Reanimating the 1882 Transit of Venus
By Anthony Misch
In late 1882, Massachusetts astronomer David Peck Todd traveled to
California to photograph the transit of Venus from the summit of Mount
Hamilton, where a solar photographic telescope made by the renowned
optical firm Alvan Clark & Sons waited among the stacks of bricks and
timbers from which Lick Observatory was rising. As the transit unfolded
on December 6th, Todd obtained a superb series of plates under perfect
skies. His 147 glass negatives were carefully stored in the mountain
vault, but as astronomers turned to other techniques for determining
the scale of the solar system (see "The Transit of Venus: Tales from the
19th Century," by William Sheehan, Sky & Telescope: May 2004, page 32),
the plates lay untouched and were eventually forgotten.
Fast-forward 120 years. Spurred by a reference in one of Todd's letters
in Lick's Mary Lea Shane Archives, Bill Sheehan and I found all 147
negatives, still in good condition, at the observatory. To our knowledge,
this collection of photos constitutes the most complete surviving record
of a historical transit of Venus.
Share and enjoy,
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Technology Manager, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics
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