Australian stargazers focused their telescopes on the South Pacific's blue sky yesterday to witness the rare transit of Venus across the Sun, just as England's Captain James Cook did 235 years ago in Tahiti.
The transit of Venus, when the planet drifts across the face of the Sun as it travels between the Sun and the Earth, is so rare that no one living today has witnessed the celestial event.
Shortly after 3pm in Sydney a small black dot appeared on the edge of the Sun to begin its westward, six-hour journey across its face.
"All you see is this little black circle silhouetted against the Sun, which is why someone beautifully described it as the Sun will have a beauty spot," said Fred Watson, head astronomer at Siding Springs Observatory at Coonabarabran in the state of New South Wales.
In Mumbai, hundreds gathered at the Nehru Planetarium, their heads turned skywards. Many wore gold-rimmed eye glasses made of special filter paper to watch the passage of the planet named after the Roman goddess of love.
Middle-aged couple Ramesh and Ritika Jeswani hugged each other as they gazed at Venus, saying: "It is a celebration of our love for each other."
"We are hoping that something special might happen in our lives ... it could change our fortunes, bring luck and happiness," Ritika said.
"It is thrilling. This is a once in a lifetime occurrence," said S.R. Billore, a 61-year-old businessman visiting from Bhopal, India.
Five transits of Venus have been recorded. The last occurred in 1882 and Cook witnessed the phenomenon in 1769 after anchoring his ship, the Endeavour, in Matavai Bay, Tahiti.
Cook had sailed to the South Pacific to witness the transit and to try secretly to discover the Great South Land (Australia), which he did and claimed it for England.
Stargazers in Australia yesterday were blessed with a near cloudless afternoon sky, but with the transit starting late in the afternoon they saw only the start before the Sun set.
"It's an astonishing sight. It has been said to be a dull event but it's quite exciting," said Jos Roberts, who gathered 40 amateur astronomers at his Mt. White home north of Sydney to watch the transit.
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