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The Transit of Venus

A special astronomical event that will not take place again until 2117.


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About the Transit

The last Transit of Venus took place in 2004, and I was able to see the whole thing from start to finish. It was a perfect sunny day without any clouds to spoil the view. Unfortunately 2012 was different on two counts; firstly only the final hour of the event was visible from the UK, and we couldn't even see that, due to cloud.

Historically, from an astronomical view, transits of Venus were pivotal in determining the size of the solar system. Through careful observations, astronomers had calculated the relative distances of the planets - what was needed was an absolute measurement in order to translate these into actual distances. By timing when Venus just appeared to be at the edge of the Sun at two different locations on Earth, calculations using triangulation could give the distance from Earth to Venus, and from that, the distances of all the othe planets and the Sun.

The points of interest are referred to as P1 - when Venus reaches the Sun's disc, P2 - when it is fully in front of the Sun, and P3 and P4 are the equivalent points at the end of the transit. Here are some inages from the 2004 transit.

Some time after the start. Venus is moving right to left.

P3 - Venus has reached the edge of the sun's disc.

Venus starts to disappear.

Venus has almost gone.

Jerry's Transit Trek

The first known observations of a transit of Venus took place in 1639 on December 4 - or November 24 according to the Julian calendar which was in use in England at that time. The event had been predicted by Jeremiah Horrocks, who was a young curate at the Church of St Peter at Much Hoole, which is to the south-west of Preston, in Lancashire. The church is right at the southern end of the village, and just over half a mile to the south is Carr House, where Horrocks was living, and it was from the first-loor window above the door that he made his observations.

Horrocks had projected and focussed an image of the Sun from a telescope - which had only been invented 30 years before - onto a piece of card. He was able to see the transit around 3:15 pm when the clouds finally cleared about an hour before sunset.

He had told his brother Jonas about the transit and a friend named William Crabtree, and encouraged them to try to observe it. The next one would not take place until 122 years later in 1761. Unfortunately, Jonas was unable to see the transit from his location in Toxteth because of cloud, but William Crabtree was able to see the transit from his house in Salford, north Manchester.

I was invited to give a presentation in May 2012 at Blackpool & District Astronomy Society, and I realised I had an opportunity to visit the sites associated with the 1639 transit. So I contacted the current rector of Much Hoole Church, Reverend Derek Baines, and arranged to meet him on my way back from Blackpool.

I arrived at the church at mid-day where Derek was waiting along with the churchwarden, Bill Car, whom I discovered has nothing to do with Carr House. In a similar vein, I have to say that I nothing to do with the Stone family for whom the house was built! Derek and Bill kindly showed me the Horrocks chapel, and the various items relating to Horrocks and the transit. I took a number of photos and some of them are shown below.

The third photo shows Derek and Bill at the entrance to the Horrocks chapel. In the background is one of the stained glass windows commemorating Horrocks and the transit.

I would like to express my thanks to Derek and Bill for giving up their time and telling me about these wonderful items that relate to such an important event in the history of astronomy.

They also told me about the Transit Stone, which I visited after stopping off at Carr House. It is a large commemorative rock set up at the approach to the next village of Bretherton, and it is likely that very few people know about it. Apparently Carr House was originally within the Bretherton village boundary.

The photos conlcude with some views taken at William Crabtree's house. Click on any of the images for larger versions.

I have prepared a presentation about the sites and items associated with the 1639 transit. If you are interested in this, it is about 15 minutes and can be slotted in with a booking of any of my other main presentations.

Much Hoole Church

A general view towards the chapel

Rev. Derek Baines and Bill Carr

The Horrocks Chapel plaque

The commemorative window

The Venus pane

Horrocks observing the Transit
The Horrocks commemorative tablet

The 1874 and 2004 window.

The 1874 commemorative pane.

The 2004 commemorative pane.

The Horrocks clock

The sundial.

Carr House, where Horrocks saw the Transit.

The plaque on the wall at Carr House.

Horrocks watched the Transit from the upstairs window.

The Transit Stone (and the other one) about half a mile south of Carr House.

William Crabtree's house in Salford, Manchester, where he saw the Transit.

The plaque near Crabtree's house - in the greenery to the left of the cat!

All photos by Jerry Stone.

Please contact me if you wish to use any of these images.


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