So tomorrow morning there will be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to see Venus transiting across the face of the Sun. “Once in a lifetime” for people under 8 years old anyway. Because there was another transit back in 2004, which was visible in its entirety from the UK. In fact, June 8th 2004 was a wonderfully sunny, cloud free and warm morning, perfect for observing the transit . At Leicester, we had our solar observatory set up to project a large image of the Sun into the lab below the roof, and I had two undergraduate students, Mike Briggs and Liz Smith, observing the transit with a webcam as part of their final year project. Mike went on to do a PhD at Edinburgh. Liz was a mature student who graduated through
our foundation programme to become one of our most dedicated students.
Since tomorrow morning is likely to be cold, cloudy and wet here in the UK, you can relive the 2004 transit here (warning, big file)
There seems to be far more publicity surrounding this transit than the one back in 2004. Perhaps it is the influence of social media (my twitter timeline is full of this stuff today, which is better than the bloody Jubilee sychophany-fest). Or perhaps it is the fact that America gets to see the whole of this one (in 2004 the West Coast couldn’t see it at all). Even if it was sunny here in the UK tomorrow, which it won’t be, we’d only get the last 30 minutes. At 5.30 in the morning.
But it is significant that these transits of Venus are occurring just at the time astronomy is revealing hundreds of planets transiting across other stars. Ah, NASA’s Kepler mission…..half expecting yet another “first Earth 2.0” tomorrow, or maybe just “Venus 2.0” this time…..
Time to plug our new project, the Next Generation Transit Survey , which will find Neptune sized planets around bright nearby stars. And maybe the odd Super-Earth.