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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

What did the 1882 Transit of Venus look like?

By Phil Plait

The Transit of Venus occurring Tuesday is the last one we'll see for 105 years, but it's not the first one we've seen! I saw the 2004 transit literally with my own eyes (wearing safe eclipse glasses - and which I plan to use to watch this one as well), and there were several witnessed before that. The last one before 2004 was in 1882, recent enough that photography was being used in astronomy. And it so happens that astronomers at Mt. Hamilton in California were able to take a series of 147 (!) images of the transit, 140 of which were used to make this amazing video:

That. Is. So. Cool! Not too often you see a movie made in 1882!

And the story behind these photos is interesting, too: they were made on glass plates, which, until the recent invention of electronic detectors were the go-to astronomical detectors. I've taken images on glass plates myself, and it's a major pain in the neck. It's incredible they got that many shots of the transit! The plates themselves languished, forgotten, until 2003, when they were re-discovered by astronomer Bill Sheehan, and eventually scanned and made into the above movie. Read that link for the details.

Here's one of the plates for your perusal:

More of them can be found at the Naval Observatory site.

I expect we'll be seeing far, far more than just a single video from the upcoming transit. If you get unusual or really interesting shots -- especially video -- please let me know! I'm hoping to put together a gallery of the best ones I've seen. Send me a tweet or email me at the bad astronomer at gmail dot com.

And remember, we're doing a live Transit of Venus video star party tomorrow! I'll have details coming soon.

Tip o' the pinhole projector to David Griff.

Related Posts:

- Everything you need to know about next weekâs Transit of Venus
- Eclipse followup part 2: tons oâ links on how to safely watch
- Your last chance to see Venus for the next few weeks
- Venus rounds the corner

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