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Venus in transit
June 2004 saw the first passage, known as a ‘transit’, of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun in 122 years. Transits have helped shape our view of the whole Universe, as Heather Cooper and Nigel Henbest explain
On 8 June 2004, more than half the population of the world were treated to a rare astronomical event. For over six hours, the planet Venus steadily inched its way over the surface of the Sun. This ‘transit’ of Venus was the first since 6 December 1882. On that occasion, the American astronomer Professor Simon Newcomb led a party to South Africa to observe the event. They were based at a girls’ school, where – it is alleged – the combined forces of three schoolmistresses outperformed the professionals with the accuracy of their observations.
For centuries, transits of Venus have drawn explorers and astronomers alike to the four corners of the globe. And you can put it all down to the extraordinary polymath Edmond Halley. In November 1677, Halley observed a transit of the innermost planet, Mercury, from the desolate island of St Helena in the South Pacific. He realised that, from different latitudes, the passage of the planet across the Sun’s disc would appear to differ. By timing the transit from two widely-separated locations, teams of astronomers could calculate the parallax angle – the apparent difference in position of an astronomical body due to a difference in the observer’s position. Calculating this angle would allow astronomers to measure what was then the ultimate goal: the distance of the Earth from the Sun. This distance is known as the astronomical unit’ or AU.
Halley was aware that the AU was one of the most fundamental of all astronomical measurements. Johannes Kepler, in the early 17th century, had shown that the distances of the planets from the Sun governed their orbital speeds, which were easily measurable. But no-one had found a way to calculate accurate distances to the planets from the Earth. The goal was to measure the AU; then, knowing the orbital speeds of all the other planets round the Sun, the scale of the Solar System would fall into place. However, Halley realised that Mercury was so far away that its parallax angle would be very difficult to determine. As Venus was closer to the Earth, its parallax angle would be larger, and Halley worked out that by using Venus it would be possible to measure the Suns distance to 1 part in 500. But there was a problem: transits of Venus, unlike those of Mercury, are rare, occurring in pairs roughly eight years apart every hundred or so years. Nevertheless, he accurately predicted that Venus would cross the face of the Sun in both 1761 and 1769 – though he didn’t survive to see either.
Inspired by Halley’s suggestion of a way to pin down the scale of the Solar System, teams of British and French astronomers set out on expeditions to places as diverse as India and Siberia. But things weren’t helped by Britain and France being at war. The person who deserves most sympathy is the French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil.
He was thwarted by the fact that the British were besieging his observation site at Pondicherry in India. Fleeing on a French warship crossing the Indian Ocean, Le Gentil saw a wonderful transit – but the ship’s pitching and rolling ruled out any attempt at making accurate observations. Undaunted, he remained south of the equator, keeping himself busy by studying the islands of Mauritius and Madagascar before setting off to observe the next transit in the Philippines. Ironically after travelling nearly 50,000 kilometres, his view was clouded out at the last moment, a very dispiriting experience.
While the early transit timings were as precise as instruments would allow, the measurements were dogged by the ‘black drop’ effect. When Venus begins to cross the Sun’s disc, it looks smeared not circular – which makes it difficult to establish timings. This is due to diffraction of light. The second problem is that Venus exhibits a halo of light when it is seen just outside the Sun’s disc. While this showed astronomers that Venus was surrounded by a thick layer of gases refracting sunlight around it, both effects made it impossible to obtain accurate timings.
But astronomers laboured hard to analyse the results of these expeditions to observe Venus transits. Johann Franz Encke, Director of the Berlin Observatory, finally determined a value for the AU based on all these parallax measurements: 153,340,000 km. Reasonably accurate for the time, that is quite close to today’s value of 149,597,870 km, determined by radar, which has now superseded transits and all other methods in accuracy. The AU is a cosmic measuring rod, and the basis of how we scale the Universe today. The parallax principle can be extended to measure the distances to the stars. If we look at a star in January – when Earth is at one point in its orbit – it will seem to be in a different position from where it appears six months later. Knowing the width of Earth’s orbit, the parallax shift lets astronomers calculate the distance.
June 2004’s transit of Venus was thus more of an astronomical spectacle than a scientifically important event. But such transits have paved the way for what might prove to be one of the most vital breakthroughs in the cosmos – detecting Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars.
