Thursday, June 7, 2012

Interstellar Transit Authority

For the second time in as many months, we (and by "we" I mean earth-dwellers) were treated to a display of the intricate dance of nearby heavenly bodies.  This time was the twice-in-a-lifetime transit of Venus across the Sun.  Last occurrence was in 2004, and if you missed that one and this one, you better hope that modern medicine gets you all the way to 2117.

Near the entry point

The Venus transit doesn't have nearly the aplomb of a solar eclipse; Venus is just a wee dot in front of the sun.  However, I think it's cool for the exact opposite reason a solar eclipse is cool.  A solar eclipse is awesome because of the near-exact match between the apparent sizes of the Sun and the Moon.  This match is due to the actual sizes of both, paired with the distance of each from Earth.  The result is that total eclipses just barely happen, and even annular eclipses like we had last month (Moon was a little bit further away from Earth at the moment and thus didn't totally smush out the Sun) are still pretty spectacular.  Really, it's an extraordinary coincidence (yep, throw your Bibles at me) with extraordinary consequences.

So the reason that the Venus transit is cool is that Venus is strikingly close to the same size as Earth - within a few hundred miles.  To see something so akin to our home as nothing but a dot in front of a massive ball of roiling fusion gives me a poignant reminder of our place in the Universe.  We're only 32 million miles past Venus, so imagine being 32 million miles past Earth and seeing it silhouetted against the Sun...

Midway, with telephone pole for Earthly grounding :)

As cool as the clean photo of the transit was, I wanted to give it a little bit of context, too.  I happened to be on another photoshoot while this was going on, but I found a nearby telephone pole to add something different.  This, of course, is only because I'm SUPER jealous of those bastards at the Solar Dynamics Observatory, who are now totally blowing my mind on a regular basis (link to their main gallery was in my eclipse posting, and is easy to navigate to).  If I had their shit, I wouldn't need to enlist telephone poles to make my lowly visible-light photos marginally cooler.  Their images are amazing, but OMG (sorry), watch the videos.

Anyhow, enjoy your trip on this little rock hurtling through spacetime, and have fun falling asleep tonight thinking about what's out there!



aitorku said...

Eliot, Thank you again for giving awesome pictures and great words in such a deep and descriptive verse...

Eliot said...

Thanks Aitor. Really, I'm just a hack with a camera and a keyboard :)

Past Detritus