Solar eclipses, wherein the Earth is caught in the shadow that is cast when the moon blocks the sun, are among the most surreal astronomical events. They’re beautiful and haunting, turning daylight into dusky darkness for several minutes; and they’ve been capturing the interest of Earthbound humans for millions of years. Nowadays, there are all sorts of methods for viewing a solar eclipse, but what did people do in olden times?
Luckily, the first-ever video recording of a solar eclipse has made its way to YouTube to give us some insight. The footage is just incredible!
The video was filmed by magician Nevil Maskelyne in North Carolina on May 28, 1900. Maskelyne was on an expedition with the British Astronomical Association, and recorded the footage with a telescopic adapter on his camera. The footage shows almost the full duration of the eclipse, starting when the moon’s shadow is just dipping into the sun, and concluding as it starts to move away.
This minute-long video has been held in the Royal Astronomical Society’s archives until last week. In a post, the society mentioned that Maskelyne had previously filmed another eclipse when he traveled to India in 1898, but that footage was stolen on his journey home.
The perfectly preserved 1900 video was “painstakingly scanned and restored” in 4K quality by BFI, a film preservation organization, which retimed the film frame-by-frame to achieve the final version they posted to YouTube. It’s part of their recently released Victorian Film collection, which also features footage of the first x-ray cinematograph film ever taken and other vintage recordings.
Now that photography technology is so advanced, it’s easy to take videos and images of a solar eclipse for granted. But Maskelyne’s film is a testament to where these sorts of recordings all started, and an impressive piece of history.
Images: Nevil Maskelyne/BFI