I just received through the mail the new book Transit of Venus: 1631 to the present written by Dr Nick Lomb. Having a considerable number of books on the transit of Venus on my bookshelf, it’s hard to surprise or impress me. Nick did. As the former curator of astronomy at Sydney Observatory, Lomb succeeded in bringing together new pictorial material from various archives, offering pleasant surprises after each page turn, even for someone thoroughly acquainted with the subject. I couldn’t resist to just browse through the book at first, gazing at the beautiful, full-page reproductions with which the work is larded.
But Nick also does an excellent job in telling the fascinating story of the transit of Venus, that started in 1631 with the prediction of that year’s transit by Johannes Kepler, proving the correctness of his laws and the supremacy of the heliocentric model. Then Jeremiah Horrocks, Edmond Halley and Joseph-Nicolas Delisle pass in review, whose efforts culminate in the first global scientific event in 1761 and 1769. Exceptional attention is given to the 19th century pair of transits from a down-under perspective. The story ends with our own observation of the 2004 transit, including Nick’s own account:
I began a live radio interview just as first contact was due to happen. Pressing my way to the head of one of the queues, past a line of expectant but good-natured people, I described to the radio audience what I could see through the telescope. What I saw was hardly spectacular – a slight indentation on the Sun’s edge – but I was witnessing the first time Venus had crept in front of the Sun in the lifetime of anyone alive.
As the transit progressed, Venus was seen as a clearly dark spot on the face of the Sun. A 17-year old visitor seemed more impressed with the queues at the telescopes than the phenomenon in progress, telling the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘It’s a pretty big turnout for a dot’. Others were more entranced, such as one visitor who said, ‘It’s a whole planet, but it looks so small compared to the sun. It just shows you the phenomenal size of the solar system’. An imaginative seven-year-old girl said, ‘It was like a little hole in the side of the sun’. (pp. 180-181)
The book also looks ahead, to our transit that is scheduled for June 2012, explaining the significance of the transit for finding other earths, and providing a guide on how to observe the transit safely. The main body is complemented with a glossary, bibliography and index.
This is an absolutely must-read for anyone interested in the 2012 transit of Venus. Nick Lomb has done us a great favour in providing this lavishly illustrated book, which accentuates both past and present transits, giving insight in the historical narratives as well as their scientific importance.
ISBN 978-1742232690 (hardcover) 978-1615190553 (paperback)
Price £47.95 (hardcover) £14.37 (paperback)