Friday, 8 June 2012

Transitory Jubilations

Nationally, and internationally, there have been some big reasons for hogging the headlines in a positive manner. One of them was the very recent transit of the planet Venus across the face of the sun. It took a few days to do it, but it was easily visible to anyone who had the most rudimentary of equipment. Even a pair of cheap binoculars would have done it - although you had to take precautions, naturally. Even with a little disc taken off, there's plenty of light to cause permanent damage to your eyes. Take a look at this cunning device for eclipse-watching.

Clever, eh? Would it have been worth looking like a wally, though, just to see a little dot on the face of the sun? Well, yes. Don't take my word for it, here's a picture of Venus set against the sun, taken on June 4th.

In case you weren't sure, that little black circle is Venus, set against
a magnificent dawning sun.

Beautiful, isn't it?*
Sadly, by the time you read this, it will all be over, bar the dissection of data gathered by various scientists. The last time it happened was back in 2004, but don't get excited, because I can pretty much guarantee you'll never have a chance to see it first-hand again. You see, this particular phenomenon only occurs in widely space pairs over an even more widely-spaced period of time. Here's a good description of the science bit - with no difficult parts.

I was talking about this to a female colleague of mine last week, as we sat in the canteen at work. At another table, one of our other colleagues was sat playing a game on his phone. Most of the talk was between my female friend and myself and it was a little vague, because we were excitedly talking at cross-purposes about the transit and trying to explain it to yet another colleague.
The point we were especially trying to make was the need for him to pull his finger out and make plans to either observe the transit of Venus or book a berth in a cryogenics facility. After all, it was literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as my female colleague explained - before the game-player suddenly jumped in and came up with a comment that blew us all out of the water, metaphorically speaking.

Nice one, mate. Science to a diamond jubilee in one giant and very uneasy step. In case you weren't aware from our last post, Queen Elizabeth has reigned over Britain and certain Commonwealth countries for sixty years now. This fact has elicited a massive jubilee, resulting in a four-day weekend for many and street parties all over.
Quite what this has to do with a planet crossing the face of the sun, I'm not sure, but I suppose I can't really deny he was actually quite correct. Her Majesty, even ignoring her currently advanced age, will never get another chance to see Venus taking a leisurely stroll across our nearest star.
Oh well.

*ZME Science (a superb general science blog by an enthusiastic amateur) has an excellent article with even better photographs, so why not trot along and enrich your mind.