In the second half of the nineteenth century, the British Government spent a vast amount of money measuring the distance between the earth and the sun using observations of the transit of Venus. Hundreds of expeditions were organized by countries across the globe to collect data on the transits of 1874 and 1882, using the most up-to-date astronomical instruments and new photographic methods.
Like the Great Exhibitions which were so popular at the time, the transits of Venus caught the public's imagination. An enthusiastic press presented the events as a vivid symbol of the strength of British science – even though the resulting measurements were found to be no more useful than those produced after the transits of 1761 and 1769.
Ratcliff presents a clear and compelling narrative of the two Victorian transit programmes. She draws out their cultural significance and explores the nature of 'big science' in late-Victorian Britain.
"makes for a fascinating cultural history of a Victorian scientific expedition that yields valuable insights into Victorian scientific practice."
"'remarkably informed, insightful, and accessible"
- Technology and Culture
"an engaging and provocative contribution"
- Victorian Studies
"This well-researched volume, which includes 25 pages of notes, judicious use of archives, and an excellent bibliography, takes its place in the considerable literature generated by the last transit."
- Journal for the History of Astronomy
1 The Precedent: Transit of Venus Expeditions in 1761 and 1769
2 Big Science in Britain c. 1815–70
3 Noble Science, Noble Nation: The Establishment of Transit Programmes in Britain and Abroad
4 Inside Greenwich: The Preparations for 1874
5 The Expeditions
6 The Outcome
Epilogue: The Transit of 1882
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