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For days I have been captivated by this phrase. It evokes thoughts of mythical love and passion. Whisper it, “transit of Venus”. What (or who) does it make you think of?

True, it is an astronomical event – an extremely rare one – with all the attendant scientific terminology and descriptors, but even astronomers and science writers describe it in poetic terms. They can’t seem to help it.

The transit of Venus: the Goddess of Love drifting across the path of Helios’, the Sun God’s, chariot as it charges across the sky.

If you are in the eastern part of the United States, you can observe a small part of Venus’ path as it crosses the Sun starting around 6 p.m. EDT tonight. If you are lucky enough to be in the South Pacific (or even Alaska for that matter) you can watch the entire six-hour, 40-minute passage. That’s what James Cook did – he and a group of explorers sailed to Tahiti to watch the transit in 1769. There is a group of astronomers at the same location now, in place to watch and record this event that will not be seen again until 2117.

Since the first observed event in 1639, astronomers have studied the transit and used their findings to determine the distance of the Earth from the Sun and other planets in our solar system. There is not much new, scientifically, to be learned from this singular event, but it captures the imagination as Venus strolls lazily across the face of the Sun a couple of times each century.

The transit of Venus. I’ll be watching … will you?

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