NICE AND THE TRANSIT OF VENUS

Kathy and I traveled to Nice, France on June 4 primarily to observe the transit of Venus at the Observatoire de Nice where I once was a visiting scientist. This transit took place on June 8; the days from June 4-8 we spent touring the area around Nice of which we have so many pleasant memories.

Our first stop: Monte Carlo which we reached from Nice via the Grande Corniche, passing the beautiful mountain top town of Eze along the way:

In Monte Carlo we sat in the square opposite the elegant Hotel de Paris:


and the Casino:


A possibly recognizable face:


And another (poster in a music store):

For you sports car lovers, here are pictures of a Morgan rally which was in progress as we sat in the outdoor cafe pictured above:

This is the view of Monaco from the Grande Corniche:



Cruise ships are very popular in that area:

We hung out a little at the beach back in Nice, but you can see it's pretty rocky, and not too comfortable:

There weren't as many topless ladies as there were in years past; in fact in the above picture there's only one. Some of those who didn't hang out on the beach went para-surfing (it's being pulled by a speedboat):

We spent a day visiting Antibes.

There was a band festival going on; there must have been twenty bands parading through the narrow streets of the old city. Here are a few of them:


 


 

This band came all the way from Venice (note the Gondolier costumes):


The Antibes harbor was full of boats:

THE TRANSIT OF VENUS, JUNE 8, 2004

This transit was the first since Dec. 6. 1882. There will be another on June 6. 2012 and then none until Dec. 11. 2117. The transit of 2012 will be visible mainly in Asia; as far as the US is concerned, you will have to go to Hawaii. First contact was at 07:20:17.1 local summer time (that's 1:20 a.m. in the US, which explains why we went to Nice). The observatory is situated on the Grande Corniche, overlooking Nice. Here's what it looked like as we approached it:

Here's the view of Nice from the Observatory:

We were invited to the viewing by Helene Frisch, who works at the observatory and with whom I collaborated on a number of transport-theoretical research papers in my previous life:

This is one of the telescopes used for the viewing:

(The image was displayed on a screen so that we didn't have to peer through the telescopes.)

First exterior contact:

Look closely in the lower right of the sun's disk and you can just make out a tiny black spot.

Here's another view:

First contact plus five minutes: Note that Venus appears to be traveling from right to left across the face of the sun and ascending. Actually, it is going the other way, left to right and descending; the telescope reverses the image. In June, Venus is descending through the ecliptic (the plane of earth's rotation around the sun which of course passes through the sun's center). For the December transits (1892, 2117) Venus is ascending through the ecliptic. Except for the fact that the plane of Venus's rotation is slightly tilted to the ecliptic there would be a visible transit every four years. (Similarly, there would be a solar eclipse very lunar month if the moon's orbit around the earth were not tilted to the ecliptic. The ecliptic is cosidetto because eclipses occur only when the moon is in it.)

First interior Contact:

  

Perhaps you can see the  "black drop" connecting Venus to the sun's edge. It is this drop which makes it difficult to get the exact timing of the transit, necessary for a measurement of the distance between earth and Venus. Also note the clocks. The one to the left is universal time (the same as Greenwich mean time or, for you pilots, Zulu). Note that it's two hours behind local time. The clock to the right gives sidereal time which is referenced to the fixed stars (from the Latin sideris, genetive of sidus, sky, star). Sidereal time  runs faster than solar time by about four minutes per day (a sidereal year is one day less than a solar year).  For a fuller discussion of Venus transits, read my review of  the book June 8, 2004: Venus in transit. Better yet, get the book.

Here is a view, just past first interior contact:

And another:

The transit lasted until 13:23:54.9 local time. That's six hours and 3 minutes. Needless to say, we didn't stare at it the whole time, but we did watch to about this point:

There was another device, made by the observatory for home viewing, displaying the transit. (Remember, one cannot look directly at a transit, just as one cannot look at a partial eclipse, without the real risk of being permanently blinded.)


Breakfast was served during the transit:
 

We also had the opportunity to view directly through a (filtered) telescope:


For those who thought they were just seeing spots in front of their eyes rather than Venus, Kathy is pointing it out:

At 10 a.m. Francois Mignard, one of the astronomers working at the observatory, gave a wonderful lecture on the transit (in French). Here are is one of his slides:

showing various realizations of Venus:

Perhaps you can make some of them out.

For pictures of another celestial phenomenon, click here.

In conclusion, in the viewing of an astronomical phenomenon of this type one understands what the Psalmist was saying in Psalm 19:

"The heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth his handiwork."

Haydn, in The Creation, paraphrased it as "The heavens are telling the glory of God, the wonders of his work proclaim the firmament."