Jun 16 2012



Hey, remember this?

And remember last year, when this happened?

Well, guess what?

Yup. Did it again. Totally missed the World Science Festival.

In my defense, I expected it to be in June, so when June rolled around, I said, Hey, what about that science festival? Made with the Google, and discovered that it started on May 30th, which was, may I point out, in the actual month of May.

Well. I found out on June 2nd, and naturally all tickets for the events of the weekend were sold out long ago. I thought of just hopping the train down to NYC for the free street-fair portion of the festival, but alas. Rain and rain.

So, I signed up for the email newsletter so I’ll be among the first to get the low-down on next year’s science festival. But you know, I had the blues and I really could have used a good dose of cool science right then.

Hey, luckily the transit of Venus was the following Tuesday!

Sabine and I headed out to the wonderful Van Vleck Observatory at nearby Weselyan University, where they were hosting a viewing of the transit.

If it wasn’t cloudy.

Which it was.

But they did stream a webcast from the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea on a big screen in one of the classrooms.

And the observatory is worth a visit for its own sake.

As in: this is the room I want to live the rest of my life in:

Big windows, lots of flat surfaces to work on, and finally, enough shelves.

Plenty of room, plenty of light, and astronomy everywhere.

Convenient seating for 12.

Sabine found the secret switch that back-lit all the old astronomical photographic plates on display.

Halley's, Mars and Saturn -- actual old glass photgraphic plates

(I urge you to click to embiggen each.)

I always wanted one of these:

Constellations on the globe depicted in reverse. Because we're apparently outside the sky. You really should click this.

While we were wandering the room, waiting for the transit to begin, and sighing longingly (well, I was, anyway), the Wesleyan librarian of antiquities came by and started laying out amazing antique astronomical books.

And hey, look! People started showing up. Because the transit was approaching.

One of the undertakings being the observation of a transit of Venus.

The pattern of transits of Venus works out as two within a decade of each other, and then no more for a century or so. Last one was 2004; next one will be 2117. Personally, I plan to watch it…

Because the clouds kept us from viewing it directly this year.

But as promised: live big-screen streaming over the Internet, with explanations by Wesleyan astronomers.

Here’s William Herbst:

Not depicted: about 50 people in the room, and more stuck in the hallway, peering in though the doors.

Given that we couldn’t view it through the actual (carefully filtered) telescopes on hand, it was quite inspiring to watch the event with a crowd of total strangers. I know that I like this sort of thing, but that’s just me, right? I know I’m weird.

Apparently, so are a lot of other people. People who share my longing for wonder, beauty, and science.

Even the one who, discussing the transit with Sabine, asked, “So… where is this in relation to our universe?”

Yes, even her. Because SHE WAS THERE. It meant something. She had no children with her (as some people did), so she was not furthering anyone’s education but her own.

A telescope, once invented, can be used by anyone.

This was just exactly what I needed.

Given that I missed the World Science Festival.

Again. Three years running, now.

Next year for sure!

Mr. Joseph Van Vleck.