Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Perhaps we will see the Transit of Venus today, perhaps not. It depends on the clouds. But Venus will transit across the sun whether we see it or not. This is a rare, but very predictable event. Transits occur in pairs, 8 years apart (the last one was in 2004), and then we must wait another 105 years, which is why most of us will never see another one in our lifetimes. The planet Venus (2nd closest to the sun, as you know from your mnemonic: My Very Existential Mother Just Served Us Noodles – no more pizzas since the demotion off Pluto.) transits between the Sun and the Earth, and we see it as a black dot against the yellow-orange-red solar disk. Do not look directly into the sun!

I read Shirley Hazzard’s Transit of Venus long before I had a clue what the astronomical event was. I loved the book so much I wrote a fan letter to Ms. Hazzard, my first.
I visited the Transit Room at the Observatory Cottage next door and thought it was a very wonderful room, but I still had no idea what it was for.
Now I do. The room is peninsular, and at its end are two tall narrow casement windows facing each other. There used to be an opening in the ceiling as well. When the room served its intended function, a telescope and camera could track the transit – or other celestial movement - from one window, through the ceiling and down the other window, for long enough time to get a good exposure.
And this is a good thing to know, because over a century ago Henry Draper (1837-1882) lived in this house and looked at the skies from his observatory next door.
Draper was a doctor and an astronomer, the son of John William Draper who bought this house in 1849 and was the first person to photograph the moon through a telescope, in 1839. John Draper married Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Gardner, daughter of the personal physician to the Emperor Pedro II of Brazil, known as The Magnanimous. But even though he left us historic photos of the moon and his sister Dorothy, John Draper apparently never took a picture of his Brazilian wife, mother to Henry. I find that troubling.
Henry Draper was a pioneer in astrophotography. In 1874 he organized the eight US expeditions to the Far East to photograph the transit of Venus of December 9, for which he was granted a Congressional Medal of Honor.
He was still a young man, seeking to photograph the Orion nebula, when he became ill with pleurisy, and died in November 1882. He missed seeing the next transit, on December 6, by less than a month.
If you can see the sun later today, make a point of l viewing the Transit of Venus (safely, through welders glasses or a pinhole camera) because you never know when pleurisy will strike.

Meanwhile, CSB is rebuilding the lamellar structure to roof the blueberry houses, as the previous lamellar structures were crushed and then collapsed from the weight of the snow during last year's freak Halloween snowstorm. Will this one survive the next climatic weirdness? Will anything? A lamellar structure, like the blueberry houses, only different -->


pond said...

It actually cleared here for 30 minutes to see the transit. D. rushed from home to watch through a scope set up with special filters by H's colleague. We missed it by 5 minutes. D. summed it up this way: Mom, there was the sun, then there was a black dot on the sun. There you go.

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