Tuesday was a very special day for planet Earth — it was the last time that Venus’ silhouette will be seen from our vantage point for 105 years. But through a terrific stroke of luck, my wife and I were located at arguably one of the most famous observatories on the planet: Mt. Wilson, California.
What’s more, we were joined by dozens of astronomers and enthusiasts all training their gaze on the Venus transit with filtered telescopes of all shapes, sizes and ages. It was a day to remember.
As co-host for the Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) live webcast from the Mt. Wilson summit, I joined AWB Founder and President Mike Simmons for a marathon six-hour astronomy fest. We chatted with astronomy historians, educators, enthusiasts, scientists and random people who had just “stopped by.” And with the help of a professional film crew and tech support team, we were able to deliver an entertaining show across the web.
Plus, we had a Hollywood sponsor — 20th Century Fox and the movie “Prometheus” helped make the event possible, adding a little sci-fi glamor to the proceedings.
Naturally, setting up a mobile production studio at an altitude of 5,715 ft wasn’t without its challenges, but we did it, and we thoroughly enjoyed the last Venus transit of our lifetime.
For me, one of the highlights was to set up the live video feed to chat with ESA Venus Express scientists who had gathered on the Arctic island of Svalbard. They showed us the frozen scene outside UNIS — the world’s most northern university — while I jibed them about our 80 degree weather and impressive suntans. Having lived and studied at that same location in my Masters year in 2002, that conversation held a special meaning.
But the AWB video feed was just one of countless others around the globe, bringing the world together in a celebration of a Venus transit that no people alive today (barring a few lucky infants who won’t likely remember this transit anyway) will ever see again. It was this global “togetherness” that gave me goosebumps.
And through working with Mike Simmons and Astronomers Without Borders, it became crystal clear that astronomy really doesn’t have borders and, as a species, we all share something in common — we all live on one planet. The Universe has no regard for nations, race or religion. We can all unite to celebrate the passage of a small planet across the face of a star. Our star.
I just wonder what the world will look like when our planet’s populous unites to watch the next Venus transit in 2117.
Images: Top: Taken through a telescope with my iPhone camera. Bottom: Taken late in the day with my Nikon Coolpix. Special thanks to Kevin LeGore of Woodland Hills Telescope and Focus for lending me his excellent telescope! Credit: Ian O’Neill/Discovery News