Ielts Academic Reading: Cambridge 9, Test 2: Reading Passage 2; Venus In Transit; With Best Solutions And Detailed Explanations
IELTS Academic Reading: Cambridge 9, Test 2: Reading Passage 2; Venus in transit; with best solutions and detailed explanations
This IELTS Reading post focuses on all the solutions for IELTS Cambridge 9 Test 2 Reading Passage 2 which is entitled ‘Venus in transit‘ . This is a post for candidates who have major problems in finding Reading Answers. This post can guide you the best to comprehend each Reading answer without facing much difficulty. Tracing IELTS Reading answers is a slow process and I sincerely hope this post can assist you in your IELTS Reading preparation.
Reading Passage 2:
The headline of the passage: Venus in transit
Questions 14-17 (Identifying information):
[This question asks you to find information from the passage and write the number of the paragraph (A, B, C or D … .. ) in the answer sheet. Now, if the question is given in the very first part of the question set, I’d request you not to answer them. It’s mainly because this question will not follow any sequence, and so it will surely kill your time. Rather, you should answer all the other questions first. And just like List of Headings, only read the first two lines or last two lines of the expected paragraph initially. If you find the answers, you need not read the middle part. If you don’t find answers yet, you can skim the middle part of the paragraph. Keywords will be a useful matter here.]
Question 14: examples of different ways in which the parallax principle has been applied
Keywords for the question: different ways, parallax principle, applied,
The first lines of paragraph F indicates that the parallax principle has been applied in several ways using different measurements. “But astronomers labored hard to analyse the results of these expeditions to observe Venus transits. Johann Franz Encke, Director of the Berlin Observatory, finally determined a value for the AU based on all these parallax measurements.”
Here, determined a value . . .. . all these parallax measurements = different ways …. Parallax principle ….applied,
Question 15: a description of an event which prevented a transit observation
Keywords for the question: event, prevented, transit observation,
Take a look at the very last line of paragraph D, “Ironically, after travelling nearly 50,000 kilometres, his view was clouded out at the last moment, a very dispiriting experience.”
Here, his view was clouded out at the last moment = the event which prevented the observation,
Question 16: a statement about potential future discoveries leading on from transit observations
Keywords for the question: potential future discoveries, transit observations,
TIPS: It is generally observed in IELTS exam that any statement indicating “future” is mostly found in the last paragraphs. So, when you are asked to look for ‘future’, go straight to the last paragraph.
In paragraph G, the last lines give us the answer, “. . . But such transits have paved the way for what might prove to be one of the most vital breakthroughs in the cosmos – detecting Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars.”
Here, paved the way for = leading on from, might prove to be = future, breakthroughs = discoveries,
Question 17: a description of physical states connected with Venus which early astronomical instruments failed to overcome
Keywords for the question: physical states, connected, Venus, early astronomical instruments, failed,
The last lines of paragraph E indicate the answer for us. “.. .. . . this showed astronomers that Venus was surrounded by a thick layer of gases refracting sunlight around it, both effects made it impossible to obtain accurate timings.”
Here, made it impossible to obtain = failed to overcome
Questions 18-21: (Matching statements with correct person or people):
(The rules for finding answers to this sort of question are simple. Just find the keywords and read around different names of people or person carefully. Then, give a quick look to check whether there is another statement or idea provided by the same person in the text. If there is, check the reference carefully and decide your answer. Remember, the questions may not follow any sequential order. )
Question 18: He calculated the distance of the Sun from the Earth based on observations of Venus with a fair degree of accuracy.
Keywords for this question: distance, observations of Venus, accuracy,
In paragraph F, the writer says in lines 2-5, “. … . . Johann Franz Encke, Director of the Berlin Observatory, finally determined a value for the AU based on all these parallax measurements: 153,340,000 km. Reasonably accurate for the time, that is quite close to today’s value of 149,597,870 km. . .. ..”
AU (Astronomical Unit) = distance of the Earth from the Sun (in paragraph B)
Here, a fair degree of accuracy = Reasonably accurate,
So, the answer is: D (Johann Franz Encke)
Question 19: He understood that the distance of the Sun from the Earth could be worked out by comparing observations of a transit.
