
We'll meet fascinating characters like Jeremiah Horrocks, an astronomical prodigy who died tragically young and was nearly forgotten; Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, a pair whose later work would echo through American history; Guillaume Le Gentil, the inspiration for the play 'Transit of Venus', who nearly lost everything in pursuit of a tiny black dot; David Rittenhouse, an American patriot and scientist, who fainted at the sight of Venus entering the sun; and others.
Finally, we'll preview the Venus Transit of 2012: how and where you can observe it, what you'll see in various places, and why you might consider chasing the transit westward.
             - Jonathan Kade, Warren Astronomical Society
Jonathan Kade has been a member of the Warren Astronomical Society since 2006 and served on the board from 2007-2011. Jonathan's interest in observational astronomy, historical connections between seemingly unrelated events, and rare transient astronomical phenomena made the transits of Venus a perfect subject to cover.  Though he studied electrical and computer engineering, his profession is software development, which he likes every bit as much as astronomy.


The Wayne State Planetarium is dedicated to the promotion of science. We are proud to feature a new series of free public lectures covering modern topics in science.