Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Lost in Transit blog.

Of course I didn’t see the Transit of Venus this morning at the crack of dawn. Sleep took priority at that time of day. So I can add it to the list of celestial events I’ve missed so far, such as a total eclipse of the Sun, and the aurora borealis and australis. But at least I’ll have another chance in June 2012. No doubt actuaries would give me reasonably good odds of surviving till then. If I understand correctly, in 2012 it will occur more during the daytime here in the Western Hemisphere. And who knows, and I may even be able to interest my children in it.

Last week I read an article in The Economist about the Transit, and was interested to learn that the British dispatched not only Capt. Cook to observe the 1761 event, but also Mason and Dixon, the same fellows of surveying fame between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The French were interested in observing it as well, but for at least one of their number, things did not go well.

“The French had their share of troubles, too. The most pathetic of these were suffered by Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil de la Galaisiere. He was aiming for Pondicherry, a French colony in India, but he learned before arriving that it had been captured by the British. When the transit occurred, he was stuck on a pitching ship in an imprecisely known location, rendering his observations worthless. Undeterred, he decided to wait for the 1769 transit. He spent eight years on various Indian Ocean islands before making his way to Pondicherry, which had by then been returned to the French. On the day of the transit, however, it was cloudy. He then contracted dysentery, was shipwrecked, and finally returned home to find his estate looted.”

Now there’s someone who should have stayed home, like I did.


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