Keywords for this question: distance, worked out by comparing observations,
In paragraph B we find how Edmund Halley realised the observation of a transit could help find out the distance between the Earth and the Sun, “He realised that from different latitudes, the passage of the planet across the Sun’s disc would appear to differ. By timing the transit from two widely-separated locations, teams of astronomers could calculate the parallax angle – the apparent difference in position of an astronomical body due to a difference in the observer’s position. Calculating this angle would allow astronomers to what was then the ultimate goal: the distance of the Earth from the Sun.”
So, the answer is: A (Edmund Halley)
Question 20: He realised that the time taken by a planet to go around the Sun depends on its distance from the Sun.
Keywords for this question: time, around the Sun, distance from the Sun,
Paragraph C talks about Johannes Kepler’s realisation about timing of the orbit done by a planet around the Sun. Here, the writer says, “Johannes Kepler, in the early 17th century, had shown that the distances of the planets from the Sun governed their orbital speeds, which were easily measurable.”
So, the answer is: B (Johannes Kepler)
Question 21: He witnessed a Venus transit but was unable to make any calculations.
Keywords for this question: Venus transit, unable, make calculations,
In lines 4-6 of paragraph D, the writer sympathizes Guillaume Le Gentil which indicates that he was unable to do something, “. . .. . The person who deserves most sympathy is the French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil.” Then follow the last lines, ” .. . Ironically, after travelling nearly 50,000 kilometres, his view was clouded out at the last moment, a very dispiriting experience.”
Questions 22-26 (TRUE, FALSE, NOT GIVEN)
So, the answer is: C (Guillaume Le Gentil)
In this type of question, candidates are asked to find out whether:
The statement in the question agrees with the information in the passage – The statement in the question contradicts with the information in the passage – If there is no information on this – NOT GIVEN
[For this type of question, you can divide each statement into three independent pieces and make your way through with the answer.]
Question 22: Halley observed one transit of the planet Venus.
Keywords for this question: Halley, observed, transit, Venus,
In the last few lines of paragraph C, the writer says, “. . .and Halley worked out that by using Venus it would be possible to measure the Sun’s distance to 1 part in 500. But there was a problem: transits of Venus, unlike those of Mercury, are rare, occurring in pairs roughly eight years apart every hundred or so years. Nevertheless, he accurately predicted that Venus would cross the face of the Sun in both 1761 and 1769 – though he didn’t survive to see either.“
These lines suggest that Halley predicted the transits of Venus but he was not able to observe any transit because he died before that.
Question 23: Le Gentil managed to observe a second Venus transit.
Keywords for this question: Le Gentil, observe, second Venus transit,
In paragraph D, the writer states in lines 8-11, “Undaunted, he remained south of the equator ….before setting off observe the next transit in the Philippines. Ironically, after traveling nearly 50,000 kilometers, his view was clouded out at the last moment, a very dispiriting experience.”
Here, his view was clouded out = he could not observe the transit,
The lines suggest that Le Gentil was not able to observe a second Venus transit in the Philippines due to the thickness of the cloud.
Question 24: The shape of Venus appears distorted when it starts to pass in front of the Sun.
Keywords for this question: shape, distorted, pass in front of the sun,
In paragraph E, take a look at lines 1-3, “While the early transit timings were as precise as instruments would allow, the measurements were dogged by the ‘black drop’ effect. When Venus begins to cross the Sun’s disc, it looks smeared not circular.”
Here, pass in front of the Sun = cross the Sun’s disc, distorted = smeared not circular
Question 25: Early astronomers suspected that the atmosphere on Venus was toxic.
Keywords for this question: early astronomers, suspected, atmosphere on Venus, toxic,
There is no information in this passage about the atmosphere of Venus.
So, the answer is: NOT GIVEN
Question 26: The parallax principle allows astronomers to work out how far away distant stars are from the Earth.
Keywords for this question: parallax principle, how far, stars, Earth,
In paragraph F, take a look at lines 7-10, “The parallax principle can be extended to measure the distances to the stars. If we look at a star in January – when Earth is at one point in its orbit – it will seem to be in a different position from where it appears six month later. Knowing the width of Earth’s orbit, the parallax shift lets astronomers calculate the distance.”
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