Photographing Solar Eclipses from the Nineteenth to Mid-Twentieth Century

Astronomical research faces a challenge in that very little of what is studied can be controlled in a laboratory environment, and astronomers are usually limited by what they are able to see from Earth. Because solar eclipses are only visible in certain parts of the world, a great deal of the understanding of the Sun that has been gained from solar eclipses has relied on astronomers, like E.E. Barnard, who traveled around the world in order to photograph eclipses. The images that Barnard captured were widely described and reproduced in academic journals to help the astronomical community learn more about our nearest star.

[Partial Solar Eclipse and Sunspots of November 23, 1946, 1 of 3] [Partial Solar Eclipse and Sunspots of November 23, 1946, 2 of 3] [Partial Solar Eclipse and Sunspots of November 23, 1946, 3 of 3]

[Partial Solar Eclipse and Sunspots of November 23, 1946] by Carl K. Seyfert
Photographs (series of 3)
Dyer Observatory Archives
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

The November 23, 1946 Solar Eclipse was visible in much of Eastern North America, but it wasn't visible as a total eclipse anywhere. In Nashville, 36% of the Sun was blocked at the midpoint of the eclipse. The large dark spots in the center of the Sun are sunspots, and each of the large dots is larger than the Earth. These photographs were taken by astronomer Carl Seyfert in his first year at Vanderbilt University and using the telescope at the Barnard Observatory.

[California Total Solar Eclipse of January 1, 1889]

 

 

[California Total Solar Eclipse of January 1, 1889]

[California Total Solar Eclipse of January 1, 1889] by E.E. Barnard
Lantern slide
Edward Emerson Barnard Papers
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

The January 1, 1889 Solar Eclipse was visible for much of Western North America. Since 1887, E.E. Barnard had been employed at Lick Observatory in California, and he was part of the team that traveled approx. 150 miles north to Bartlett Springs, California to photograph the total eclipse.

Total Eclipse of the Sun

[Wyoming Total Solar Eclipse of June 8, 1918] by E.E. Barnard
Lantern slide
Edward Emerson Barnard Papers
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

The June 8, 1918 Solar Eclipse was visible throughout most of the United States, and the path of totality stretched from Oregon to Florida. E.E. Barnard was part of an expedition by Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin to travel to Green River, Wyoming to observe the total eclipse. He also oversaw the photography of the eclipse, working with Mary Ross Calvert, his astronomical assistant and niece.

[North Carolina Total Solar Eclipse of May 28, 1900]

[North Carolina Total Solar Eclipse of May 28, 1900] by E.E. Barnard
Lantern slide
Edward Emerson Barnard Papers
Vanderbilt University Special Collections

The May 28, 1900 Solar Eclipse was visible for much of the continental United States and western Europe. As part of the Yerkes Observatory expedition to observe the total solar eclipse, E.E. Barnard traveled to Wadesboro, North Carolina. Barnard and G.W. Ritchey took a series of 7 photographs on specially prepared glass plates during the eclipse using a telescope with a 6-inch aperture. This image shows the southwest quadrant of the eclipse, and each of the prominences coming off of the Sun's surface is approximately the size of the Earth.

Photographing Solar Eclipses from the Nineteenth to Mid-Twentieth Century