The rare conjunction of orbital mechanics, the transit of Venus, was perhaps the most anticipated scientific event of the 18th century. Expeditions set off for the far corners of the Earth, including one by Capt. James Cook who sailed to Tahiti to observe the transit. He went on to discover the continent of Australia where I have lived for the last four decades. Explorers like Cook went in hopes of answering one of the most vexing scientific questions of the day: How far away is the Sun?
“This was the big unknown for astronomy 250 years ago,” said Owen Gingerich, an emeritus professor of astronomy and history of science at Harvard. Without that number, much else about the solar system was also uncertain: the size of the Sun, the distance between planets, inter alia. The answer that came out of the worldwide 1769 observations was pretty close at 95 million miles. “Historically speaking, it was the beginning of big international science,” said Dr. Gingerich.
It was only in 1627 that anyone realized Venus transits occurred at all. That year, Johannes Kepler, the mathematician and astronomer, published data about the planetary orbits that predicted that Venus would pass directly between Earth and the Sun in 1631.-Ron Price with thanks to the New York Times and an article on the subject.
What a set of revolutions we’ve
seen since Captain Cook was in
Tahiti and we finally learned the
distance to the Sun among other
bodies in our solar system! What
a story it has been in the last 250
years! We each follow these many
revolutions as suits our tastes and
interests. My particular interest is
in the revolutions that have taken
place in history, science, politics,
the many social sciences, applied
and physical sciences, indeed, in
more areas than can be listed here:
revolutions that have eclipsed so
many things that have gone before.
* The term eclipse is derived from an ancient Greek noun, a noun which means "the abandonment", "the downfall", or "the darkening of a heavenly body." This noun is derived from a verb which means "to abandon", "to darken", or "to cease to exist." The prefix of the word eclipse, e, comes from a preposition meaning "out," and from a verb meaning "to be absent".
8 June 2012
PS for my writing in many areas of these revolutionary changes go to my website at Pioneering Over Five Epochs
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- This post is written in memory of Ray Bradbury
- This post was written in connection with the transit of Venus