Sometimes relics from the past help put the present into better focus.
Recovered footage of a 1900 total eclipse of the sun — believed to be the first captured — has been scanned, restored and then reassembled and retimed frame by frame to create a memorable and kind of spooky look at early astronomy. The film was found at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, reconstructed by the British Film Institute and made public this week.
As explained in a release from the two societies, the film was taken by one Nevil Maskelyne, a British magician, card sharp, levitator and more turned pioneering filmmaker and astronomer.
The eclipse was captured during an expedition to North Carolina with the British Astronomical Association. As the release explained, at the time magic, the paranormal and science often fit comfortably together, and the emerging film industry was a tool for all and an instigator of invention.
“It was not an easy feat to film,” the release reports. “Maskelyne had to make a special telescopic adapter for his camera to capture the event. ”
The North Carolina expedition was Maskelyne’s second attempt to film a solar eclipse, but the only one to have survived — though it was also considered lost for decades. He also had traveled to India in 1898 to photograph the phenomenon and apparently succeeded, though his film can was said to be stolen on the way home.
Compelling on its own, the footage also conveniently provides an exaggerated and instructive example of the primary technique now used to discover distant exoplanets: the “transit” method invented a century after Maskelyne filmed his eclipse.
But unlike what occurs a full solar eclipse, when the moon blots out the sun as viewed from Earth, the transit method measures the light from a host star to determine whether it dips ever so slightly — a sign that a planet is blocking some of the star’s light.
There are, of course, no total eclipses from transiting exoplanets because the planets are so much smaller than the suns. But you get the idea.
You perhaps also get the idea that there has long been a certain showmanship in the display of astronomical wonders. Space agencies certainly understand that and — with some turning of the nobs to make astronomical phenomenon appear in ways our eyes can take them in most dramatically — have created some of the most majestic and magical images of our times.… Read more