I’m usually the kind of person who is fairly skeptical about the hype surrounding astronomical phenomenon. Sure, eclipses and shooting stars and the like are cool, but with special effects in the movies now, I feel like I’ve seen sights that far outweigh anything nature can provide. Luckily, a few days ago, my perceptions were drastically challenged with the transit of Venus.
When my dad called and invited me to go to The Williamsville Space Lab Planetarium to see the once-in-a-lifetime (because obviously I missed its last occurrence in 2004, and probably won’t be alive in 2117) event, I was a little bit hesitant. However, considering that I hadn’t had the opportunity to leave the house that day, I figured the opportunity might be valuable. So I agreed. When we first pulled up, the parking lot was nearly full and there was a gaggle of people out by the athletic fields, but we assumed they were there for a sports event. As we drew closer, it became clear that the hundreds of people milling about were not watching a game, but were waiting for a distant planet to make a small speck on the sun.
I still didn’t really see the appeal. The cool NASA space glasses that let you look at the sun were maybe the first indication that the event wasn’t going to be as lame as I had initially thought. The second hint was the sheer number of attendants. There was something old-fashioned about this many people gathered together in order to see something that we could easily have stayed home to see on television, and I started to feel like I was part of something. When the tiny dot first became visible on the many telescopes and binoculars at the (free!) event, the feeling only intensified. Sure, it looked like someone had simply drawn a small dot on the lens of the telescope. It wasn’t as impressive as the Hollywood special effects that have shaped my view of space. But it was a community of people, outside, enjoying a natural phenomenon. I was hooked.
And by the time the sun went down, I had looked through over a dozen telescopes, and decided that the speck of Venus was far more impressive than any studio could create.