WELL Katherine, the Transit of Venus is over until 2117, and somehow it is doubtful that many people will be able to make that appointment.
Today (Wednesday) the town has enjoyed a unique opportunity to see the transit – which last occurred in 2004 – from start to finish thanks to the sun’s June schedule and the finest weather that could be hoped for.
Owner and manager of Territory Development Consultants, Nannette Helder set up her 40-year-old survey theodolite in prime position on the grass beside the Katherine Transit Centre, and said she had the most wonderful day showing people Venus’ progress and explaining a little about the transit’s history.
“It’s been absolutely exceptional. I thought I would have a couple of people stop by to have a look, but there have been hundreds!” the licensed surveyor said.
Ms Helder decided she would take the day to satisfy her own curiosity and watch the transit, and help interested passers-by to do the same.
She said Katherine was blessed with an ideal day to track Venus’ path across the sun, and were exceptionally lucky to be able to capture the full six hours. Perth missed the first two hours due to its time zone, and Sydneysiders apparently had a poor show at times due to adverse weather.
Ms Helder set up a piece of white cardboard to capture the projection of both the sun and Venus, with viewers able to see the approximately 2mm speck of Venus on paper passing over the 50mm disc of the sun.
“It was a good way for people to experience it, because they didn’t have to look directly at the sun, which was especially good for people who brought kids along,” she said.
There was a diverse range of spectators, with a very high percentage of tourists, along with mums and dads, kids and local tradies stopping by.
Ms Helder explained that it was in 1769 – a year in which European countries were competing to be first to calculate the distance from the earth to the sun – that the transit of Venus occurred with great significance, enabling British mathematicians to reach an historical result.
“The British government organised three expeditions to observe the transit, one to Norway, one to Canada, and one, led by Captain James Cook, to Tahiti... by using astronomical measurements from these strategic locations, mathematicians were able to calculate our distance from the sun.”
The British calculated earth to be 149 million km from the sun, and modern science has proved the answer to be 150 million km.
“In history, the moment has been equated to man’s landing on the moon, in terms of magnitude,” Ms Helder said.
And of this latest transit, the astronomical enthusiast said she couldn’t have been more thrilled by the interest shown in the truly historical event.
“I just wanted to do my bit for Katherine.”