The struggle to discover the atmosphere of Venus

Expectations of a Venus atmosphere prior to the 1761 transit

1727 Planetary atmosphere discussed in Fürstenau, Desiderata Media; 'plurality of worlds' widely accepted in the early 18th century 5: 641+644

Transit of Venus of 1761 - the immediate aftermath

6 June 1761 The Transit takes place, visible completel in all of Asia and Scandinavia, partially in Central Europe and Africa 1
9 June 1761 P. Wargentin writes a report on observations of a bright rim around Venus even outside the Sun; see 12 November. 5: 648, 11
13 June 1761 The first report in print about an alleged sighting of the atmosphere appears in a German newspaper, written by G. C. Silberschlag based on his own observations in Madgeburg / Kloster Bergen 2, 5: 646-647, 9, 11
late June 1761 M. Lomonosov reports on his observations of effects he blames on the atmosphere at an Academy meeting 10: Petrunin comm.
June(?) 1761 Silberschlag's report comes out a 2nd time, now in a literary journal, slightly edited 4, 5: 643-648, 11
14 July 1761 M. Lomonosov submits the Russian version of his monography for publication 7: part II
27 July 1761 Publication of Lomonosov's report in Russian in 250 copies 5: 649-651, 6, 7: part II
August 1761 The German version of Lomonosov's report is published 3, 7: part II, 9
5 November 1761 S. Dunn reports to the Royal Society in London about his alleged observation of Venus' atmosphere - but only in front of the Sun, thus clearly wrong 5: 649
12 November 1761 Wargentin reports a glow around Venus outside the Sun in a talk in London at the Royal Society (published in print in 1762): the blames the atmosphere but is unsure about the physics 5: 648, 10
19 November 1761 Bergman reports observations similar to Silberschlag's to the Royal Society while Ferner reports a 'light around Venus' following her (a letter dated 20 June) 5: 649
1762 In the Observationes Veneris Gryphiswaldenses A. Mayer and L. Röhl report the Silberschlag phenomenon, too, and discuss the physics - light refraction - in great detail 5: 651-656, 11

Subsequent debate

1769 Kordenbusch collects numerous 1761 observing reports (including Silberschlag's), even previously unpublished ones; several include alleged atmospheric effects 5: 656-657
1822 Encke collects numerous observing reports, offers Wargentin's and Mallet's stories in German 9
1967 Mühlpford unearths Silberschlag 2, 5
2010 Pasachoff & Sheehan arrange a new translation of Lomonosov's Russian Report, carried out for them by Olga Tsapina of the Huntington Library. PM, 6
2012 Pasachoff & Sheehan raise doubts about Lomonosov's observations 6, 8
2012 Shiltsev translates Lomonosov's Russian report anew 7
2012 Fischer uncovers Wargentin's and Mallet's reports, begins translation German sources into English, analyzes Silberschlag's story 9, 10, 11


1: S. van Roode, Past transits - 1761 June 6, Transit of Venus Website
2: G. Silberschlag, Der wahrgenommene Durchgang der Venus durch die Sonne, Historische und Gelehrte Merkwürdigkeiten als eine Beilage der Magdeburgischen Privileg. Zeitung XXIV. Blat., 13 June 1761 (reproduced from G. Mühlpfordt, Die Entdeckung der Venusatmosphäre durch Magdeburger Astronomen, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Technischen Hochschule Otto von Guericke Madgeburg 11, 737-753, 1967)
3: M. Lomonosov, Erscheinung der Venus vor der Sonne beobachtet bey der Kayserlichen Academie der Wissenschafften in St. Petersburg, monography, August 1761
4: G. Silberschlag, in Noch einige auswärtige Beobachtungen der Venus in der Sonne, Das Neueste aus der anmuthigen Gelehrsamkeit VI, 424-426, June 1761
5: G. Mühlpfordt, Der früheste Nachweis der Atmosphäre des Planeten Venus, Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Karl-Mars-Universität Leipzig 16, 639-667 (1967)
6: J. Pasachoff & W. Sheehan, Lomonosov, the discovery of Venus's atmosphere, and the eighteenth-century transits of Venus, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 15, 3-14 (2012)
7: V. Shiltsev, Lomonosov's Discovery of Venus Atmosphere in 1761: English Translation of Original Publication with Commentaries, Preprint, 15 June 2012
8: R. Crease, Atmospheric tales, Physics World (2012)
9: D. Fischer, Various key reports from the 1761 Transit of Venus, translated from German into English (working document, 2012)
10: D. Fischer, Wer entdeckte die Venus-Atmosphaere?, Skyweek 2.0 (24 June 2012)
11: D. Fischer, Auf der Suche nach dem ersten Beobachter der Venus-Atmosphaere - naechster Zwischenbericht, Skyweek 2.0 (10 July 2012)

Work in progress! Started 10 July 2012 by Daniel Fischer - contributions welcome!