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Cook was commissioned by the Admiralty to command a scientific voyage to the South Pacific Ocean to observe the transit of Venus – the first opportunity to determine the distance of the Earth from the Sun. The talk will draw upon links with RGO, ROG, NMM and the Royal Naval College. It begins with Cook’s early naval career and what got him noticed to take charge of the expedition to Tahiti and beyond. This will be followed by an explanation of what the real point of the observation was – citing the Royal Society’s Memorial to King George III, their request to fund the voyage which involved transcribing the original at the RS Library. Results of the world-wide observations will be described, the first international co-operation led by the French.
An explanation of the cadence of transits, pairs a little over a century apart, will be given. Only seven transits starting with Horrocks (1639) have been observed and these will all be described in turn with emphasis on Sydney Observatory’s role in 1882. The observatory is very much a younger sister of RGO – even down to the battleship grey used on their telescope!
The First Fleet led by Capt Philips and colonisation of Australia came at a dreadful cost to the indigenous peoples which Australians are far more conscious of today than at the time of the county’s bicentennial in 1988. After Cook’s death the French compe de Lapérouse took on Cook’s mantle, exploring the Pacific. Finally, the talk will venture into future history: to the next phase of colonisation: Mars, including reference to the recent Design Museum Moving to Mars exhibition.
Stewart Coulter taught at an academic boys’ private school 32 years where he was Head of Physics Dept for half that time, he retired in 2010 which coincided with the start of the volunteer programme at RMG. He studied for a Diploma in Astronomy at UCL gaining a Distinction. In 2006 he joined the RAS and IOP and took the OU Astronomy Summer School in Mallorca. He is currently active in the IOP and is the Vice-President of the West of London Astronomical Society. He organizes the public observing sessions and occasional visits to scouting groups and schools.