Unless you’re living under a rock, you probably are well aware that last evening we experienced a rare occasion – Venus passing in front of the sun.
The history of this occasion is an inspiring story of humans learning more about our place in the universe. It won’t be until 2117 that this event occurs again. And what a perfect place for us to be – within short distance of the University of Texas’ Astronomy department, who was hosting heliostat and rooftop telescope viewings.
This is not perfect just because it’s Austin… but because I attended astrophysics classes in this very building 20 years ago when I was a UT student. A perfect excuse for a homecoming for this geek girl.
We decided to head over. And apparently, all of Austin did as well.
When we arrived, right around 5pm, there was a long line awaiting the elevators to the roof. I thought to myself, there were always lines to use the elevators when I was attending classes here… no big deal. We got on an elevator to the 17th floor, where the roof access is. And wham… a huge crowd already awaiting in the hallway and multiple elevator doors opening letting more people off. Soon it was mass mayhem, and likely a fire hazard.
With cool air quickly diminishing, we decided to exit into the next open elevator and escaped to the 13th floor, where the heliostat viewing was being projected. A short line was already formed there, but it was moving.
The heliostat starts with a collection device on the roof of the building, that then streams sun beams down to the 13th floor, where a contraption projects it on the wall. It was awesome to see and experience.
We then exited the building to the courtyard to find other science geeks with viewing glass – and we were able to look directly at Venus and the sun.
Not quite the experience we might have had if we toughed out the rooftop telescope line, but still amazing.
“We are now on the eve of the second transit of a pair, after which there will be no other till the twenty-first century of our era has dawned upon the earth and the June flowers are blooming in 2004. When the last transit season occurred the intellectual world was awakening from the slumber of ages, and the wondrous scientific activity which has led to our present advanced knowledge was just beginning. What will be the state of science when the next transit season arrives God only knows. Not even our children’s children will live to take part in the astronomy of that day. As for ourselves, we have to do with the present . . . “.
– William Harkness, 1882
Another awesome Austin experience!