Chasing Venus

Observing the Transits of Venus, 1631-2004

Closed September 29, 2005

A transit of Venus occurs when the planet Venus passes directly between Earth and the Sun. Venus appears as a black dot moving across the surface of the Sun. Only six transits of Venus occurred between 1600 and 2000, but two will take place this century. This exhibition tells the story of the transits of Venus using illustrations in the rich collection of rare books from the Smithsonian Libraries and artifacts from the National Museum of American History and the United States Naval Observatory. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

The exhibition features:

  • Instructions relative to the observations of the ensuing transit of the planet Venus, by English astronomer Nevil Maskelyne, published in 1768
  • an article on the transit of Venus from Scientific American magazine, 1874
  • glass-plate negative photographs of the 1882 transit of Venus taken by one of the U.S. Naval Observatory expeditions
  • a Gregorian reflecting telescope, made by George Adams, about 1750–1800.