Media Center: 'Chasing Venus' by Andrea Wulf
CHASING VENUS: The Race to Measure the Heavens
Published by Knopf May 3, 2012
Author tour: Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Nashville, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC
“Sturdy research and a lively narrative…enlightening Enlightenment fare!
“In the late 18th century, European astronomers scurried about the globe measuring the transit of Venus, hoping, at last, to learn the size of our universe. Here Andrea Wulf clearly explains how Venus’ transit across the sun, which occurs every 105 years* (and each time does so twice, at eight-year intervals), gave Enlightenment astronomers a chance to figure out such things as the distance between the earth and the sun.
“The author follows the two international attempts, in 1761 and 1769, to accomplish the measurements from various global viewing points, describing in grim detail the vast difficulties of travel and communication, the geopolitical complications (wars didn’t help) and the various personalities of potentates and scientists that characterized the endeavor. The 1761 transit occurred before everyone was sufficiently ready; 1769 was better—though poor Guillaume Le Gentil of France saw only clouds at his observatory in India. Worse, Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche died of typhus only days after his successful recordings.
“Wulf notes the imprecision of the instruments, the difficulties of determining precisely when the dark spot of Venus began and ended its journey across the sun’s yellow wafer, and the arduous treks Enlightenment men (yes, all men) undertook to Lapland, Tahiti, Hudson Bay and Baja.
“Like a nonfiction National Treasure with myriads of Nicholas Cages darting around—in a good way.”
—KIRKUS, a starred review
* NOTE: Venus’ next transit across the sun will occur in June 2012!
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