Watch the oldest surviving film of a total solar eclipse

The video was captured nearly 120 years ago by British magician-turned-filmmaker Nevil Maskelyne

solar eclipse

SHINE AND SHADOW  This image is a still frame from the oldest known video of a total solar eclipse, taken in 1900 in North Carolina.

Royal Astronomical Society, BFI

This is the oldest surviving video of a total solar eclipse.

The grainy marvel was taken nearly 120 years ago on May 28, 1900, by a British magician-turned-filmmaker named Nevil Maskelyne, according to a report on May 30 from the Royal Astronomical Society and the British Film Institute in London.  The original film fragment, captured on a British Astronomical Association expedition to North Carolina, was scanned and recently restored by conservation experts at the BFI National Archive.

Maskelyne developed a special telescope adapter for his camera to film the eclipse without frying his equipment. The 1900 eclipse was actually his second attempt. His first, an eclipse in India in 1898, was successful, but his film canister was stolen on the trip back to England.

“This is a wonderful archival discovery,” curator Joshua Nall of the Whipple Museum of the History of Science in Cambridge, England said in a statement. “It is a really striking record of both early cinema and late Victorian eclipse observing.”

Other observers of the same eclipse measured the temperature of the sun’s corona, or its wispy outer atmosphere, and the temperature and pressure of the air as the eclipse swept by.

LIGHT AND DARK This video of a 1900 total solar eclipse was filmed in North Carolina using a special telescope adapter. The clip is the oldest surviving video of a total solar eclipse ever taken.

Royal Astronomical Society, BFI

Lisa Grossman is the astronomy writer. She has a degree in astronomy from Cornell University and a graduate certificate in science writing from University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives near Boston.

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