Yesterday the world witnessed the Transit of Venus, an astronomical event so rare it won’t happen again until the year 2117.
People gathered around observatories, made homemade cardboard-and-pinhole sun-viewing kits, and lit up internet chat forums to talk about what they were seeing. Here in Western Massachusetts, the heavy cloud cover prevented me from using my trusty old darkened-plastic solar eclipse viewer to experience the transit firsthand, but like many others I was able to catch a live webstream of the event, watching the small spherical silhouette of our sister planet arc, ever so slowly, across the face of our common sun.
What is it about cosmic phenomena like this that we find so compelling? Ever since our ancient hominid ancestors’ curiosity was first piqued, we’ve been directing our gaze skyward, reflecting on the movement of the spheres and our place among them. Today we all know that we aren’t at the geographical center of gravity’s grand planetary dance, but we still behave as though we’re at the center of it all, occupying a privileged place in the universe. And given our apparently unique capacity for self-reflective awareness, at least on this planet, perhaps we really are something special. But simple events like lunar eclipses or planetary transits remind us, vividly, that Earth is just one tiny bubble in an unfathomably endless sea of tiny bubbles. As rare as a species like ours may be, we are still fragile, small, and relatively helpless next to the impersonal forces and infinitely vast grandeur of the natural world.
I think that as we proceed at breakneck speed into the 21st century, we’d all do well to remember that we aren’t necessarily as on top of the situation as we’d like to believe. We need to respect this planet, and we need to ensure that we aren’t knocked off the evolutionary spiral by either our own stupidity or a wayward asteroid. If it’s true that our universe is only 14 billion years old, and yet stars will continue to form for another 100,000 billion years, then our evolutionary adventure is clearly just getting started here.
Below are some of the best videos and photos related to the Transit of Venus that I’ve come across so far. If you have links to others, please share them in the comments below.
This is one of the first compilation videos produced yesterday from ground- and space-based observatories:
Here’s an explanatory video from the BBC:
A video featured on Time:
And don’t miss the impressive collection of user-submitted photos on The Huffington Post »