"THE DAY THE WORLD DISCOVERED THE SUN: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus," by Mark Anderson, Da Capo Press, $26, 280 pages (nf)
“The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus” by Mark Anderson is a historical narrative that brings a relatively unknown topic to the spotlight.
The novel begins by stating the significance of the date June 3, 1769: On this day, the planet Venus briefly passed across the face of the sun in cosmic alignment. Venus became a tiny dot on the sun's surface. Occurring only twice a century, this is a momentous occasion.
Early explorers were anxious for this celestial event because they were eager to learn more about the solar system. Measurements from the “Venus Transit” promised to help explorers learn more about physical dimensions of the universe. It also promised to help refine worldwide navigation.
In anticipation of this event, nations sent out exploration teams to time the trek of Venus. It became a sort of competition between the world superpowers. The book documents the stories of Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche, James Cook and Maximilian Hell.
“The Day the World Discovered the Sun” reads like a mystery. Anderson describes various astronomical puzzles that each explorer has to piece together in order to form the larger picture.
Venus will again pass over the sun on June 5, 2012. This knowledge makes this book even more relevant and exciting. The historical information in the book will make people appreciative of the sacrifices the early explorers made. On this date, they will look at the sun and remember Hell, Cook and d’Auteroche.
Scientifically minded readers will appreciate the extensive notes that Anderson has written for the book's end. He even lists specific equations one would use to calculate solar distance.
Overall, “The Day the World Discovered the Sun” is a book that pays tribute to men who are not mentioned in textbooks. It is a book for all people, not just those who are interested in astronomy.
Also, Nick Lomb's "Transit of Venus: 1631 to the Present" (The Experiment, $24.95) uses photos and diagrams, including the 2004 transit, to detail the history of the explorers tracking Venus. It also includ viewing information for this transit.
Shelby Scoffield is a graduate of Brigham Young University and a graduate student at California State University, Stanislaus.