Researchers Scan, Restore and Publish 119-Year-Old Solar Eclipse Footage

It is the oldest photographic evidence of a solar eclipse captured more than a century ago.

The first ‘moving image’ of a total solar eclipse, recorded in 1900 Nevil Maskelyne and archived in the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), has been scanned and restored, bringing 119-year-old footage back to life.

The original fragment of the film was painstakingly recovered in 4K quality by conservation experts at the BFI National Archive, who have re-assembled the film frame by frame.

Now available to view online for free, the Solar Eclipse dating back to 1900 was originally filmed by a British magician turned pioneer filmmaker, Nevil Maskelyne, during an expedition from the British Astronomical Association to North Carolina on May 28, 1900.

A stunning footage

Here’s the restored footage:

The above images turned video were actually Maskelyne’s second attempt to capture moving images of a solar eclipse, reports the RAS.

A man who mixed magic and tech

Two years prior to his successful attempt, in 1898 he traveled to India to photograph an eclipse. He did succeed but the film was stolen on his way home.

Experts say that this is the only footage recorded by Maskelyne that they know exists.

Dr. Joshua Nall, Chair, of the RAS Astronomical Heritage Committee said: “This is a wonderful archival discovery: perhaps the oldest surviving astronomical film, it is a really striking record of both early cinema and late Victorian eclipse observing. The BFI are ideal partners, they’ve done a fantastic job digitally restoring the film and it’s great that it will be available for anyone to view free of charge as part of their trove of Victorian cinema.”

Advances in technology and magic intermingled perfectly in the Victorian world, where the passion for science and its innovations, such as Marconi’s wireless telegraphy, coexisted with deep beliefs in the paranormal and spiritual photography.

For example, people back then were convinced at some point that paranormal entities such as ghosts were real and that we could actually communicate and see them using technology.

But many people saw lucrative opportunities by mixing the paranormal with the real world.

That’s why it is no coincidence that filmmakers and showmen of the time working in theaters of magic and illusion, turned their interest to the movie industry.

For example, Nevil Maskelyne and David Devant kick-started the famous Egyptian Hall, the oldest magic theater in London’s Piccadilly, and included back then mediums and films as part of the show.

Royal Astronomical Society
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