was almost 130 years ago when Arthur Samuel Atkinson climbed the stairs to
the tower he built beside his new Nelson home, Fairfield House, and full of hope he raised his
telescope to the fiery sun.
A rare astronomical
event was nigh and the amateur star-gazer had spent time and money preparing
to witness the December 1882 transit of Venus - the last time it was visible
in this country.
But alas, the
purpose-built tower was much too shaky for Mr Atkinson to view the transit
through his telescope.
The tower vibrated
too much and the otherwise clear image of Venus crossing between Earth and
the sun was just a blurry light. Mr Atkinson moved the telescope to a more
stable site on the hill behind Fairfield House to witness the event.
The transit happens
twice each century at alternating intervals of 105.5 years and eight years,
then 121.5 and eight years.
No-one alive today
has seen a transit of Venus from New Zealand. The transit in June 2004 was
visible from the other side of the Earth.
At 10.15am tomorrow
history will repeat when Venus will begin its journey between us and the sun.
Fairfield House will once more play an important
historic part in the event when Nelson College for Girls science teacher Jenny Pollock will set up a
Venuscope on site for the public to watch the image of the little black dot
crossing the sun.
Fingers will be
crossed for a break in the weather, which tomorrow is likely to be blustery
and wet in Nelson with dry spells away from
the ranges in the morning and early afternoon. Rain is likely to set in again
towards evening or overnight.
Nelson actor and student teacher
Jim Risner will play the part of Mr Atkinson at tomorrow's event. He said he
shared several interests with the historic Nelson figure, including his love of astronomy
and spiders, but that's about where the resemblance ends.
"He had a full
beard, which I won't have before tomorrow, " Mr Risner said.
He said the
Venuscope was to be set up at the tower at Fairfield House, depending on the weather.
Mr Atkinson was a
prominent Nelson lawyer and the driving force
behind the formation of the Nelson Astronomical Society. As well as being the notable person who
built Fairfield House, he also bought the city a telescope
for the Atkinson Observatory that was named after him.
The Transit of Venus
fascinated early astronomers for the clues it offered in measuring the solar
By measuring the
time it took for the "dark dot of Venus" to cross the Sun,
astronomers could calculate the distance between the Earth, its "little
sister Venus" and the Sun.
zVenus will begin to
cross the edge of the Sun at about 10.15am tomorrow and take 18 minutes to
move completely on to the solar disc.
mid-point will be at 1.30pm, and a clear horizon will be needed to see the
end of the transit just before sunset.
Venus will start to
exit the solar disc at 4.25pm and will quit it completely by 4.43pm. Public
in Nelson are invited to view the
transit through the Venuscope at Fairfield House with a gold coin donation. A
college group will be viewing between 12.30pm and 1.30pm.
The sun will cause
eye damage if people look directly at it without proper protection such as a
filter that cuts both visible light and harmful invisible ultraviolet and
infrared rays. Nelson Mail 5/06/2012
Heavens open for
rare Venus glimpse
In between yesterday's
stormy gusts and dense grey skies a bright spot occurred at Nelson's Fairfield House.
Members of the public who gathered to
watch the transit of Venus in the hope they might catch a glimpse were in luck.
There it was, appearing between breaks in scudding clouds, a small dark spot on
"It could be a miracle, it's
fantastic, " Jenny Burton said of the way the clouds suddenly opened and
people were able to see the rare astronomical event.
The transit happens twice each century
at alternating intervals of 105.5 years and eight years, then 121.5 and eight
years. It fascinated early astronomers for the clues it offered in measuring
the solar system.
Until yesterday no-one alive today had
seen a transit of Venus from New Zealand.
Nelson College for Girls science teacher Jenny
Pollock set up a Venuscope in the gallery of Fairfield House for the public to watch the
image of the little black dot crossing the sun. Amateur Dunedin astronomer Lynn
Taylor drove all the way from Dunedin with her husband to watch the event in Nelson. She brought her own star-watching binoculars and set them
up near the Venuscope for public use.
"I was enticed here by all the
sunshine hours you have, " the life member of the Dunedin Astronomical
Society said. She is also among the fourth generation of her family to take up
astronomy as a hobby.
Mrs Taylor said she caught a few
glimpses of the transit and it was "incredible".
Scientist and keen astronomer Margaret
Bailey who moved to Nelson late last year was also at Fairfield House yesterday to
witness the once-in-a-lifetime event.
"It was fantastic. Just as I
arrived the sun came out. The black dot of Venus was such a contrast - you
could see the round, white sun and the sharp black dot against it."
House manager Catherine Brosnahan was delighted at the small
crowd, including students from Nelson College for
Girls, who turned out to see the event despite the gathering storm. She also
caught a glimpse of the spectacle through the Venuscope.
"It was very exciting. When the
sun was clear you could see it really well, " Ms Brosnahan said.
Nelson actor and student teacher Jim Risner, dressed in
a 19th-century suit, played the part yesterday of Fairfield House owner in 1882
Arthur Samuel Atkinson.
Mr Atkinson had the tower at Fairfield specially built to watch the 1882 transit of
Venus but it was too shaky to see anything and he moved the telescope to a
secure spot on the hill behind the house.
Yesterday's violent wind gusts meant
the viewing tower was well out of bounds.
Mr Atkinson was a prominent Nelson lawyer and the driving force behind the formation of the Nelson Astronomical Society. As well as being the
notable person who built Fairfield House, he also bought
the city a telescope for the Atkinson Observatory that was named after him.
If you missed it
yesterday, there's not much hope of seeing another. The next pair of transits
occur on December 11, 2117 and December 8, 2125.
Tracy Neal, Nelson Mail