Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The 2012 Transit of Venus

I did a quick check about Copernicus yesterday and found out a few things. I hadn't realized that element 112 had been named "Copernicium" about two years ago. Or that Copernicus and Kepler have a feast day (May 23) in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. A full facsimile version of De Revolutionibus is available on line, but my meager learning isn't up to anything more than glancing at it.

Also, there's this from the National Science Foundation. One of the survey questions is, Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth? It looks like about 70 percent of Americans go along with heliocentrism; which means that 30 percent do not. What? How is that possible? And somehow I don't think that 30 percent objected to the question based on the fact that the orbit of the Earth is an ellipse with the Sun at one of the two foci.

Anyway, on the grounds of the Alder on June 5, not far from the statue of Copernicus, a transit enthusiast had set up a large pair of binoculars mounted on a frame so that they swiveled up and down. The instrument was fitted with a solar lens and people were lined up to look through it. I joined the line at once. Next to me were a couple of youngish fellows, one from near Chicago, the other passing through (I think he was a Korean student living in St. Louis, but I didn't get all the details). We talked about the transit, and they told me Venus was at about 1 o'clock on the disk of the Sun.

So I looked again through my eclipse glasses and after a few moments I saw a round dot on the Sun, a little faint but there at roughly 1 o'clock. A few minutes later I saw the transit again through the binoculars, and after that through a larger telescope, but I first saw it with my (nearly) naked eyes at about 5:30 CDT under clear blue Chicago skies.

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