Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

James Cook's 1769 transit of Venus expedition to Tahiti

  • Wayne Orchiston (a1)
Abstract

After the failure of the 1761 transit to provide a reliable value for the astronomical unit, the focus shifted to the 1769 event, and Britain mounted an ambitious program, with overseas observing parties dispatched to North Cape (Norway), Hudson Bay (Canada) and newly-discovered Tahiti in the Pacific. Lieutenant James Cook was in charge of the Tahitian expedition, ably assisted by fellow-astronomer, Charles Green, and they were supplied by the Royal Society and the Royal Observatory at Greenwich with telescopes and other scientific instruments. The main observing site was set up at Fort Venus, and supplementary transit stations were established on Irioa Island (Moorea) and Taaupiri Island (off the east coast of Tahiti). June 3 was warm and clear, and all observers successfully recorded the transit, but on the journey home ‘the curse of the transit’ prevailed and more than half of them fell ill and died. Back in England, Cook wrote up the transit observations for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, but for some inexplicable reason only used data obtained at Fort Venus. It was left to Oxford astronomer, Professor Thomas Hornsby, to derive a meaningful figure for the solar parallax, and he utilized the Tahitian data and observations made at four other sites to arrive at a figure of 8$\rlap . ^{\prime\prime}$78. But discordant results obtained by other researchers fuelled controversy over the effectiveness of transits of Venus as a valid means of determining the astronomical unit. In fact, the solar parallax obtained by Hornsby was remarkably similar to the currently-accepted value of 8$\rlap . ^{\prime\prime}$794148, thereby discrediting Beaglehole's oft-quoted claim that the Tahitian observations were a failure. Although more than a dozen men were involved in the Tahitian transit program, most of their records have been lost, and remarkably few of the instruments they employed can now be identified. Yet for those of us with Pacific affiliations, Cook's first voyage to the South Seas occupies a special place in transit of Venus history.To search for other articles by the author(s) go to: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abstract_service.html

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      James Cook's 1769 transit of Venus expedition to Tahiti
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      James Cook's 1769 transit of Venus expedition to Tahiti
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      James Cook's 1769 transit of Venus expedition to Tahiti
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Proceedings of the International Astronomical Union
  • ISSN: 1743-9213
  • EISSN: 1743-9221
  • URL: /core/journals/proceedings-of-the-international-astronomical-union
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 39 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1048 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 24th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.