Reflections on the Transit of Venus

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Transit of Venus, photo by David Herlinger

Transit of Venus, photo by David Herlinger

Sitz-VenusI suppose everyone has a list, mental or otherwise, of once-in-a-lifetimes: those events, situations, or experiences you get once and then never again, like your golden birthday or high school graduation. Yesterday, I added an item to my list: observing the transit of Venus.

Before, during and after writing about the transit last week for The Rivard Report, I did my research. I talked to experts, read about the history and science of it, and browsed through scores of images. For me, the pre-transit excitement reached admittedly unusual and potentially unrealistic levels. As I watched the clock tick towards 5:05 pm yesterday, I felt the same anxious, itchy, excitement that I last experienced on Christmas morning as a seven-year-old, waiting for 6:00 am to finally roll around so I could pounce on my parents to rouse them.

Transit of Venus by Ranjith Dharmarajan, via Texas Parks & Wildlife

Transit of Venus by Ranjith Dharmarajan, photo via Texas Parks & Wildlife

A little after 5:00 pm yesterday, I ventured outside, solar glasses in hand, and gazed up at the sun. When I spotted the little black dot of Venus on the very edge of the solar disk, the knowledge that I was seeing something then that I wouldn’t ever have the chance to view again left me giddy. I’d certainly found better pictures online than what I was seeing with my own eyes; closer, clearer, sharper. But nothing before that moment could compare to the experience of standing on South Hackberry wearing strange, reflective glasses and observing it myself. Throughout the next hour, I snuck out of the office, various coworkers in tow, to steal glances at scarcely visible Venus. Some laughed in delight, others laughed at my enthusiasm, and a few seemed to appreciate the magnitude of what they were witnessing.

After my Hackberry viewing, I made my way to the Marrs McLean Observatory at Trinity University, where the Department of Physics and Astronomy held a small, informal gathering for the Trinity community. With the help of impressive telescopes, finely crafted solar projectors, and professional astronomers, spectators had the opportunity to see some breathtaking images of Venus in front of the Sun.

Young observer takes in the Transit at Trinity University

Young observer takes in the Transit at Trinity University, photo by Debbie Brient

Several things aside from the beauty of the transit struck me while at Trinity. First, the number of children present yesterday on the roof of Marrs McLean nearly equaled the number of adults. I decided then that a transit of Venus is exactly the kind of weird but important thing I hope I’ll bring my own kids to someday. A few other mid-twenties peers in attendance and I discussed this and agreed. (Quickly, however, we realized that taking our future children to the next transit of Venus in year 2117 probably isn’t within the realm of possibility. A total solar eclipse it is!)

Transit of Venus, photo by David Herlinger

Transit of Venus, photo by David Herlinger

Second, and I’ll leave you with this: the reactions elicited by the sight of tiny Venus from children and adults were remarkably and adorably similar. No matter your age and no matter how long your list of once-in-a-lifetimes, you can’t help but feel unreasonably victorious when you see a distant planet slide across the surface of your star. And that is something to celebrate.

For more photos and reflections of the Transit of Venus, visit the Transit of Venus Twitter feed.

Miriam Sitz works for Accion Texas Inc., the nation’s largest non-profit microlender. A graduate of Trinity University, she blogs on Miriam210.com and sells handmade goods on TinderboxGoods.com. Follow her on Twitter at @miriamsitz. [Click here for more stories from Miriam Sitz on the Rivard Report.]

4 thoughts on “Reflections on the Transit of Venus

  1. I’ve been looking for expert theories on whether planetary transits were known of in ancient times. Were transits visible in those days and were there any disasters attached to these occurrences if they were ?

    • Hi, Colin: Though many ancient civilizations (Indian, Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, Mayan, and Chinese, etc.) were aware of Venus and even tracked some of the planet’s movements, there isn’t any evidence that these groups observed transits. The first documented observation of a Venus transit wasn’t until December of 1639, when Jeremiah Horrocks and William Crabtree watched it from England. I’m not aware of any early transit related disasters, but I’d welcome input and discussion from others!

  2. Wonderful, interesting and fun! So glad you could see it in San Antonio–in Paris it was overcast, high clouds, so impossible to see. Stay tuned for the transit of Mercury in a couple of years!

  3. I highly suggest the book “Chasing Venus” by Andrea Wulf that came out this May. It chronicles the two transits of Venus in the 1700s and the scientists that were sent around the world to make observations. Although it is nonfiction, it reads like a novel.
    As I observed the first part of the transit through a telescope and the last part via a live feed on the computer, I thought of those folks who traveled thousands of miles with heavy, unreliable equipment to make those first observations.

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