The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, Harvard University invites you to join us for a
Festival of the Transit of Venus
8 June 2004 5:00 am – 7:30 am
Science Center, Harvard University 1 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA
Observe this rare Astronomical Spectacle! Celebrate its History! Enjoy live Transit of Venus Music!
No one alive has seen a Transit of Venus, but on June 8th you will have this rare opportunity!
Transits of Venus are rare astronomical alignments in which the planet Venus crosses the face of the Sun as seen from Earth. They occur in pairs (8 years apart) separated at intervals of 105.5 or 121.5 years. In 1639 Jeremiah Horrocks and his friend William Crabtree were the first and only witnesses of a transit of Venus. Before the next transits in 1761 and 1769, astronomical expeditions were sent around the globe in order to observe the event from far flung places and share their results. Their goal was nothing less than determining the dimensions of the solar system, one of the great unsolved problems of astronomy of the time. The transits of Venus also caused a great stir among the public. Crowds watched them through smoked glasses in city streets and sang drinking songs about them in taverns. The next pair of transits–in 1874 and 1882–also caused great excitement.
In 1761 the only observers in North America were Harvard’s own John Winthrop, the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy and his two students. Because the event could not be seen from Cambridge, they sailed to St. John’s, Newfoundland, taking college apparatus behind enemy lines during the French and Indian War in the name of international collaboration in science.
After a failed attempt to put together an expedition to Lake Superior in 1769, John Winthrop observed the next transit of Venus from Harvard Yard in Cambridge. He used new instruments acquired in London with the help of Benjamin Franklin and had to overcome obstacles arising from the rebellious political acts of Samuel Adams and others with whom he sympathized. The Harvard Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments has all the instruments used by Winthrop in 1769, and some from 1761 as well.
Now its your turn! Come relive the excitement of the 1760s and make history on June 8, 2004. Join us between 5:00 am and 7:30 am for these activities:
Astronomy! 5:09 am–sunrise with Transit of Venus in progress Observe Venus on the Sun with modern telescopes and safe solar filters Re-enact John Winthrop’s observations in 1769 with his instruments! View observations of the transit in Africa, Europe, and around the globe via live webcasts 7:06 am–Venus contacts the inner edge of the sun’s disk 7:26 am–Venus leaves Sun
History! Visit the CHSI museum galleries to see apparatus selected by Benjamin Franklin for Winthrop’s observations. Learn about pre-Revolutionary politics and its impact on Harvard’s expeditions to observe the Transit in 1761 and 1769, with curator Sara Schechner.
Transit of Venus Music! Live performances of John Philip Sousa’s “Transit of Venus March” by the Harvard Band and “The Venus Waltz” for banjo by John Huth, chairman of the Physics Department
Food! Continental breakfast
For further information, please contact Sara Schechner at [email protected] or 617-495-2779.