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I’m in Gisborne and all set to observe the Transit of Venus tomorrow and take part in the Transit of Venus forum that is taking place on Thursday and Friday.

pounamuWhy Gisborne? Mainly for cultural rather than scientific reasons – Tolaga Bay was where Captain Cook came ashore in 1769 and apparently had the first meaningful and peaceful interaction with Maori.  He had previously observed the Transit of Venus from Tahiti.

Gisborne is overcast and mild, which is probably the best we can hope for tomorrow as the weather moves in and which will likely preclude us from seeing Venus cross the face of the sun. Still, we are all hopeful that the clouds will part at least some time during the day – as I’m sure you will be, wherever you are.

Obviously, observing the Transit of Venus is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of us here in New Zealand – here’s what Alan Gilmore, Superintendent at the University of Canterbury’s Mt John University Observatory at Lake Tekapo had to say about it.

’For New Zealand there is the historical association of Venus transits with Captain Cook and European discovery and mapping of our country. Australia shares some of this historical interest as well.

’The significance of the event is in the astronomical history. It was an important phenomenon in gauging the scale of the solar system in Cook’s time. But even by the 1874-82 transits there was scepticism as to the scientific value of this method. More consistent results were being obtained from other measures of planetary parallax.’

I’m looking forward to heading out to Tolaga Bay tomorrow to meet the locals, enjoy a hangi lunch and hopefully see Venus against the sun! But I’m equally looking forward to the forum which Sir Paul Callaghan formulated as a chance to look at the big-picture issues the country is facing and the potential roll of science in tackling them.

I’ll be tweeting throughout events over the next few days under the twitter handle @smcnz

Also check out the Pounamu game that will be running through the forum and which is designed to stimulate discussion of issues raised in the forum – and those following it online via the live stream.

I’ll be blogging throughout the week and chairing a panel on “Connectivity” on Friday morning, 8.30am.