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Learn about the Transit of Venus on May 18

“The Transit of Venus: Part Science, Part History, Part Mystery” is “out-of -this-world” topic of Lewes Historical Society program May 18

It’s not often that people who attend the Friday programs of The Lewes Historical Society hear a presentation that’s out of this world, but on Friday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m. they will see and hear just that. Jim Morrison, whose professional and personal background is steeped in astronomy, will present “The Transit of Venus: Part Science, Part History and Part Mystery.” His presentation will be at the Lewes Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, Kings Highway and Franklin Street in Lewes.

Jim bases his talk on what astronomers regard as a scientific phenomenon that has occurred at unusually timed intervals throughout history: The Transit of Venus, the passage of the planet Venus across the sun. Much of what he will illustrate stems from the work of the American Philosophical Society when Benjamin Franklin was its president. Morrison says that “in 1761 interest in the transit of Venus was raised by David Rittenhouse who spearheaded the creation of three observatory locations for the event which was recorded in 1769. One of the sites was in Lewes because the colonists wanted a remote location in case observation at the other two sites was obscured by clouds.”

According to Morrison, the importance of the transit in the 18th century was that it enabled astronomers to estimate the average distance between the sun and the Earth as it orbited the sun. He said that only six transits have been observed since the first one in 1639. Morrison will discuss The Science: He will illustrate the astrolabe, an ancient pre-telescopic instrument formerly used to make astronomical measurements, typically of the altitudes of celestial bodies, which was first used for observing the transit. Next will be The History: He will introduce the audience to the three individuals—Owen Biddle, Joel Bailey and Richard Thomas—who set up the Lewes observation site. And finally, The Mystery: He will reveal the location of the Lewes site and why it was chosen.

Morrison’s program is a prelude to the observation of the next Transit of Venus which will take place at 6:00 p.m on  Tuesday, June 5. He said that the Sussex Astrological Society will set up observation sites in Dewey Beach near the bayside tower and at Roosevelt Inlet in Lewes. Several telescopes will be at the ready and special sun glasses that look a bit like the kind used in 3D movies will be available for folks wanting to observe the transit which won’t occur again until December 11, 2117.

The public is cordially invited to attend and light refreshments will be served following the presentation.