Throughout the history of civilisation, humans have been fascinated by the mysteries of the universe. From prehistoric depictions of the stars, to the 17th century invention of the telescope, and on to current astrophysics, our understanding of our own world has been intrinsically entwined with beliefs about the universe around us.
The allure of outer space and astronomical phenomena has not only been at the centre of scientific development, but also contemporary culture - many a movie, song, work of art and even tattoo, exists as an ode to the great wonders of our solar system. And now, for the last time in the 21st century, people across the globe are anxiously preparing for one of the most anticipated cosmic events.
Since time immemorial, Earth’s sister planet has been endowed with an array of titles. Named by the Romans after the Goddess of Love and Beauty, Venus is the second brightest body in the night-sky and can always be seen in the East before the sun rises and in the West, after sunset. For many civilisations it existed as their cosmic confidante, ushering in and out days, advocating feasts or wars and instilling hope of other life-forms. Even before 16th century BC, humans noted the Venusian orbit as an astral marker of Earth’s own passage of time, with specific depictions of what is now considered to be one of the rarest of predictable astrological phenomena: The Transit of Venus.
Twice every 243 years, as Venus crosses Earth’s orbital plane, our planetary twin is silhouetted against the luminance of the sun, revealing herself as a mere dot, or tiny eclipse, and serving as a reminder of Earth’s own vulnerability in the infinite expanse of the universe. These binary transits occur 8 years apart and last for about seven hours. 2004 saw the first transit since 1882, and 2012 marks the first and final occurrence of this spectacular natural phenomenon in our lifetime.
Centuries past, expeditions to observe the Transit of Venus were undertaken in an attempt to calculate the distance between Earth and the Sun. Now, in a global experiment to measure the size of the solar system, with the help of modern technology and based on international collaboration, citizens around the world are impelled to contribute their observations of the transit. Digital footage of the phenomenon should be submitted via the Transit of Venus app. Observers are, however, cautioned to take protective measures by exercising safe viewing techniques.
The Transit of Venus will be only visible at certain times, in specific parts of the world on June 5th and 6th this year. Whether you’re fortunate enough to see it live, attend a public viewing, or watch it via webcam, you’ll be experiencing an event honoured throughout history and one that will have a direct effect on the development of science for the foreseeable future.
Top 3 Locations to View the Transit of Venus
- The Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii is one of the few places in the world where it will be possible to view the entire transit. The summit of Mauna Kea is also home to the world's largest astronomical observatory.
- Come early June, scientists from around the world are bound for Alaska to observe the full transit in all its celestial glory.
- The west coast of the North Island of New Zealand is well positioned for observation. Although this location offers the shortest duration of the full transit, it will provide vital data for determining the accurate size of our solar system.