December 13, 2017

Astronomy Video of the Week: Hunting for the Oldest Eclipse

Totality from the 1914 eclipse over Sweden.

(Credit: N. Nordenstrom)

An astronomical mystery came our way this past week.

If you’re like us, you’re gearing up to meet the shadow of the Moon in just 10 short days. While interest in the August 21st, 2017 total solar eclipse crossing the United States runs high, we wondered: what’s the oldest video of an eclipse featuring totality that is readily accessible online?

After numerous challenges and queries to the astronomical community, we came up with this old film seeming to show the total solar eclipse of August 21st, 1914 over Sweden.

Unfortunately, the team hosting the site declined to share the video with us for YouTube and a wider audience… on YouTube, the oldest video including totality seems to be this fine footage featuring the January 24th, 1925 total solar eclipse over New York City courtesy of British Pathe:

Now, video technology dates back to the 1880s… surely, someone must have tried to capture totality during solar eclipses in those early decades? More than likely, those early efforts have yet to be digitized, or are poorly indexed on ye ole web. Searching “total solar eclipse” of YouTube currently yields a flood of videos running the gamut from astrology and conspiracy theories to actual real science, a tough challenge to sift through to find anything of true historical value.

Back to the Swedish 1914 video. This eclipse occurred over war torn Europe during the opening months of World War I. We actually wrote about this eclipse and how the war foiled early efforts to measure Relativity from Crimea. Sweden was neutral during the war, and witnessed a fine spectacle just past local noon.

Now, there’s a cryptic statement at the end of the description of this video, claiming “the eclipse of this film is a fool in any case”. We ran this by a Swedish friend of ours in the event that Google translate was missing a nuance, and this does indeed seem to be the case…

The trouble is, if it is indeed a fake, it’s a good one. To the experienced eye, the footage showing totality and the corona of the Sun does indeed look real. Note the similarity of the 1925 footage above and the 1914 video in question. Also, timings given for the partial phases of the Sun are correct.

Plus, it’s tough to shoot totality, as exposure times drop dramatically when the Sun is eclipsed. More than likely, the very first attempts to make a video of totality weren’t successful. A sequence towards the end of the clip does show the partial eclipse superimposed over the crowd viewing it… is this what the commentator is alluding to?

Or perhaps, the totality footage is spliced from a different eclipse. There were indeed total solar eclipses over Europe in 1912 and 1905 leading up to 1914. Apparently, video was indeed shot during the April 17th 1912 total solar eclipse over Costa Lobo, Portugal, though it hasn’t made its way to the web…

The book Catchers of the Light mentions astronomer Nils Nordenmark (also listed in the opening credits of the video) and his successful attempt capturing the 1914 eclipse.

Another thing worth noting is the solitary sunspot seen on the disk of the Sun during partial phases of the eclipse in the video. Any sketches of the solar disk from or around August could cinch this… tantalizingly, Mount Wilson observatory didn’t start doing daily sunspot sketches until a few years later in January 4th, 1917.

So for now, the title of oldest eclipse video featuring totality remains a mystery, an enigma that I’ll open up to the larger audience. It’d be great to put this one to bed in time for the Great American Eclipse… any takers?

 

Astronomy Video of the Week: An Arctic Total Solar Eclipse!

A ‘diamond ring’ seen at the end of totality during the 2008 solar eclipse.

Credit: NASA/Exploratorium

The month of March sees the beginning of meteorological and astronomical Spring in the northern hemisphere. March also gives us another reason to celebrate, as the first of two eclipse seasons for 2015 begins. 2015 features 4 eclipses — 2 solar and 2 lunar —and the first one is coming right up on March 20th. [Read more...]

Astro-Vid Of the Week: Stalking the Elusive Annular Eclipse

A simulation of the April 29th eclipse from 1 km above the Arctic.

Created using Stellarium.

This Tuesday, a “ring of fire” annular eclipse will occur that no human eye will witness. This is because the path of the April 29th annular eclipse only briefly touches down for just over 12 minutes over a remote area of Antarctica. In fact, the central part of the Moon’s shadow — known as the “antumbra”— will be for the most part cast off into space, missing our planet entirely.

[Read more...]

Astro-Vid Of the Week: Tracking the 2017 Solar Eclipse

The path of the 2017 eclipse over the U.S.

(Credit: NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair).

Where will you be on August 21st, 2017? That date isn’t as far away as you think. Just over three and half years from now, a total solar eclipse will span contiguous United States from the Pacific Northwest to the southeastern Atlantic seaboard. This will be the first solar eclipse to grace the lower 48 states since 1979, and the first time totality has crossed any of the 50 states since 1991. [Read more...]

Week 5: Down the (Future) Path of Totality.

The author & friends at the DoubleTree Hotel in

downtown Charleston, South Carolina!

(All pics by author).

It’s never too early to start planning, especially when it comes to solar eclipses. Week five of our southeastern sojourn saw us travel down the same path that the 2017 total solar eclipse will take over the Carolinas. We left the solitude and dark skies of the Appalachians as chronicled in Week 4 of the great American Road trip and headed back into civilization… and what a welcome it was!

[Read more...]

Astro-Event: What’s in a Name? Black & Blue Moons through 2020.

The August 2011 Full Moon rising as seen from Astroguyz HQ.

(Photo by Author).

(Note: This week’s lunar-related event is a fitting tribute to the life of astronaut hero and legend Neil Armstrong, who passed away this weekend. As the second Full Moon of the month approaches, don’t forget to look skyward and remember when the first man walked on the Moon in 1969. Next week’s special Astro-Event will be Apollo 11 related as well. This one’s for you, Neil!) [Read more...]