There has been quite a bit of publicity about watching the transit of Venus across the Sun. Apparently for a few hours earlier this week, you could see a small black dot move across the face of the Sun.
While I have been following the reports, I did not bother to try and actually observe it. Despite my fascination with science, I never bother to try and personally observe these rare events. The fact that something is rare and may happen only once in my lifetime does not seem to me to be a compelling reason to go to some lengths to see it, if the effect itself is not worth watching for its own sake. I did not even bother to look at the recent ‘super moon’.
My interest in these events is determined primarily the scientific knowledge they provide and the role they played in history. In the case of the transit of Venus, its occurrence in 1769 provided one of the first accurate measures of the distance to the Sun and in order to do so required an elaborate multinational effort by scientists, reportedly the first of its kind. This was no mean feat in those days. That kind of stuff is fascinating to me. Watching a small pea-sized dot slowly passing over the face of the Sun while taking precautions to avoid damage to the eyes is not.
I think my disillusionment with much-hyped astronomical events can be traced back to the comet Kohoutek debacle. It was predicted to pass by so close to the Earth in 1973 that it would give observers a spectacular naked-eye view as the comet’s tail became aglow. People all over the world watched for it and it was a total bust. You could barely see anything. The more common Perseid showers provide another example of an astronomical event that fails to live up to its hype.
It is possible that my lack of enthusiasm for observing such rare astronomical events is shaped by my greater interest in the theories of science. It may reflect negatively on me as a scientist but so be it.