First moving picture of a total solar eclipse restored to 4K quality
As part of a celebration of Victorian cinema, the British Film Institute (BFI) and the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) have released the oldest known moving picture of a solar eclipse. Recently restored to 4K quality by conservation experts at the BFI National Archive, the one-minute-eight-second film is a recording of the total eclipse of the Sun made by British magician and pioneering filmmaker Nevil Maskelyne in North Carolina on 28 May, 1900.
We live in a remarkably visual age when we think nothing of picking up the phone and looking at live video feeds from the International Space Station or recordings of amazing astronomical events like solar eclipses. But this sort of on-demand spectacle is the result of two centuries of painstaking development, and only a little over a hundred years ago, a moving picture of a solar eclipse was a major development rather than a way to ruin an expensive digital camera.
The 1900 eclipse film was made during a British Astronomical Association expedition to North Carolina, where Maskelyne used a special telescopic camera adapter that allowed him to capture the images without overexposure or burning the emulsion. According to the RAS, this was Makelyne's second attempt at recording a solar eclipse. His first was in India in 1898, but the film can was stolen on the return trip to England.
Like many Victorians, Maskelyne combined an interest in science with an equally strong one in the supernatural. Not only was he an inventor and pioneer in the nascent art and technology of the cinematograph and astronomical photography that made him a fellow of the RAS, he was also a stage magician who introduced "trick" films to magic performances at the Egyptian Hall in London's Piccadilly.
"Film, like magic combines both art and science," says Bryony Dixon, BFI silent film curator. "This is a story about magic; magic and art and science and film and the blurred lines between them. Early film historians have been looking for this film for many years. Like one of his elaborate illusions, it's exciting to think that this only known surviving film by Maskelyne, has reappeared now. Harnessing 21st century technical magic, this 19th century attraction has been reanimated. Maskelyne wanted a novelty to show at his magic theater, what better than the most impressive natural phenomenon of them all."
Now available for the public to see online for free, the eclipse film is part of the astrophotography collection of the RAS. It will be part of a celebration by the society of the centenary of the 1919 solar eclipse.
You can see the restored film on video below.
Source: Royal Astronomical Society