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Venus: The transit of a lifetime

On the sixth day of June, if you wake up early at sunrise you will see a small dot gliding slowly across the face of the Sun.

Published: 02nd June 2012 10:08 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th October 2012 11:53 AM   |  A+A-

On the sixth day of June, if you wake up early at sunrise you will see a small dot gliding slowly across the face of the Sun. For this generation, it will probably be the last time such a sight will be seen. It is the planet Venus transiting the Sun. Historically, astronomers used this rare alignment — last seen in 2004 and previously in 1882 — to measure the distance of the Sun from the Earth. In 1769, inventor, mathematician, astronomer and member of the American Philosophical Society, David Rittenhouse, set up an observatory on his farm to mark the transit. His answer was published in the prestigious ‘The Philosophical Transactions,’ published by the Royal Society in London: 95 million miles. Considering the 18th century was without the highly sophisticated equipment available today, Rittenhouse was only two million miles ahead. Its easier today. Amateur astronomers can use an app available for the iPhone and Android to record the solar journey of Venus. The data will be collected in a global database.
It was a historical event in 1769. Captain Cook sailed to Tahiti to witness the transit followed by more in 1874 and 1882. “Today, this is really more of a tourist occasion than an astronomical, scientific one,” The New York Times quoted Dr. Owen
Gingerich, Harvard professor of astronomy and history of science.
What makes the transit of June 6 (June 5 in North America) special is that normally Venus crosses the Sun once in about one hundred and twenty one and a half years. The next one will be one hundred and five and a half years later. The long transits are separated by eight years.
Mapping the transits became a momentous event in Europe since English astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks — spurred by the celebrated Johannes Kepler’s calculations that predicted the transit would occur in 1631 — first recorded it in 1638. It was Edmund Halley, famous for the eponymous comet, who figured how to use the transit to measure the Sun’s distance from the Earth. During its transit, the path of Venus across the Sun would, at different points, shift slightly, along with the transit times. Astronomers measured these points to triangulate the Sun’s position. Centuries later, astronomers use radar to measure solar system distances better than by using the Venus transit. But, now scientists use the transit to understand other planets around other stars. By noting the brief dimming of starlight that occurs when some planets pass in front of their suns, new celestial bodies have been discovered. Studying the change in colours, scientists come to conclusions about the atmosphere of planets in other galaxies, light years away.
Astrologers speak
 “Venus signifies water and the Sun signifies fire. In India, it will prove to be a force that will compel the government to be more sensitive towards the needs of the people. People are very unhappy but this will hopefully change with this celestial happening as Venus is rebelling against all the wrong doings. This phase started 30 days back and may last up till one year.”
Sanjay Rath
*****
“The Venus transit is majorly going to affect the following — relationships, trade/business, health. Close to 30 crore people — mostly the youth — will be affected negatively. They may suffer from lethargy, stomach problems or calcium deficiency. Frustration and depression may also surface.”
Pandit Shesh Narayan Jha Acharajaji
******
“The Sun-Venus alignment is not good for people with weak Sun in their horoscopes. It will not have major effect on India as when Venus enters into the Sun, it will be night time here. However, the moment the Sun will be out in morning till 10.19 am, it will affect some parts of India bringing heavy rainfall, change in the government, ups and downs in the political system.”
Runa Sandhir

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