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The reason this seemingly quixotic mission mattered so much to the Royal Society, who sponsored the voyage, was that it would help to solve an enormous puzzle that had vexed 18th-century science ever since Edmund Halley had suggested a way of answering it in The question—what is the size of our solar system and what does that reveal about the scale of the cosmos? The only problem with this solution to the puzzle was that transits of Venus are relatively rare events, occurring in a pattern that repeats every years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of Halley realized that he could never put his solution to the test, being born out of phase with the transits—he died in —so the mission passed to his successors.
In a team of international scientists attempted to time the first transit, but due to a variety of factors including bad weather and Anglo-French hostilities, their data was all but useless. Cook had to round Cape Horn to get to the Pacific, a passage famous for inclement conditions, although this time it claimed only five lives. He also had to battle scurvy, the perennial scourge of long-distance sea voyages see New Zealand Geographic, issue As an experiment devised by the admiralty, he ordered his men to eat foods such as sauerkraut and malt wort.
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Crewmen who sought to avoid this diet were flogged—no fewer than one in five, an indication of how unpalatable the servings were. On arrival in Tahiti, Cook and his men were warmly received by the Tahitians and found the island and its inhabitants very much to their liking. The mission was accomplished, with excellent weather for viewing the transit.
Cook noted in his log:.
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Following the completion of his primary mission, Cook then acted on secret orders from the navy to search for the great southern continent, Terra Australis incognita , supposed to exist somewhere between Tahiti and New Zealand. Geographers of the day tended to believe there had to be a massive southern continent to balance the great land masses of the Northern hemisphere. Cook spent months at the fruitless task before he made his way to New Zealand, where he extensively charted the coastline before continuing to the east coast of Australia. It was an astonishing accomplishment.
This year on June 8, another transit of Venus took place. Sadly in New Zealand it began right at sunset, but in many parts of the world it was clearly visible and well chronicled. Professional interest in this transit had less to do with refining the Astronomical Unit which is accurately known from space-probe telemetry and radar observations , than with refining techniques for seeking out extra-solar planets.
Most of the planets found orbiting distant stars in mid there were confirmed, although a further located by the Hubble Telescope are still to be confirmed , have been pin-pointed through gravitational anomolies in the stars they orbit. In , however, the first planets were detected due to observed diminuition of light caused by transiting bodies.
NASA Viz: Visions Of Venus
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Related Fire-Gazing: When Venus Transits the Sun 2004 and 2012
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