Tuesday, June 08, 2004


we're all amateur astronomers at times like this, and, whereas this transit of Venus lacked the communal frisson of the total eclipse of 1999 that required that whole populations migrate to the optimal viewing sites (in our case the Cornish coast) for the sake of experiencing that three-minute event, it was worth digging out those old safe solar viewing filters and dragging the boys out into the garden before school.
what you can never be prepared for is the awe - the totally humbling sense of scale. we're so used to having such images mediated through a page or a screen that we forget just what's involved here. Venus is often the most spectacular 'star' in the sky, but to see it for what it really is - the next planet in towards the sun - as, by rare chance, it passes directly between us and the sun, is to catch an inkling of the truly inconceivable immensity of it all. Venus is the planet closest in size to the Earth, so that's how we'd look to an observer that far away - a dot the size of a 10-point full-stop against a 10p-sized Sun in a sky larger than the largest thing we've ever seen - an empty ocean, perhaps - in fact with no imaginable boundary at all. all our history, our lives, our preoccupations, all this - stuff - sailing through space.

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