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VENUSIAN HEAT
Venus, the planet of broken dreams
by Staff Writers
Paris (AFP) June 3, 2012


Asia-Pacific gets best seats for cosmic double-bill
Paris (AFP) June 3, 2012 - Astronomers this week are poised for a double show of rare events but skywatchers in the Pacific and East Asia will have the best view, experts say.

Monday will see the first partial lunar eclipse of the year, when Earth slides between the Moon and the Sun, casting a grey shadow over its satellite.

The event runs from 0848 to 1318 GMT, according to NASA expert Fred Espenak.

At the greatest point of the eclipse (1103 GMT), the southern part of the Moon will seem as if a small bite has been taken out of it.

Weather permitting, most of Australia, all of New Zealand, the nations of the South Pacific and Papua New Guinea will see all of the eclipse, and Southeast Asia, Eastern China, Japan and Korea will get most of it.

It will not be visible in Europe or Africa, but people in western North America and Mexico will see it at the end stages when the moon sets.

On Tuesday, North America will get to see the early stage of the Transit of Venus, one of the most eagerly awaited events in the astronomical calendar.

It occurs when Venus passes between Earth and the Sun, appearing under magnification as a small black dot that trots across the solar face.

The next transit will not take place until 2117.

Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, Japan and Korea, as well as most of China and much of Southeast Asia, will be able to see the entire transit, lasting six hours, 40 minutes, in what will be Wednesday morning their time.

South Asia, the Middle East and Europe will get the end part, when they enter sunrise on Wednesday.

IMPORTANT: Anyone viewing the transit should use approved solar filters to prevent damage to the eyes.

When Venus next week eclipses Earth, an event that will not occur again for more than a century, millions of skygazers may have romantic thoughts about our closest neighbour and its twilight beauty.

But the truth is that Venus is a hell that would have surpassed even the imagination of Dante, and it has caused more grief and disappointment than any other planet in the Solar System.

Early science fiction figured Venus to be a twin to Earth, a balmy, watery home from home that was a plum target for colonisation. So when the Space Age dawned, it was only natural that the second rock from the Sun would be the first planet for humans to explore.

For a decade, the Soviet Union and the United States battered Venus with probes.

They dispatched 21 unmanned missions, nearly all of them struck by failures at launch or in the final approach, before in 1970 the Soviet scout Venera 7 made the first successful landing.

The snatch of data it sent back left everyone stunned.

If Venus was ever Earth's sister, it was of the sick and twisted kind.

It hosts an atmosphere of carbon dioxide with a pressure 90 times that on Earth and a surface cooked to 457 degrees Celsius (855 degrees Fahrenheit).

"Any astronaut unlucky to land there would be simultaneously crushed, roasted, choked and dissolved," Britain's Royal Astronomical Society notes.

Those watching the Transit of Venus next week should spare a thought for Guillaume le Gentil de la Galaisiere, whose life -- portrayed in a play by Canadian author Maureen Hunter that has since been turned into an opera -- was cursed by the planet named after love.

Le Gentil became swept up in the 18th-century frenzy for the Transit of Venus, which occurs when Venus swings in front of the Sun, appearing through the telescope lens as an enigmatic spot.

Next Tuesday evening, skywatchers in North and Central America will enjoy the start of the 2012 Transit, which will end on Wednesday, more than six and a half hours later, visible from Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. The next time a Transit happens will be in December 2117.

As a Transit of Venus loomed in 1761, Britain and France -- at war at the time -- jousted for the glory of using the celestial alignment to resolve the greatest puzzle of the day: how far is Earth from the Sun?

By figuring this out, the size and the scale of the Solar System could at last be determined.

How this could be done was proposed in 1716 by the great astronomer Edmund Halley, more famous today for the comet that bears his name.

The point was to measure very accurately, and from different locations on the Earth, the time it took Venus to cross the Sun.

Using triangulation, this would give the distance between Earth and Venus, and thereafter the gap between Venus and the Sun, using an equation on orbital mechanics drawn up by the German mathematician Johannes Kepler.

Hundreds of expeditions were dispatched around the world.

Among them was Le Gentil, who set out to observe the 1761 transit from Pondicherry, a French territory in southeastern India.

By the time Le Gentil arrived, Pondicherry had been seized by the British and his ship could not land. The French astronomer observed the transit from his vessel out at sea, but could not time it accurately because he had only a pendulum clock, which was affected by the ship's rolling.

Knowing that the next transit was only eight years away, le Gentil decided to stay in Asia, exploring the coast of Madagascar as he whiled away the time.

As the 1769 event loomed, Le Gentil tried to record the transit from the Philippines, only to be rebuffed by the Spanish colonial authorities.

Eventually he decided to go back to Pondicherry, which by this time had returned to French ownership.

Le Gentil built a small observatory to house his precious gear and rubbed his hands expectantly as week after week the skies remained dazzlingly clear.

The morning of June 3 broke and disaster fell upon his head: clouds moved in and he could see nothing.

Driven almost insane by his luck, Le Gentil decided to return home, only to suffer a shipwreck and dysentery en route. And when he arrived back in France after 11 years away, he discovered that he had been declared dead.

His relatives had grabbed all his possessions, his seat at the Royal Academy of Sciences had been attributed to another -- and his wife had married someone else.

There is a happy end to the tale, though.

Le Gentil remarried, had children, regained his place in the academy and died at 1792 at 73, a good innings in those days.

.


Related Links
Venus Express News and Venusian Science






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VENUSIAN HEAT
Get ready for the transit of Venus!
Paris, France (ESA) May 25, 2012
Scientists and amateur astronomers around the world are preparing to observe the rare occurrence of Venus crossing the face of the Sun on 5-6 June, an event that will not be seen again for over a hundred years. The occasion also celebrates the first transit while there is a spacecraft orbiting the planet - ESA's Venus Express. ESA will be reporting live from the Arctic island of Spitsberge ... read more


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