“Glorious beyond description”: Eclipse expeditions and 19th century American science

Main list: History of Mathematics


The second half of the nineteenth century brought the golden age of eclipse expeditions. Equipped with the latest technology and dreams of glory, international observing parties trekked around the globe to find astronomical results in the solar darkness. North American eclipse paths in 1860, 1869, and 1878 especially played into the scientific agenda articulated by mid-century mathematical practitioners in the United States. As developments in photography fueled a race to capture an image of the solar corona, scientists also hoped for insight about both the size of the universe and the chemical composition of the Sun. Novel spectroscopic results from an 1868 British eclipse expedition to India further excited American hopes for ground-breaking results.  In 1869, convoys travelled west on newly-completed railroad to the prairies of Iowa. Their work capitalized on new technologies and deployed legions of U.S. government mathematicians and scientists in a coordinated effort. The success and attendant publicity laid a foundation for the 1878 eclipse mania and its eventual contribution to American science.

  • Speaker

    Prof Deborah Kent
    Drake University,

  • Venue

    Lecture Theatre C, Mathematical Institute, North Haugh, St Andrews

  • Date

    October 16, 2019

  • Time

    From: 16h00 To: 17h00

  • Sponsor

    University of St Andrews
    The oldest university in Scotland, with international renown for both research and education of undergraduates and postgraduates.

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