Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why is Venus laughing at us?

Every TV news outlet and newspaper from here to Timbuktu is promoting the "Transit of Venus" as a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event -- if, that is, you missed it in 2004 like me and everyone I know. Per Wikipedia, the Venusian transit occurs once a century in pairs separated by an interval of eight years. Part deux is happening today and tomorrow. The next event is scheduled for 2117. Ergo: "Millions will look skyward as Venus crosses the Sun on June 5 for the last time more than 100 years," gushed Astronomers Without Borders. Millions. NASA has a Google Maps mashup to search for "transit" events in your area. And if you're completely around the bend, there's even an app for the flyby. You, too, can "participate in a modern-day experiment to recreate the heady days of scientific exploration," said Wired magazine. Among other things, the app will help you "calculate the size of the solar system." Hey, that's almost better than sex, right? So is the world waiting with bated breath for this "chance of a lifetime" beginning at 3 p.m. PDT? Of course not. Despite the media hawking, it's unlikely the average Joe or Jane has even heard of the pending solar transit. It's a safe bet that millions of eyes will not be cast sunward at the appointed time. And I admit to a certain dyspeptic pleasure in that knowledge. Rather than simply reporting that this event is a boon to scientists probing the makeup of exoplanets orbiting distant stars, CNN et al has turned it into a media circus for ratings. Remember the hype over the "supermoon" last month, a celestial event that was anything but super? Welcome back to the future. Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, must be laughing. And for good reason.

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