NZ's date with Transit of Venus

As the speck that is Venus crosses the glowing face of the sun next month, for the second and last time this century, the focus of New Zealand's scientific community will be on the East Coast.

Hundreds of scientists, iwi representatives and dignitaries are to gather in the region to mark the Transit of Venus and talk about New Zealand's future.

A transit occurs when the planet Venus moves between the Earth and the Sun.

From Earth the dark side of Venus is seen as a smallish black spot crawling from east to west across the solar disc.

A Transit of Venus typically lasts five or six hours.

They happen in pairs, eight years apart - such as 2004 and 2012 - separated by gaps of about 105 years or about 121 years.

After the transit on June 6, the next will not be until 2117.

Previous transits were used to try to measure the size of the solar system, while this time the event provides a symbolic opportunity to mark the 1769 meeting between Maori and Pakeha on Captain James Cook's voyage, which included the observation of a transit in Tahiti in June 1769.

The expedition paused at Tolaga Bay, 45km northeast of Gisborne, and it is there that the participants in next month's forum will view the latest transit.

In Gisborne for the next two days, the forum is to consider topics such as science and prosperity, science and the emerging Maori economy, use and management of resources, restoration and enhancement of the environment, and connecting with the world.

The forum was founded by physicist Professor Sir Paul Callaghan, who died in March.

An expert in low temperature nuclear physics and on the applications of magnetic resonance to the study of soft matter, he was the 2011 New Zealander of the Year, and was founding director of the MacDiarmid Institute, which carries out research into advanced materials and nanotechnology.

The Prime Minister's chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, has played a key role in developing the forum.

The project was the culmination of Sir Paul's drive for scientific, evidence-based decisions in all areas of the economy, and to make this country a place where talent wanted to live, Sir Peter said.

"Sir Paul really loved this country and strongly believed that our young people ought to be able to make their futures here - and not just in the main cities.

"He advocated high tech industries that would not harm the environment, and would improve prosperity for all.

"He wanted Maori people to fully share that prosperity, and start taking a lead in the way we think about our natural heritage."

The challenge of the forum was to be innovative in seeing how science and scholarship could take New Zealand forward economically, socially and environmentally.