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Wulf Recounts Scientists ‘Chasing Venus’

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October 18, 2012
In her November 1 talk, author Andrea Wulf recounts an amazing race across space and time to observe a rare pass by the planet Venus across the sun’s path.

CHESTERTOWN, MD— Long before the Hubble telescope, astronomers risked life and limb to advance mankind’s understanding of the universe. In her new book, Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens, the acclaimed British author Andrea Wulf vividly portrays the battalion of 18th-century scientists who braved hurricanes, tropical disease, pirates, plagues, and war to fan out across the globe and witness a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event.


On Thursday, November 1, Wulf will share the story in a free public talk at Washington College hosted by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. The event, which also kicks off the 2012 Chestertown Book Festival, will be held at 5:30 p.m. in Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts. A public reception will follow in the lobby, courtesy of the 1782 Society of Washington College.


An accomplished lecturer, Wulf is the author or co-author of four books on history, science, and horticulture, including Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, a bestseller that the New York Times called “illuminating and engrossing”; The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession, and This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History.


On June 6, 1761 and June 3, 1769, the planet Venus passed between Earth and the Sun – each time visible as a small black dot against the burning face of the Sun for six hours. Transits of Venus always arrive in pairs, eight years apart, but then do not occur again for more than a century. In the 1760s, the world’s scientific community was electrified because the transit would allow them for the first time to calculate the distance between the planets in our solar system. This required data to be compiled from various exact points around the four corners of the globe – all taken simultaneously.

Hundreds of astronomers from Europe and the American colonies were dispatched across the world. “Their exploits would put Indiana Jones to shame,” said a review of Wulf’s book in The Boston Globe.


Chasing Venus was published in eight countries just in time for the June 2012 Transit of Venus, the last transit in our century. “Andrea Wulf’s story of the chase is an enthralling, nail-biting thriller,” wrote a reviewer London’s Daily Mail, “and will undoubtedly prove one of the non-fiction books of the year. Even if you fail to see the Transit, don’t miss this wonderful book.”


Copies of Wulf’s book will be available for signing at the November 1 event, which is cosponsored by the Department of Physics at Washington College.




Last modified on Nov. 9th, 2012 at 3:17pm by Emily Blackner.