Mercury Bay

If you know about Captain James Cook - the Yorkshire man who travelled the world - you may know that his voyage around the world with the Endeavour was sponsored by the Royal Society with the aim to observe the transit of the planet Venus in 1769. Making measurements of the transit of a planet across the disk of the Sun from different parts of the Earth was important as it allowed astronomers to put a value to the distance between the Earth and the Sun. Captain Cook and his crew observed the transit on 3rd June 1769 from Tahiti. Rather than heading straight back to England, they then went on to find the land previously discovered by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman.

Mercury Bay
Mercury Bay, Coromandel Peninsular, New Zealand CREDIT: Stuart


Mercury Bay
The monument in Mercury Bay near the spot where the observation of the transit of Mercury was observed. CREDIT: Stuart


On 6th October the land which is now called New Zealand was sighted and over the following few weeks there were a series of encounters with some native Maori Iwi's (tribes). The ship had arrived in the Bay of Poverty and then headed north up the coast. Around the 5th of November, they anchored near a beach for 10 days to observe the transit of Mercury. To mark the event, the bay that this observation was done in became known as Mercury Bay.

I went up there a few days ago to see it and I found - after a bit of hunting - a small monument to mark the spot where the observation was done. The inscription reads "Mercury Bay - Near this spot on 10 November 1769 James Cook and Charles Green observed the transit of Mercury to determine the longitude of the bay".

A little bit of astronomical history combined with a beautiful seascape. I knew I could work in some holiday pictures somehow ;-)

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 07th Mar 2006 (23:59 UTC) | Permalink
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