After last month’s partial lunar eclipse, today Venus will pass in front of the sun, an astronomical occurrence that won’t occur for another 115 years. You may have to brave the crowds at Griffith Observatory to see this heavenly spectacle, but that’s nothing compared to the expeditions recounted by Mark Anderson in “The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus.”
In 1769, astronomers and philosophers set upon an epic quest to map Venus’ passage across the sky and expand the bounds of human knowledge. Anderson tells the tale of three expeditions charting Venus’ celestial journey. French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche with a group of Spanish partners traveled across the Atlantic and over modern day Mexico to build a makeshift observatory in Baja California. Meanwhile, Captain James Cook sailed around through the South Atlantic and around Cape Horn to Tahiti. Hungarian priests Maximilian Hell and Joannes Sajnovics braved the icy Arctic water and frigid Nordic winter to observe Venus’ passage from the Norwegian village of Vardø.
On the day of Venus’ transit in front of the sun, Patt talks with journalist and author Mark Anderson about his research for the book and the impact of the three expeditions.
Mark Anderson, journalist and author; M.S. in Astrophysics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; his new book is "The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus" (Da Capo Press, May 8, 2012)