Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Transit of Venus

Yesterday, June 5, 2012, was a big day. It was Election Day. Only 24% of eligible voters bothered to vote. That's sad.

But aside from that, yesterday also bore witness to one of the rarer predictable celestial events: The Transit of Venus. Venus, the second planet from the sun and the planet closest in size and character to Earth, passed between the Earth and the sun.  This even happens in pairs, but the pairs of events are spaced many, many years apart. The last transit was in 2004. The next will be in 2117.

That is 105 years from now.

People were urged to check it out as it wouldn't likely happen again in our lifetimes. What they mean is, our lifetimes won't likely extend long enough to see it happen again. That's the sort of statistic that makes adults pause.

I didn't put the special glasses, obtained for the annular eclipse of just a few weeks ago, on you and urge you to look as I was scared you might look again without the glasses and hurt your eyes. You won't remember, anyway. And if you don't take to science, you may never know about the event.

But I probably share a hope with the parents of your other 2010 baby friends: maybe you'll see the Transit of Venus in 2117.  A few people live to be 107 nowadays and why not hope - even think or expect - that it might be more common by the time you near the century mark.

Thinking about events outside of my own lifetime is troubling. Thinking about events outside of your lifetime makes me feel entirely too mortal, small, and transient.

Footnote: Yesterday, on that celestially important day, famous Science Fiction writer Ray Bradbury also died. I hope he saw the Transit before he went. He was 91 years old and might have seen the 2004 event, but not one before that. Somewhat relatedly, he wrote a story called "All in A Summer's Day" about a girl who moves to Venus from Earth and misses the sun, which is only visible on Venus for 2 hours every 7 years. She is bullied for being the only person to know what the sun is like from her time on Earth. Her classmates cause her to miss the sunshine.

Ray Bradbury was the commencement speaker at my college graduation.

He was quoted in a newspaper article saying something I want you to remember and take to heart:
"In my later years I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back." he wrote in a book of essays published in 2005. "Occasionally I wonder why I can be so happy. The answer is that every day of my life I've worked only for myself and for the joy that comes from writing and creating. The image in my mirror is not optimistic, but the result of optimal behavior."

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