A close encounter with Venus
Next Wednesday (6 June) is our last chance to witness a rare astronomical event, the transit of Venus. Venus will pass between the Earth and the Sun and (with precautions to protect your eyesight) will be visible for more than six hours. The next transit will be in 2117.
To mark the occasion James Cook University is presenting a series of five free, public lectures in Cairns.
The first lecture, this Friday (1 June), is titled The noblest challenge to science: Encounters with the Historic Transits of Venus and will be presented by Associate Professor Wayne Orchiston, an internationally acknowledged expert on this topic and a Reader in Astronomy at James Cook University in Townsville.
Associate Professor Wayne Orchiston will explain what the transit of Venus is, and why these events have been important to the science of astronomy since the 17th century. He will also discuss ways to observe the 2012 transit safely.
“This phenomenon is particularly significant in the recent history of Australia, and to James Cook University,” Associate Professor Orchiston said. “Our namesake, the navigator and explorer James Cook, was sent to Tahiti to observe the 1769 transit of Venus.
“It was only after that mission was complete that he set off on the search for Terra Australis, and in the process charted the east coast of Australia and had an interesting encounter with the Great Barrier Reef not far north of here.”
“This year’s transit has been much-anticipated by astronomers,” he said. “The last transit, in 2004, was the first that could be observed with modern space telescopes, but from the surface of the Earth was not readily visible from Australia. Next week northern Queensland is ideally situated, so we have a chance – the last in our lifetimes – to study Venus this way.
“For me personally, the important of this transit is not so much its research potential but the ways in which it makes me reflect on the importance of earlier transits to astronomers, and the fabulous role that Australia played during the 1874 transit.”
Later lectures in the series will explain why the British Admiralty sent Cook to observe the transit, how The Endeavour shaped Cook’s voyage, the role of science in the expansion of British settlement, and Queensland’s role in an attempt to observe the 1882 transit.
The first lecture will be held on Friday 1 June in the Crowther Theatre at James Cook University in Smithfield. Refreshments will be served from 6.00pm and the lecture will begin at 6.30pm. Admission is free and all are welcome.
Issued May 30, 2012
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