Sunday, 31 May 2020


Distant family of Charles Green at last Tuesday’s transit of Mercury observation

There was a lot of anxious looking at the sky on Monday evening last week. The clouds persisted and if they were still around at sunrise on Tuesday morning, 12 November, it wouldn’t have been possible to witness the last hour of the 2019 transit of the planet Mercury across the sun.

As it turned out, there was no need to worry. More than 150 people gathered at the Banks Street Reserve in Cooks Beach - close to the spot where the explorer James Cook and astronomer Charles Green observed a transit of Mercury 250 years and two days earlier - eagerly waiting for the sun to rise in the east.

When the sun was high enough above the horizon, without any obstruction from the clouds, all attention turned to the row of telescopes, many of them provided by Otago Museum. The many smiles that followed were an indication that almost everyone who made the effort to get out of bed early had an opportunity to witness something that happens only 13 or 14 times per century.

Among those at the reserve was Heather Lill, a distant family member of Charles Green. “Charles Green was my sixth-time great uncle,” she said.

Heather is a born and bred Kiwi, living in Ashburton. Her great-grandfather moved to Canterbury from England in 1886.  “It’s my first time in Cooks Beach,” she said. “It’s very special to be here. Interestingly, Charles Green’s sister married William Wales. As Charles Green was the astronomer on Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific, William Wales the astronomer on Cook’s second and third voyages. I’m in touch with the family of William Wales. They still live in England. Charles Green passed away a year and a few months after observing the 1769 transit of Mercury in Cooks Beach. He was married, but had no children.”

Observing last week’s transit of Mercury in Cooks Beach was the initiative of Otago Museum, who worked closely with the Mercury Bay Museum.

The next transit of Mercury will take place in 2032 but will, again, only be briefly visible in New Zealand.

Pictured: Dr Ian Griffin, the director of Otago Museum getting one of the telescopes ready for last Tuesday’s transit. 


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