For centuries, people have been clamoring to glimpse solar eclipses. From astronomers with custom-built photographic equipment to groups huddled together with special glasses, this spectacle has captivated the human imagination.

In 1860, Warren de la Rue captured what many sources describe as the first photograph of a total solar eclipse. He took it in Rivabellosa, Spain, with an instrument known as the Kew Photoheliograph. This combination of a telescope and camera was specifically built to photograph the sun.

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Forty years later, Nevil Maskelyne, a magician and an astronomy enthusiast, filmed a total solar eclipse in North Carolina. The footage was lost, however, and only released in 2019 after it was rediscovered in the Royal Astronomical Society’s archives.


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Video by Nevil Maskelyne/BFI.CreditCredit…Nevil Maskelyne/BFI

Telescopic Vision

For scientists and astronomers, eclipses provide not only an opportunity to view the moon’s umbra and gaze at the sun’s corona, but also to make observations that further their studies. Many observatories, or friendly neighbors with a telescope, also make their instruments available to the public during eclipses.

Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen, Fridtjof Nansen and Sigurd Scott Hansen observing a solar eclipse while on a polar expedition in 1894.

Women from Wellesley College in Massachusetts and their professor tested out equipment ahead of their eclipse trip (to “catch old Sol in the act,” as the original New York Times article phrased it) to New London, Conn., in 1922.

Credit…The New York Times

A group from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania traveled to Yerbaniz, Mexico, in 1923, with telescopes and a 65-foot camera to observe the sun’s corona.

Credit…The New York Times

Dr. J.J. Nassau, director of the Warner and Swasey Observatory at Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, prepared to head to Douglas Hill, Maine, to study an eclipse in 1932. An entire freight car was required to transport the institution’s equipment.

Credit…The New York Times

Visitors viewed a solar eclipse at an observatory in Berlin in the mid-1930s.

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A family set up two telescopes in Bar Harbor, Maine, in 1963. The two children placed stones on the base to help steady them.

Credit…Associated Press

An astronomer examined equipment for an eclipse in a desert in Mauritania in June 1973. We credit the hot climate for his choice in outfit.

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Indirect Light

If you see people on Monday sprinting to your local park clutching pieces of paper, or with a cardboard box of their head, they are probably planning to reflect or project images of the solar eclipse onto a surface.

Cynthia Goulakos demonstrated a safe way to view a solar eclipse, with two pieces of cardboard to create a reflection of the shadowed sun, in Lowell, Mass., in 1970.

Credit…Jospeh Dennehy/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

Another popular option is to create a pinhole camera. This woman did so in Central Park in 1963 by using a paper cup with a small hole in the bottom and a twin-lens reflex camera.

Credit…John Orris/The New York Times

Amateur astronomers viewed a partial eclipse, projected from a telescope onto a screen, from atop the Empire State Building in 1967.

Credit…Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

Back in Central Park, in 1970, Irving Schwartz and his wife reflected an eclipse onto a piece of paper by holding binoculars on the edge of a garbage basket.

Credit…Eddie Hausner/The New York Times

Children in Denver in 1979 used cardboard viewing boxes and pieces of paper with small pinholes to view projections of a partial eclipse.

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A crowd gathered around a basin of water dyed with dark ink, waiting for the reflection of a solar eclipse to appear, in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 1995.

Credit…Hoang Dinh Nam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Staring at the Sun (or, How Not to Burn Your Retinas)

Eclipse-gazers have used different methods to protect their eyes throughout the years, some safer than others.

In 1927, women gathered at a window in a building in London to watch a total eclipse through smoked glass. This was popularized in France in the 1700s, but fell out of favor when physicians began writing papers on children whose vision was damaged.

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Another trend was to use a strip of exposed photographic film, as seen below in Sydney, Australia, in 1948 and in Turkana, Kenya, in 1963. This method, which was even suggested by The Times in 1979, has since been declared unsafe.

Credit…Norman Brown/Sydney Morning Herald, via Getty Images
Credit…Mohamed Amin/Camerapix

Solar eclipse glasses are a popular and safe way to view the event (if you use models compliant with international safety standards). Over the years there have been various styles, including these large hand-held options found in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1979.

Credit…The Palm Beach Bost, via ZUMA

Parents and children watched a partial eclipse through their eclipse glasses in Tokyo in 1981.

Credit…The Asahi Shimbun, via Getty Images

Slimmer, more colorful options were used in Nabusimake, Colombia, in 1998.

Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press

In France in 1999.

Credit…Patrick Aventurier/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images

And in Iran and England in 1999.

Credit…Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images
Credit…Mirrorpix, via Getty Images

And the best way to see the eclipse? With family and friends at a watch party, like this one in Isalo National Park in Madagascar in 2001.

Credit…Francois Lochon/Gamma-Rapho, via Getty Images


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