Sunday, April 22, 2012

Across the Disc of Crimson (WW109)

Dave McCarter of the London Chapter of the RASC (pictured above) will be our guide this week on Western Worlds. Co-host Alyssa Gilbert spoke to him about the real star of the show, seen below!

The 2004 Venus transit as photographed in Hong Kong by Wikipedia user Mswggpai.

The transit isn't to be missed - there won't be another one for over a century, so if you're located in an area that will have a view, be sure to take it in. While I should point out that you should never look directly at the sun without serious protection for your eyes, if you do have a pair of welder's glasses, you should be able to see the spot that is Venus with the naked eye. To find out if you'll be in line to take a look, find a map below courtesy of Fred Espenak of the Goddard Space Flight Centre via Wikipedia, once more:

If you're not in the light toned areas, why not consider a trip overseas? If you do decide to take in this astronomical sight, arid locations are especially helpful. In 2004 Dave caught the transit on the island of crete and once again he will be close to the centre of the transit window on the big island of Hawai'i on the summit of Mauna Kea. Listen to our interview to hear some of Dave's tips or look below the cut for Alyssa's guide to ressources on the transit and my introduction!

A black, round spot – and that is all/ And such a speck our earth would be / if he who looks upon the stars / Through the red atmosphere of Mars / Could see our little creeping ball / Across the disk of crimson crawl / As I our sister planet see. You’re listening to Western Worlds!

Hello and welcome back for another conversation here on Western Worlds, an AFM*Original show heard right here on My name is Dr. John and I’m coming to you this week, as every week, from the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration at Western University, home of the Cronyn Observatory in London, Ontario, Canada.

Our opening quote tonight comes from the 19th century poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Senior on the occasion of his observation of the transit of Venus across the solar disk in 1882. These transits are actually quite rare, coming in pairs spaced more than a century apart. In fact this will only be the seventh such transit for which our science has given us prior knowledge about when to look sunward. If you can observe it you will be in good company, as astronomer David Levy remarked in 2004, the transit is “a chance to stand beside Edmund Halley and James Cook and take a dip into the magic waters of Astronomical History.”

But such events don’t just link us to the past – they also evoke the future. The next transit won’t come before 2117. The astronomer William Harkness had this to say as he stood at the start of that yawning 121.5 year gap: “We are now on the eve of the second transit of a pair, after which there will be no other till the twenty-first century of our era has dawned upon the earth... When the last transit season occurred the intellectual world was awakening from the slumber of ages, and that wondrous scientific activity which has led to our present advanced knowledge was just beginning. What will be the state of science when the next transit season arrives God only knows. Not even our children's children will live to take part in the astronomy of that day. As for ourselves, we have to do with the present...”

That sense of here and now, of presence in the cosmic sense, was emphasized by the editorial board of the New York Times in the aptly titled article “A Stroll Across the Sun.” About such astronomical events they wrote, “They occur for reasons that have everything to do with our location, in space and time, as observers. Yet their great merit is that they cause us to lift our heads from our own sober planet and remember the solar system and the galaxy and the universe we belong to.”

Guiding us through this rare celestial occurrence, we have an interview with Dave McCarter, past president and outreach coordinator for the London chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. In 2004 Dave observed the transit of Venus from the island of Crete and plans to observe this year’s recurrence on the big island of Hawai’i. If you’re thinking of heading out yourself, Dave has some tips for observing which he shared recently with our own Alyssa Gilbert.

Transitioning us on our journey tonight is none other than Charles Dutoit’s musical interpretation of Gustav Holst’s “Venus.” Enjoy.

Alyssa's Ressources for Observing the Transit:

For those of you lucky enough to be in London, Ontario, the CPSX (in partnership with the Department of Physics & Astronomy and the local chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada) will be hosting an event for the Venus Transit on June 5th. The doors to the Hume Cronyn Observatory (on the Western University campus) will open at 5:30pm and observing will continue through sunset and beyond. For more information, please go to and click on the Cronyn Observatory link on the right hand side.

For everyone else, there are two fantastic online resources for the upcoming Venus Transit: has wonderful information about where, when and how to safely observe the transit, the history of the event, and links to resources such as a free smart-phone app which allows individuals to send in their observations.

NASA’s Sun-Earth Day website ( has a map of all the registered events around the world, great videos and podcasts, and will also host a live webcast from the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

The Transit of Venus is among the rarest astronomical phenomena and won't happen again until the year 2117. So prepare now, and don't miss out on this extremely special event!

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