Aroostook skies: Transit of Venus

12 years ago

Aroostook skies: Transit of Venus

By Larry Berz

    Rarely, events in the sky touch upon our lives in unforgettable flashes of wonder and glory. Among the immortal moments include the sublime passage of a naked-eye comet drifting silently among the stars. Or consider, an eclipse of the sun or moon, which transforms the two most taken for granted sky wonders into realms of beauty and enchantment. Or thrill to the late night invasion of “shooting stars” from the Lion’s Head or a similar, familiar constellation. Or “go crazy” over a magnified first quarter moon through a low-powered telescopic eyepiece. Or marvel as multiple planets dance coyly nestled near the horizon.

    But when such an event occupies so unique a niche that any reoccurrence requires a century to fulfill — now that’s a ballgame. And, indeed, such a magic moment is just around the corner. For in only one week, weather permitting, this County will see arguably the greatest wonder of them all, a wonder which will reflect more glory and credit upon our Pine Tree State, do more good for sky watching in the Pine Tree State, serve the community more ably than any other sky moment in the recent history of Aroostook County — the 2012 Transit of Venus.

    Venus, its name harbors mythological monuments to heavenly beauty and grace. Immortalized upon the canvas of Boticelli and the sculpture de Milo, our sister planet caps an amazing season for sky watching. Since December last, the “evening star” put on one of the greatest space shows beyond Earth. The blazing presence of Venus adorning our horizon surely attracted widespread attention. And for those blessed by telescope or even binoculars, this celestial neighbor offered ever surprising changes of phase and magnificence. Now, risking views of its slender inviting crescent shape hint of the mightiest moment of the them all. For on June 5, 2012 between approximately 6 and 8 p.m., this friendly star will apparently descend upon the griddle of the solar disk itself, star-trekking upon the photosphere for all who dare seek the ultimate telescopic experience. Webster’s defines a transit as “a passage of a smaller body (as Venus) across the disk of a larger (as the sun). So with Mr. Webster’s approval, who could resist watching the sizzling black sphere of Venus drift lazily across the hot luminous solar disk, like a bubblified black gum ball?

    What must I do to be participant to this experience? Just notch your Google calendar for Tuesday, June 5th. And between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., consider yourself part of the Earth’s family and join the joint expedition of the Francis Malcolm Institute/The Maine School of Science and Mathematics as your host from the shores of the Caribou Public Library to safely witness the transit along with our telescopic technology.

    And, of course, the transit enjoys visibility throughout the United States, and the globe at large. So please do not hesitate to contact your friends and family worldwide the good news.

    In the final analysis, what really captures the imagination of this celestial walk to remember remains the undeniable acceptance that another transit of Venus does not schedule until December, 2117! One of the joys of astronomy, both as a profession as well as a personal passion, I must say, involves our own recognition of our place in space and time. And I dare say astronomy permits us to expand our sense of the plausible and engage past, present, and future perceptions in wonderful, enriching ways and means. I’m challenged, for example, to consider the reality of an Aroostook County in 2117. To ponder everything the future holds — from cars, to clothing, from restaurants to recreation. And can’t we marvel at the fact that we hold the distinct privilege of even enjoying the awareness of such a phenomena given the millennial life of our global civilization over the centuries? We all can consider the consequences of creativity and commitment while Venus fries freely before our startled senses.

    See ya June 5th, Aroostook! (weather permitting)

    Larry Berz of Caribou is director of Easton’s Francis Malcolm Planetarium and astronomy instructor at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics.