The video above is not so much spectacular for what it shows, but for what it is: the oldest motion picture of a solar eclipse, recorded in North Carolina in 1900. Nevil Maskelyne was a professional magician, but he was also obsessed with astronomy and loved the new technology of motion picture film. He actually filmed a total solar eclipse in India in 1898, but the film was stolen. Might it turn up someday? Who knows?
Undeterred, in 1900 Maskelyne journeyed to North Carolina, funded by the British Astronomical Association, to capture the eclipse of May 28. He successfully completed his observation and got the film home safely. Maskelyne likely showed the footage at his theater, and a one-minute fragment of the event ended up in the archives of the Royal Astronomical Society, which began collecting astrophotography images in the 1870s.
“Maskelyne wanted a novelty to show at his magic theatre, what better than the most impressive natural phenomenon of them all,” Bryony Dixon, a silent film curator at the British Film Institute (BFI), says in the press release.
The film is the earliest known movie of an astronomical event and the only surviving film by Maskelyne. The Royal Astronomical Society partnered with the BFI to restore each frame of the film and scanned it at 4K resolution, creating the digital version released online.