Sermon Suggested by the Transit of Venus

Sermon Front Cover: Nature a Pledge of GraceTitle page of A Sermon Suggested by Transit of VenusOn the evening of December 6, 1882, after the transit of Venus had occurred earlier that day, Pastor George Dana Boardman delivered an eloquent sermon "to unfold and cheap cialis apply a great moral lesson which the transit of Venus suggests and confirms."  On the title page is written:
Nature a Pledge of levitra without prescriptions Grace.

Boardman writes that God expresses His commitment to man and His  promise through the we recommend buy cheap online levitra immutable expressions of nature. The predictable movements of planets "testify to the unchangeableness of nature's laws, that is to say, to the veracity of God's covenant of nature." That man can study those laws of nature and eke out predictions like the transit of Venus confirms the certainty of nature, itself a covenant from God.  We cannot break these laws, though they can break us.

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US Naval Observatory Expeditions

In 1874 and 1882, the US Naval Observatory (USNO) sent multiple teams to time the transit of Venus with the aid of photographic equipment.  Expedition photographs reproduced here are in the collection of the US Naval Observatory Library.

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Between Captain Cook and Mauna Kea: The British 1874 Transit of Venus Expedition to Hawaii

An illustrated lecture delivered at the Smithsonian Institution
in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2004


James CookPortable observatoryThe beginning of modern astronomy in Hawaii can be dated to the arrival, in 1778, of the British explorer Captain James Cook (Fig. 1).  In addition to being supplied with state-of-the-art navigational instruments – including the sextant and the chronometer – Cook also carried, on each of his two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, a portable astronomical observatory (Fig. 2) designed by the astronomer William Bayly.  Very much like the modern observatories that now populate the summit of Mauna Kea, Bayly’s observatory sheltered a telescope and female herbal levitra a clock and was equipped with a revolving dome that could be opened and closed at will.  With these astronomical aids at his command, Cook was able to do what no one prior to his time had ever done: He was able to assign the to islands a latitude and a longitude, and thus to place Hawaii on a map (Fig. 3).  MapObservations of Jupiter’s satellites, for example, helped to fix the longitude of cost of levitra Kealakekua Bay for the overnight cialis generic first time in history; and as the distance between the Prime Meridian at Greenwich and a tropical island paradise became as firmly defined as the science of the day would allow, a British presence became firmly established in Hawaii.

Captain Cook was killed in 1779 at this very location, Kealakekua Bay – a place to which I shall return later in my story.  Ten years earlier, his first Pacific voyage had taken him into the South Pacific where, in June of 1769, he had observed, from the island of Tahiti, a rare transit of the planet Venus across the sun.  Fort VenusAt Tahiti, a temporary garrison called Fort Venus (Fig. 4) provided a safe haven for Cook’s men and their instruments and the transit was observed under sunny skies.  But, just as importantly, many of the elements of this pioneering eighteenth-century enterprise – the passing of a planet in front of generic cialis online the sun, the demonstration of British naval and we like it levitra discounts navigational prowess, the transport of observers and equipment to a remote Pacific island, and the construction of a temporary fortress – proved a good rehearsal for what was to occur in Hawaii more than 100 years later.

When, in 1874, Venus again slithered across the sun, the British were once more active in the Pacific, and Hawaii, where British cultural influences were by then easily recognizable, was very much at the center of the enterprise.  Cook’s three voyages of exploration, including his voyages to Tahiti and Hawaii – and, in particular, the astronomy that had informed those voyages – had set the stage for even more ambitious endeavors.  Expedition Members

Not long after Cook’s arrival in Hawaii, the islands were united under a single ruler, Kamehameha the Great, and soon thereafter adopted for their government a European-styled monarchy.  By the latter half of the nineteenth century, Hawaii had been ruled by a succession of hereditary chiefs, or ali‘i, and was still an independent kingdom when, on September 9, 1874, nearly a century after Captain Cook had appointed Hawaii a position on a map, a ship from England, HMS Scout, sailed into Honolulu Harbor carrying an expedition of seven astronomers (Fig. 5).

Astronomical UnitThe mission of the expedition was – as Captain Cook’s had been in 1769 – to observe a rare transit of Venus across the sun for the purpose of better determining the value of the Astronomical Unit (Fig. 6) – that is, the Earth-sun distance – and thereby the absolute scale of the solar system.  For although Copernicus had, by the 16th century, put the known planets in their correct order and had derived from his model of the solar system a set of canadian healthcare pharmacy relative distances among its members, their absolute distances remained hostage to the uncertain value of the Astronomical Unit (AU).  Astronomers still needed a celestial yardstick of known length to measure distances among the planets and to link the planets to the stars beyond.

The circumstances of a transit of Venus and its relationship to the Astronomical Unit are, I shall assume, well known to people in this room and need not detain us here.  They form the subject matter of a fine exhibition now on display here at the Smithsonian Institution, and the American participation in the transit observations of the nineteenth century is retold in the exhibit.  But because Hawaii was still an independent kingdom at that time, and not an American state until 1959, it is my task today to tell you something about Hawaii’s role at the center of an international effort to solve what was once considered the just try! levitra prices most important problem in observational astronomy.

Read more: Between Captain Cook and Mauna Kea: The British 1874 Transit of Venus Expedition to Hawaii


Instructions for Viewing the Transit of Venus-1882

In preparation for the 1882 transit of Venus expeditions, the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) printed a publication listing the detailed duties of each member of the expedition team.  At the critical moment when observers try to time when Venus touches the inside edge of the sun, strange phenomena such as the black drop effect suddenly emerge.  Based on the experiences of the 1874 expeditions eight years prior, the book explains what the observer may expect to see and levitra south carolina how to discern the instant of contact. 

