Stanford Solar Center
About the SunFor StudentsFor EducatorsSpace Weather Monitors
Ancient ObservatoriesSolar FolkloreSolar Art & Literature

The History of Solar Photography

By Kirit J. Sheth

Photography and astronomy have been inseparable ever since the Daguerre process was presented by scientist Dominique François Jean Arago to the French Academy, l'Académie Francaise, in 1839. It is difficult to take photographs in the dark on insensitive plates, so the early results were poor. Daguerre had tried unsuccessfully to make a daguerreotype of the moon in the year he announced the process. A little later, in 1840, John William Draper made daguerreotypes of the moon.

Galileo had observed sun spots, but only photography made it possible to record sun's corona for a detailed study. Many astronomers at this time were "gentlemen scientists". Warren De La Rue (1815-1889) was among those who helped make photography one of astronomy's greatest tools. His father Thomas made money by printing it (money). De La Rue became one of the largest financial printers in the world, printing national currencies, travelers checks, stamps and passports. Warren De la Rue photographed the moon using wet collodion plates with his 13-inch telescope during 1850s. A link had been observed between sun spots and geomagnetic activity, and he started keeping a daily photographic record of the solar disk in 1858. He is remembered above all for his photographs of the total solar eclipse of 1860 in Spain.

First wet plate photographs of an eclipse were taken in 1860 by American astronomer Charles A. Young. These confirmed the transient visual impressions of the solar corona: "that an uninterrupted stratum of prominence-matter encompasses the sun on all sides, forming a reservoir from which gigantic jets issue, and into which they subside". Arthur Eddington observed the total solar eclipse of 29 May 1919 and "proved" that light is bent by the force of gravity as predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.


Home · Request Solar Posters · Site Map · Glossary · About Us · Contact Us
©2008 by Stanford SOLAR Center · Permitted Uses · Credits