19th Century Prints, Aquatint, Contemporary, Engraving, Etching, Past/Present, Prints, Wood

Past/Present: Astronomy

Today our  P/P post features two sky-gazing prints. Our print from the past is of astronomers observing the Transit of Venus on December 6, 1882, an event where the planet Venus passes between the Sun and the Earth, slightly obscuring the solar disk. Transits of Venus are among the rarest of predictable astronomical phenomena. They occur in a pattern that repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits eight years apart separated by long gaps of 121 years and 105 years. The periodicity is a reflection of the fact Earth and Venus arrive at almost the same configuration after 8 Earth orbits and 13 Venus orbits. The mismatch after 8 years is only 1.5° off Venus’ orbital movement. Still, this is enough that Venus and Earth find themselves in the opposite relative orientation to the original every 120 such cycles.

A transit of Venus took place on June 8, 2004 and the next will be on June 6 of this year. The previous pair of transits was in December 1874 and December 1882. After 2012, the next transits of Venus will be in December 2117 and December 2125.  Aside from its rarity, the original scientific interest in observing a transit of Venus was that it could be used to determine the distance from Earth to the sun, and from this, an estimation of size of the solar system can be made.

Our contemporary print is by NY printmaker Nicholas Vagenas, and highlights the complexity of our solar system- the vast amount that is still unknown, even to astronomers working with today’s modern methods of measure and observation.

Image on Left: Connecticut. The observations of the Transit of Venus by German Astronomers, Prof. Muller and Deichmuller, at Trinity College, Hartford, Dec. 6.) by C. Upham. Published by Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Wood engraving, Dec.16, 1882.

Image on Right: Nothing is Certain by Nicholas Vagenas. Etching and aquatint, 2003.  Ed. 3/15.














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