A handful of people who got out of bed at dawn this morning and strapped on welders’ goggles got to witness something no living person had seen: the Transit of Venus, a sort of miniature eclipse (as Venus appears to be much smaller than the moon from an earthbound perspective, the vast majority of the sun is not blotted out). Last observed in 1882, the Venus transits were once major events. Seventeenth century observers became astronomical icons; eighteenth century observers travelled the world in attempted to see what could be seen; in the nineteenth century, Congress put aside hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance the American Transit of Venus Expeditions and John Philip Sousa commemorated it with a march. But as the near-neighbor who writes Slate’s "Chatterbox" notes, today’s transit was largely a non-event. The nineteenth century was the high point of America’s fascination with the sky; it was the dawn of American universities on the European model, with observatories springing up at colleges and even high schools. Drawings of the sun had been crucial pieces of data ever since Galileo first recorded a sunspot, and the 1882 transit was to be the moment when the art of photography could be wed to the science of astronomy. And it was; reams of data were recovered, and the accurate measurements allowed astronomers to determine the parallax of the sun, and thus its distance from the earth. But that was a hundred and twenty years ago; we now know the distance of the sun from the earth. Men have walked on the moon and robots have discovered evidence of water on Mars since then. In most cities, it’s too bright at night to see the stars. The last time a large group of people eagerly awaited a rare yet recurring astronomical event, it ended poorly. So the event was largely ignored: a few brief mentions in the newspaper, a flurry of announcements and information from astronomy fans, and the Chatterbox family gathered out on a parking garage in suburban Washington to see a twice-in-a-lifetime event. But whenever there’s a scientific anniversary or event, at least one highly influencial group can be counted on to successfully bring it to the attention of millions of members of the general public, along with references to expert opinion about just why it’s important — as long as it can be represented using the letter "O". John Philips Sousa would be proud.