The Eclipses That Changed History

Brilliance | Dec. 10, 2017

Curiosity's coverage of the 2017 eclipse is brought to you by Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.

Solar eclipses come around so infrequently, it feels like a historic event just to even witness one. But some eclipses from history have taken on a greater significance than the mere darkening of the sun. They've ended wars, inspired righteous uprisings, and proven scientific theories. Some have even intersected with major events in some of the world's biggest religions. Here are a few of our favorite stories about history-shaping solar eclipses.

A Shadow Over Human History

Obviously there have been eclipses happening as long as people have been on the planet. But not every one of them has made its mark on history. We're going way back to before people understood that eclipses were just the moon passing in front of the sun — and going all the way up to an eclipse that revealed a truth about the universe that was previously unimaginable.

Seeing Solar History With Your Own Eyes

It's one thing to marvel at the ways that eclipses have intersected with human history, but what if you could actually see some of the eclipses that past generations did? Actually, you can. The High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, CO, is home to an archive of eclipse photographs going back to 1869. It's an incredible collection, and though Einstein's 1919 eclipse isn't included, the 1922 eclipse that reconfirmed his theory is.

The older photographs from that collection have been processed using modern techniques, but one image that's perhaps even more impressive is notable for its clarity despite the relatively primitive technology. The very first photograph of a solar eclipse was taken by famed daguerrotypist Johann Julius Friedrich Berkowski in 1851. At the time, images could only be captured on copper plate, and only after long periods of exposure. So Berkowski had to time his shot just right — and when he did, he not only got the eclipse, he also captured the plumes of light of caused by solar prominences all around the rim.

Want to learn more about the eclipse? See our other articles here. And to hear an astronomer give even more insights into the eclipse, check out our special podcast episode here or click below to stream.

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