The excerpts below may be useful for 21st century observers, though modern efforts cannot expect to sidestep the difficulties of getting an accurate timing.




Thanks to Robert Havlik for finding this publication in the John Crerar Library, Chicago.

Peter Broughton writes at

For everyone hoping to see the tramadol c o d shipping transit on June 8, 2004, there are certainly lessons to be learned from the past.  Those who wish to time the contacts would be well advise to practise ahead of time with computer simulations and to be well aware of the different states that might be observed near internal contact such as the halo that surrounds the planet before, and the formation and breaking of a dark thread after contact.  Even with such modern trappings as radio-time signals, video and digital recording, can any observers time the contacts better than their forebears of the nineteenth or even the eighteenth century?


Book by Richard Proctor

Three Sets of Excerpts and Images from Richard Proctor

A Popular Account of Past and Coming Transits
Essays on Astronomy: A Series of Papers ... and a Dissertation on the Approaching Transits of Venus...
The Sun: Ruler, Fire, Light, and Life of the Planetary System

The Coming Transit Of Venus, And British Preparations For Observing It. Part 6, from the book "Light Science For Leisure Hours", by Richard A. Proctor.
Entire scanned text of A Popular Account of Past and Coming Richard Proctor; 1882; availed online by Stanford University Libraries & Academic Information Resources. (30.7 MB)

(Click thumbnails to enlarge.)

Plate I ; shows paths of Venus across the sun for past and future transits of Venus.

Plate III; world map shows the area in which the 1639 transit was visible.

Read more: Book by Richard Proctor


Illustrated London News-1874

Excerpts from the Illustrated London News pertaining to the the 1874 Transit of Venus expeditions.

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For more info see

The Astronomical History of the Auckland Province.


Links: 1874 & 1882

Links to external websites that feature content about the 19th century pair of transits.

Transit of Venus
All 147 glass negatives discovered in the vault of the Lick Observatory are digitally stitched together into a movie, which "shows Venus's silhouette flickering strangely as it marches across the Sun's face" in 1882.  From Anthony Misch and viagra pharmacy William Sheehan.
Original publications scanned by Stanford University Libraries & Academic Information Resources and offered online, including:

Observations of the Transit of Venus, Part II December 8-9, 1874, by Simon Newcomb
Observations of the Transit of Venus, Part II December 8-9, 1874, by Simon Newcomb. From the rare book collection of the U.S. Naval Observatory, this unpublished report details the results of each party in the American Transit of Venus Expeditions of 1874 and 1882.
Spectroscopic observations of the 1874 transit of Venus in monochromatic light, from Peter Abrahams, considers reports that the sun was seen in monochromatic light before the 1874 transit, while two observers recorded Venus against the chromosphere during the 1874 transit.
"Six Months in Ascension: An Unscientific Account of a Scientific Expedition by Mrs. Gill;"  details six months on Ascension Island by Mrs. David Gill, printed 1878.  Recognizing the limits of the transit of Venus for calculating the solar parallax, David Gill set out to measure the parallax of Mars, which was nearing opposition, using a heliometer.  His wife Isobel accompanied him, and was vital in searching for and finding a more suitable site for observing than the i recommend viagra professional original Georgetown, which was beset by poor weather.

Collection of photographic plates (dry collodion emulsion) of the 1882 transit of Venus; from the Naval Observatory and Transit of Venus Commission expedition.  North is up, east is left.
Video of 1882 Transit of Venus re-animated from David Peck Todd's glass negatives; by Anthony Misch and William Sheehan.

image 372 - Transit of Venus Group, Dec 1882, Jimbour
Photograph of "Transit of Venus Group, December 1882, Jimbour" from the University of Queensland.  (See images 372, 373, and 374.)

Transit of Venus Huts ere
Multiple images on this page, such as "Transit of Venus Huts erected at Naval Observatory; transparency, collodion on glass."  From the George Eastman House Still Photograph Archive.
Appleton's Journal of Literature, Science, and Art, Volume 12, 1874, pp. 170-174 discusses prior transits of Venus and challenges of observing in anticipation of the 1874 transit of Venus.
Tasmania in Photographs: The U.S. Transit of Venus Expedition 1874.
Original copy of Transit of Venus Lecture by Prof. C.A. Young, in Hoboken; from New York Times, 1875 March 3.
A Movie of the 1882 Transit of Venus Assembled From Plates Taken at Lick Observatory by David P. Todd. By Anthony Misch and William Sheehan.
Mexico’s international scientific expedition to observe the 1874 transit of Venus.

Medal Commemorates 1882 Transit of Venus

bronze_medal.JPG (32329 bytes) bronze_medal_back.jpg (31020 bytes) A bronze medal by A. Dubois commemorates the 1882 transit.

University of Notre Dame and the 1874/1882 Transits of Venus

University of Notre Dame students pose at telescope in 19th centuryRobert J. Havlik, Librarian Emeritus
University of Notre Dame

I am pleased to be able to address you at this Sixth Biennial History of Astronomy Workshop at the University of Notre Dame. One of the highlights of the Workshop has been our after banquet walk to the Nieuwland  Science Building to see the 1898, Warner & Swasey remount of our 1867, six-inch Napoleon refractor. This is the latest invitation for you to come and visit our telescope which in 1867 was heralded as a “magnificent gift” from his Imperial Majesty Napoleon III.  

For the past dozen years I have had the pleasure, as a hobby, to try to dig out the history of this telescope and the early history of astronomy classes at our University.

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