08 June 2004

Extremely Rare Astronomical Event

From the BBC

When I was a small kid and there were brownouts at night in the province where I grew up in, my Dad will often bring me to a window where he will show me the night sky. My Dad was not an astronomer, but perhaps out of hobby, he knew a lot about the map and the magnificence of the night sky. He was the one who taught me to appreciate the beauty of the planets and the constellations. That is why perhaps, up to this point, whenever there are rare astronomical events announced to happen (from Halley's Comet to simple Leonid showers), I always try my best to have time to see it.

Reports say that the best viewing places will be in Europe and parts of Asia, including the Philippines, but with cloudy and overcast skies as tropical depression Frank crawls slowly northward, I wonder if we will be able to observe the Transit of Venus later when it occurs at around 1:12:21 PM, Philippine Standard Time (PST), according to PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration). Also, since this event will occur with the sun involved, enthusiastic viewers (like me) need to take special precautions because of the risk of getting blind. It somehat reminds me of the story of Daedalus and his son Icarus, and the reward they got for getting too near to the sun.

NASA has a webpage devoted solely to this wonderful event, complete with history, a countdown, and detailed maps. Astronomers define the Transit of Venus as an event when "the planet Venus passes directly between the Earth and the Sun." [BBC Science and Nature Homepage] The event is touted as "extremely rare" because Venus orbits the Sun just over three times in the time it takes the Earth to orbit twice. This means that Venus passes between the Earth and the Sun roughly once every nineteen months. It is also historic, because one report said,
"The transit of Venus is a rare astronomical event -- and one of historic importance. Astronomers first figured out how to measure the distance of the Earth from the sun by timing Venus as it crossed the face of the sun. And the push to make measurements of the transit all over the world led to the European settlement of distant lands, including Australia".
The last time it happened in 1882, a fellow named John Philip Sousa, even composed a march about it. I hope the clouds clear up soon!

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