Recently, humanity was treated to a rare event in the heavens; from our vantage point on Earth we were able to see the transit of the planet, Venus, across the visible disk of the Sun. A planetary transit is analogous to an eclipse, because it involves one object passing through the line of sight between two other objects. Similar to a solar eclipse, especially a partial solar eclipse, where the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun and blocks a portion of the Sun’s light, a transit of Venus occurs when Venus passes between Earth and the Sun blocking our view of a region of the Sun’s disk. Since this type of event requires a very precise alignment of the Sun, Venus, and Earth, it is quite rare. Although the previous alignment occurred only 8 years ago, in 2004, you have to look back historically to 1882 to find the next previous alignment, and looking to the future it will not be until the year 2117 before the alignment happens again (Espenak, 2012). Thus, in all likelihood, being 105 years in the future, there will be no one alive in 2117 who saw or was old enough to remember this year’s transit of Venus. (For those who may have missed seeing any of the event or press coverage, see the links at the end of the article for more images and videos.) At this point, let’s pause and contemplate some unique considerations this recent transit event offers.
Astronomically, the Sun and Venus are the brightest and third brightest celestial objects in Earth’s skies (the Moon being second), and historically are two of the most studied celestial objects. Ancient records dating back to the Babylonian civilization around 3000 B.C., reference this bright celestial object, and other civilizations such as the Chinese, Egyptian, and Greek civilizations include observations and cultural lore about Venus. Interestingly, historical references sometimes called Venus the “morning star” or “evening star,” and specifically the ancient Greeks called Venus by two names (Phosphorus and Hesperus) supposing it to be two different objects (Squyres, 2012). The two-object idea isn’t completely unreasonable, since for a portion of our year Venus precedes the Sun in the sky and for the other portion of the year it seems to follow the Sun across the sky. In fact, Venus is never more than about 48 degrees from the Sun in the sky (termed its greatest elongation, and is due to its orbit being inside Earth’s orbit)….
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