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Final Report Summary - VENUS TRANSIT 2004 (Venus transit in June 2004: exoplanets and the size of the world)

On 8 June 2004 the planet Venus passed in front of the Sun. This event was rare since the last one occurred in 1882, and so, no living person had seen it. Only four such events happen within a period of 243 years. Other solar system objects also pass in front of the Sun, such as the Moon during solar eclipses, and Mercury. The transits of planets in front of the Sun have been involved in fundamental steps of the history of Astronomy and of the history of Sciences. This Venus transit was easy to observe, provided that, as required for solar eclipses, safety measures are taken when observing the Sun. This event provided an exceptional opportunity to have a wide pedagogic action in connection with a very rich historical background. Hence, this project in the field of astronomy used the exceptional opportunity of this 2004 Venus transit in front of the Sun to introduce different scientific concepts to a very large and various public: measurement of distances in the Universe, structure of the Solar system and planetary motions, parallax effects, steps of a scientific measurement and its inherent uncertainties, and the search for extra-solar planets.

The project VENUS TRANSIT 2004 involved a large international network composed of teachers, students, high school pupils, amateur astronomers, and a more general public. Participants could undertake themselves a real measurement of a fundamental astronomical value, the astronomical unit, thanks to the timing of this event, and compare their own observational data with the theoretical ones.

The specific elements of the activity comprised:
- the coordination of a wide educational network founded on the connection between European and extra European schools;
- the preparation of the teachers who will guide the students for the observation on 8 June 2004;
- the performing, and large diffusion of scientific, observational practice and safety information in several languages : paper sheets, posters and booklets;
- the development of a web site where electronic data will be exchanged, observational data collected and real time analysis made;
- the organisation of a webcast where images from different professional sites will be shown in real time;
- the organisation of an electronic forum from which a wide public could get answers from astronomers;
- the organisation of several sites of public observation.

The VT-2004 programme was divided into four main phases:
- Autumn 2003: contacts with the schools and teachers, diffusion of the first information;
- January-June 2004: large diffusion of information about the June event, training of the teachers and amateur astronomers to frame the observations, contacts with the media and safety recommendations, registration of observers;
- June 8: webcast, chat room, observations from several sites and collection of data;
- Autumn 2004: synthetic analysis and feedback towards the public, selection of contest winners and a final event for participants.

The particular ways for the public to interact with the programme comprised:
- participating in the measurements on the day of the VT-2004 (possibly the largest public scientific experiment ever undertaken);
- sending drawings and photos to the website (contest);
- participating in the video-contest; or
- simply following the event web-cast.

Information about and preparation for the VT-2004 programme was organised around:
- 3 preparatory meetings for teachers (meeting on 23 - 25 January 2004 in Mondorf-les-bains in Luxembourg), for the media (meeting on 15 March 2004 at the ESO Headquarters in Garching near Munich) and for amateur astronomers, meeting in Brandys, 7 May 2004);
- a preparatory meeting for national nodes at the ESO headquarters in Garching near Munich on 17 April 2004;
- the final event in Paris on 5 - 7 November 2004;
- a comprehensive website ( please see online), which served as the backbone for the entire programme;
- a series of press releases, issued by ESO. The press releases also included broadcast-quality video footage including high-end animations for TV;
- a book (Le passage de Vénus) and a CD-Rom, published by the IMCCE and available from their website found at: and respectively.

Apart from the photos, videos, drawings, and writing galleries, the VT-2004 website, which is continuously maintained, is a wonderful 'memory' bank on the Venus transit which will serve for many years to come. Information and educational sheets, teachers 'cookbook', and 'guidelines for observers' are but a few example of the rich material available. It is a goldmine for educators, students, enthusiasts, or just the curious; there is also a special section for youngsters.

In addition, teachers and pupils can now recreate this experience by making virtual measurements and selecting images of the transit from a huge database. This is a unique educational tool.

On 5 -7 November 2004, the 'Venus transit experience' conference took place at the French Ministry of Research in Paris. The meeting, which was organised by the IMCCE and the Observatoire de Paris, brought together more than 150 persons connected to the VT-2004 programme. The aim was to sum up the vast experience gained through this unique public education programme and, in particular, to perform an evaluation of its many components. On the first day of the meeting, more than 50 students from the Paris areas who participated actively in this programme were also present.

On the second day of the conference, reports were given by experts in several areas e.g. primary and secondary schools, media, amateur astronomers, which demonstrated the imminent success of the entire effort but also served to identify some areas in which experience was gained, that could become useful for future projects of this kind. The national committees, either orally or by posters, documented in a comprehensive way the individual approaches taken in different regions and cultural environments.

On the last day of the meeting, representatives of the national nodes met with the international steering committee members to discuss how to build up on the momentum gained throughout this project. Several projects for the future have been proposed and will be further explored. Everybody agreed that this meeting proved very successful and was a nice conclusion to a unique project. Most of the presentations are available at the VT-2004 website.