Clandestinely watching the 2012 transit of Venus across the face of the sun at work, but not really caring about getting caught because hey, no one alive right now is probably going to see it in 2117.
It’s been an astronomically amazing month so far, what with a mega-moon and two eclipses but this is the cherry on top. This transit, in the 18th century, marked the start of international scientific collaboration. This was necessary in fact because we managed, by dint of creative measurement and pigeon carrier or something, measure what’s called the astronomical unit: the distance from the Earth to the Sun. I’ve lost the original link to this information, but this article serves as a good intro.
There’s an excellent quote that NASA pulled up, by William Harkness, which I find very poignant:
We are now on the eve of the second transit of a pair, after which there will be no other till the twenty-first century of our era has dawned upon the earth, and the June flowers are blooming in 2004. When the last transit season occurred the intellectual world was awakening from the slumber of ages, and that wondrous scientific activity which has led to our present advanced knowledge was just beginning. What will be the state of science when the next transit season arrives God only knows. Not even our children’s children will live to take part in the astronomy of that day. As for ourselves, we have to do with the present …” (Address by William Harkness,” Proceedings of the AAAS 31st meeting … August, 1882 (Salem, 1883), 77.)
God only knows. They’re speaking about this during the NASA webcast right now, with more than a touch of wonder — what will we, the human race, be doing in 2117? How will we be recording this?
Here’s this picture I took during the webcast. I know it sounds foolish to say it, but the sun is so large. It is not, in fact, a little disk of warmth that enables crops to grow or freckles to sprout on beaches; it’s a gigantic ball of gas that powers an entire solar system.
That’s what astronomical events give us: an intense sense of perspective, of both space and time.