Monday, June 4, 2012

The Transit of Venus

It evokes a great mental image.  Especially if you have no idea what it really is, it sounds extraordinary.  Venus is that neighboring planet, the place of fictional unearthly maidens and UFO passengers.  Add “transit” and it suddenly becomes even more mysterious -- something fleeting, moving, un-catchable.  What it truly is, is even more captivating, which is the “transit” of Venus as it passes in front of the sun, an event that happens once only every 120 years!   The complete “transit” is a pair of events, 8 years apart.  The first part of this pair occurred 8 years ago in 2004, and its concluding transit will take place tomorrow, June 5, for North America, and June 6 for European, Asian, Australian and eastern African locations.

Professional and back-yard star gazers alike have been really excited over this event.  Knowing its rare and fleeting image, they have been preparing for months and even years to take a glance at Venus’s starlit performance.  Special filters have been purchased and telescopes positioned.  Flyers and other informational publications abound.  There is almost a carnival-like atmosphere as “She comes to town!”

Preparing for events is a funny thing.  An event, such as the Transit, is exotic, wonderful and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  People willingly plan, prepare and practice for the event.  However, using these same skills and practices for not-so-wonderful events (AKA, disasters and crisis situations) are difficult, at best, for any but those who treat preparedness on the same footing as buying shoes.

Actually, there are some similarities.  Like the Transit of Venus, major earthquakes in Southern California occur a century or more apart.  Each requires planning to satisfactorily experience.  However, any similarity stops when we come to the timing of the event.  Earthquakes happen—statistically—every so many years.  Specifically, and of interest to those of us in Southern California, the segment of the San Andreas fault, running from Tejon Pass to the Salton Sea, was predicted to rupture with a 7 to 8 magnitude shaker within 20 years – in 1984!

There is no planning for an exact date for an earthquake, only that “someday” it will occur.  No chance to hand out flyers and make some salsa for the event.  It just happens whenever it happens.  For that reason, it is best to plan now for the Transit of Andreas.  We never know when she will come by.

ALSO NOTEWORTHY:  Shirley Hazzard wrote an extraordinary novel also called “The Transit of Venus.”  It’s a beautifully written novel about the journey of two young women who leave Australia for post-war England. I highly recommend it.

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