Transit of Venus

Crabtree watching the transit of Venus 2012

Blimey, what a couple of days it’s been!

On Tuesday night, a group of some 30-40 skygazers gathered in a back garden in Salford in the pouring rain. Why? Tuesday saw the transit of Venus, an event that won’t happen again until 2117. Unless we stay on the whiskey – as advised by Jodrell Bank’s Dr Tim O’Brien – no-one living today will ever have the opportunity to experience it again. One of the first people to view the transit was Jeremiah Horrocks, from Preston.  He encapsulated that feeling rather poignantly:

” …Thy return

Posterity shall witness; years must roll

Away, but then at length the splendid sight

Again shall greet our distant children’s eyes.”

The other person to view the transit with Horrocks back in 1639 was his great friend William Crabtree. Crabtree was a cloth merchant and amateur astronomer (it wasn’t a profession in those days) from what’s now known as The Cliff in Salford, but was then known as Broughton Spout. His house still stands today – as does the very room he spotted this momentous discovery from.

So MadLab decided that we’d recreate that moment of discovery – as imagined by Ford Madox Brown in Manchester Town Hall – in Crabtree’s former home.  We invited Tim O’Brien from Jodrell bank, who gave a brilliant talk about what the transit meant to science at the time as well as what transits can help us discover now (planets!) Guests were shown a cracking video by Jason Hasford, which had been made in a little under 24 hours (thanks Jason!)

We projected the live feed of the event from NASA onto the back of the house, a huge cheer erupting when first contact was made and the champagne was brought out.  We had a live link-up between Mauna Kea in Hawaii, from where NASA was broadcasting, and us in Salford at half-past midnight.  This was also the time that GMP decided to send out a police helicopter, which added to the surreality of this moment as we’d appeared to have linked up to a shopping centre.  We soon discovered we were ‘in’ the visitors’ centre and had fun trying to explain to the American guests what the noise was.  At just after 4am, the event got a shout out on the live NASA stream (with an estimated 100 million viewers!)

The event featured in the Manchester Evening News, BBC Five Live (live from the garden!), BBC Manchester Online, BBC North West Tonight, Salford Online and The Daily Mail (our first and presumably last favourable appearance – once they hear about DIY Bio).

Check out MadLab’s pics too, here.

Huge thanks go to Amanda, Annabeth, Demi, Emma, Gemma, Jason, Manchester Art Gallery, Ordsall Hall, Tim O’Brien & colleagues at Jodrell Bank, Venya from The Kazimier, Vertical Village  Residents’ Group and everyone who came down on the night.

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