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Great Adventures: Guillaume Le Gentil

Pat Kinsella meets the unfortunate French planet hunter, for whom the stars refused to align during a decade-long misadventure chasing Venus around the world
HOT PURSUIT Le Gentil spent 11 years trying to observe Venus crossing the Sun, during a voyage that took him as far as the Philippines
ILLUSTRATION: TIM WETHERWELL, GETTY X1, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X1

“A fatal cloud came to place itself before the Sun”

Guillaume Le Gentil

When you christen your child Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil de la Galaisière, it’s fair to assume that you have high hopes for their future. And Guillaume Le Gentil, as he was more commonly known, must have thought he’d done his parents proud when he was selected by France’s august Académie des Sciences to travel to India to observe the 1761 transit of Venus.

UNLUCKY STARS Diagrams showing the predicted path of Venus on 6 June 1761
ALAMY X2, ART ARCHIVE X1, GETTY X3, SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY X2

Fate, though, had other plans for this unfortunate Frenchman, who was about to endure the worst run of luck in the history of astronomy, as he pursued a passion that became an elusive obsession right around the globe for over ten years.

Halley’s table of orbital data for comets observed between 1337 and 1698
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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of BBC History Revealed Magazine - October 2016
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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

The November 2016 issue of History Revealed.