Yesterday was likely the last chance for those of us currently living to see the planet Venus pass in front of the sun. The transit of Venus is among the rarest of astronomical events -- the transit will not occur again until 2117.
Historically, tracking the transit of Venus was a watershed moment in international scientific collaboration. The astronomer Edmund Halley had predicted in 1678 that the transit event could be used to calculate the distance between the Earth and the sun if observers were stationed at the proper places on the globe. So it was in 1761 that the scientific community came together to successfully answer one of the leading scientific questions of the day.
Australian artist Lynette Wallworth was determined to use the rare occurrence of the transit of Venus to create a sense of perspective and get people to think about the global problems that the world's ocean currently faces -- problems that require the cooperation of global governments, scientists and the international community.
"It is wonderful to have a moment in time that you know won't occur again in the lifetime of anyone now watching it," Wallworth said. "It was the perfect moment to imagine a work centered on a current global problem and set it adrift to see where it might land."
For the occasion, Wallworth has created a major work called Coral: Rekindling Venus, a film intended for fulldome digital planetariums.
The film offers viewers an immersive experience. Seals welcome the audience to the planetarium and an ornate lionfish leads the viewer into an alien world of coral reefs. Micro-images of coral and other reef creatures, filmed by Emmy Award-winning cinematographer David Hannan, fill the planetarium. Entrancing music plays in the background as the audience is introduced to foreign-looking species, unrecognizable shapes and breathtaking displays of light.
"I need people to see that this is an incredible community. As complex and diverse as any city, it just happens to be underwater," Wallworth explained.
At the dome premiere of Coral: Rekindling Venus in the American Museum of Natural History, audible gasps filled the room, audience members clasped their hands to their chests and a few left the planetarium in tears. Through imagery and music, Wallworth offered audience members an opportunity to gain a personal connection to our oceans.
Wallworth tied the distinctly scientific perspective her work seeks to evoke back to the transit of Venus, "We need to be thinking in these kinds of cycles, we can't think in terms of three or four years, which is a political cycle. We need to be thinking together, like Halley did, about what is going to be happening in 20 years, or 50 years, or 105 years ahead." We must come together to solve the major problems threatening our world's ocean.
(This post was originally published on Mission Blue.)