Today in 1769, Captain James Cook and his crew observed the transit of Venus from Tahiti, in an effort to use the appearance of the second planet crossing the Sun as a way to measure the size of the known solar system.
But miles and miles away there was another expedition trying to do the exact same thing, and French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil had a much tougher time.
If at first you don’t succeed, probably don’t do what this guy did.
The transit of Venus had happened just eight years before, but the data the astronomers of the time collected wasn’t sufficient.
The next one was over a century away, so they had to get this one right.
The trouble was, the only places they could properly see the transit weren’t easy for Europeans to get to.
Cook sailed for months to get to Tahiti, but that trip, tough as it was, had nothing on Le Gentil’s expedition.
He actually set out ahead of the 1761 transit, hoping to see it on the southeast coast of what is now India.
But he wasn’t given permission to enter, and had to sail back to Mauritius; in fact he was still at sea when it happened, which meant he couldn’t take any useful measurements.
Le Gentil figured it would be easier to wait it out there for half a decade or so rather than return home and sail again.
He set out this time for Manila, only for Spanish authorities to accuse him of being a spy.
He made it to southeast India after all for this transit, but it was cloudy that day.
He’d missed it again.
So he decided to finally head home to France.
After another year at sea in which a hurricane damaged his ship, the astronomer arrived to find that everyone he knew in France had assumed he’d died and were at odds over who got his estate.
I guess anyone can have a bad decade.
It’s World Bicycle Day, and if you really want to celebrate properly, head over to Pringle, South Dakota, where there’s an enormous – and apparently still under construction – sculpture filled with hundreds of bicycles.
Transit of Venus: a tale of two expeditions (The Conversation)
7 Strange Spots In South Dakota That Will Make You Stop And Look Twice (Only in South Dakota)