The Shadow of the Sun: E.E. Barnard and the Solar Eclipse
In anticipation of the August 2017 solar eclipse, Vanderbilt University Libraries will host an exhibition curated by four astronomy students on the work of American astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923). Best known for his discovery of Amalthea, the fifth moon of Jupiter, Barnard was a photographer and astronomer who spent a lifetime observing and photographing the night sky. The exhibition will draw on collections housed in the Libraries and Special Collections, as well as loans from private collectors.
The physical exhibit is on display in the Vanderbilt Special Collections Library April 7 through August 10, 2017 and permanently available in this gallery.
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.
Born in Nashville in 1857, Edward Emerson Barnard worked as a young boy for local photographer John H. Van Stavoren to support his family. It was there that Barnard first discovered his love of astronomy. Even though he had little formal education, Barnard’s experience with astrophotography led to a Vanderbilt scholarship, which launched his formal career in astronomy. Barnard went on to work at Lick Observatory and the University of Chicago. While he did not complete his studies at Vanderbilt, the University later awarded him an honorary degree.
Astrophotography is a hobby for many professional and amateur astronomers. Some photographers may enjoy doing time-lapse photography which depicts stars moving across the sky in a star trail while others like taking photographs of objects in deep space. This case has works from the late 19th and early 20th century E.E. Barnard, and modern photographs taken by Mark ‘Indy’ Kochte.
Humans have long been fascinated by solar eclipses. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth and casts a shadow on the Earth's surface. The techniques used to observe solar eclipses have not changed much throughout history. Typically, astronomers use telescopes with special filters to block the majority of the light coming from the Sun. While it may appear safe to look at the Sun during a solar eclipse, the intensity of the light is still dangerous to view unaided.