Remarkable footage of a solar eclipse captured over 100 years ago has been found by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and painstakingly digitised by conservators at the British Film Institute (BFI).
“It’s wonderful to see events from our scientific past brought back to life,” said Professor Mike Cruise, President of the Royal Astronomical Society. “Astronomers are always keen to embrace new technology, and our forerunners a century ago were no exception. These scenes of a total solar eclipse – one of the most spectacular sights in astronomy – are a captivating glimpse of Victorian science in action.”
The footage was captured by British magician-turned-astronomer Nevil Maskelyne on May 28, 1900, while he was on an expedition to North Carolina for the British Astronomical Association. He had made a special telescopic adapter for his camera specifically to capture footage of an eclipse. Maskelyne’s 1900 attempt was his second after the footage of an earlier success had been stolen on his return journey home.
The film fragment was recently discovered in the RAS archive by researchers as part of an effort to digitise Victorian-era films to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth. Conservation experts at the BFI National Archive then painstakingly scanned and restored the footage in 4K. The footage is the only film by Maskelyne that is known to have survived.