News

What Cook came to see

The transit of Venus makes its way across the sun as photographed by the Sydney Observatory on June 8, 2004.
The transit of Venus makes its way across the sun as photographed by the Sydney Observatory on June 8, 2004. Sydney Observatory

MOST Australians probably don't realise the significance to Australian history of Venus moving between the sun and the earth.

In 1769, then Lieutenant James Cook was in Tahiti, ostensibly to observe the transit of Venus across the sun from the southern hemisphere in the European race to measure more accurate astronomical data.

With that job done, Cook opened a sealed envelope with secret orders from King George III.

Cook was instructed to sail west and attempt a discovery of the fabled Terra Australis Incognita, preferably before the French or Dutch could do so.

He subsequently sailed via New Zealand and up our east coast in 1770, setting anchor in and naming Byron Bay, sighting Wollumbin (and naming it Mt Warning), after making landfall at Botany Bay.

It was this discovery of Australia's bountiful east coast that led to British colonial settlement of the country, so the timing of the 1769 transit of Venus has a special place in Australian history.

The transit is one of the rarest astronomical events, occurring twice in quick succession every century or so: since 1769 there have been only three transits, a pair in 1874 and 1882, and the most recent in 2004.

After the upcoming transit on June 5-6 it won't occur again until 2117.

These days, the transit remains of vital importance to astronomers, particularly in their attempts to discover "exoplanets" or planets outside the solar system.

Astronomers use the same "transit method" for observing Venus moving across the sun to observe planets in other systems light years away moving across their respective suns.

Since 1995, 700 planets have been discovered, contributing to scientists' hopes that there may in fact be earth-like planets out there.

Leading astronomer Dave Reneke of Australasian Science Magazine said northern NSW had some of the best skies in the world for viewing such phenomena, given the frequent clarity of our autumn and winter skies.

The transit begins at 8.15am and ends about six hours later, so there's plenty of time to get a view.

But Mr Reneke issues a warning - never look directly at the sun - the transit can only be viewed using special equipment such as solar glasses.

Fact sheets on the transit and how to best view it can be downloaded from Mr Reneke's website at http://www.davidreneke.com.

Chairman of the North Coast Institution of Surveyors Neil Kennedy has also invited schools wishing to arrange a viewing of the transit to apply for a special telescope for the event.

After purchasing 20 scopes they have about nine left and are happy to present the scopes along with tuition from a qualified surveyor in time for the transit.

For information, call Mr Kennedy on 02 6687 4700.

Topics:  captain cook, venus


Join the Community.

Get your local news, your way.

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Queensland's worst traffic crawl spots revealed

Traffic congestion on the Ipswich motorway

RACQ says congestion has to end with better alternatives provided

"Chook" Fowler still fighting in the law courts

BAIL REFUSED: Anthony ‘Chook’ Fowler has been charged with the armed robbery of a pub he used to work at.

Former NRL player fined for breaching bail conditions

Queensland Raceway upgrade needs the Premier's backing

Mayor Paul Pisasale gets set for a hot lap in a V8 Supercar with Ipswich driver Ash Walsh. He has big plans for Qld Raceway.

Ipswich can become motorsport capital of Australia

Latest deals and offers

Young dancers wow circus judges

A team of young dancers from Ipswich blew away the judges when they performed at the Australian Circus Festival in Sydney.

Queensland's worst traffic crawl spots revealed

Traffic congestion on the Ipswich motorway

RACQ says congestion has to end with better alternatives provided

"Chook" Fowler still fighting in the law courts

BAIL REFUSED: Anthony ‘Chook’ Fowler has been charged with the armed robbery of a pub he used to work at.

Former NRL player fined for breaching bail conditions

Queensland Raceway upgrade needs the Premier's backing

Mayor Paul Pisasale gets set for a hot lap in a V8 Supercar with Ipswich driver Ash Walsh. He has big plans for Qld Raceway.

Ipswich can become motorsport capital of Australia

Turnbull on the way out as Shorten's ALP surges

FRONT RUNNER: Labor leader Bill Shorten enjoyed funding a major upgrade to the Ipswich Motorway, and the Essential poll results have given him more reasons to smile.

Labor takes poll lead as Libs flounder

Shorten commits $200m to Ipswich Motorway upgrade

SAVIOURS: Blair MP Shayne Neumann and Labor leader Bill Shorten unveil the plans for the Ipswich Motorway upgrade after the ALP’s $200 million funding commitment.

Labor to deliver the dollars for Ipswich Motorway upgrade

RACQ releases SE Qld's worst choke points

Paul Turner, RACQ

Paul Turner from RACQ talks about our worst roads at peak time.

British family bashed in Thailand

Family beaten and kicked unconscious by gang in Thailand.

Family beaten and kicked unconscious by gang in Thailand.

Ben Hunt wary of Sharks Halfback

Ben Hunt of the Broncos looks to pass during the round 23 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium.

Ben Hunt talks about Cronulla's Chad Townsend.

Demand for acreage lots pushes up property prices

Property values in Cooroy have increased 25%

Property values jump in Cooroy and Peachester.

How a sacked real estate agent made $725k in four months

Agent is now under investigation by the industry watchdog

RBA warns of future apartment oversupply

Toowoomba: Crest Apartments and Burke & Wills, Ruthven Street ( view from Neil Street) Photo Bev Lacey / The Chronicle

RBA says oversupply of apartments poses risk to household finances