Glorious beyond description: eclipse expeditions and 19th century American science

You are invited to join the Mathematics Institute for a public talk by Professor Deborah Kent (Drake University).

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 a newly-completed railroad to the prairies of Iowa. Their work capitalized on new technologies and deployed legions of US 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.

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