Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Scientific History Made

In the 19th century, science was making great strides. Included in those gains of knowledge was the field of astonomy. St. Vincent and Pembina played their small parts in playing host to many expeditions that came to the area or were passing through...

"The interest aroused in total eclipses was now so great that astronomers were determined to take advantage of every opportunity, no matter how short the time of totality nor how great distances it was necessary to travel in order to view the eclipses."

Title: Excerpts From Simon Newcomb's Diary of 1860
Authors: Kennedy, J. E. & Hanson, S. D.
Journal: Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 90, p.292

Using the Google coordinates for St. Vincent below, I think your best candidate for an eclipse visible from your town that would have attracted scientists would have been that of May 26, 1854. It was a rather long annular (ring) eclipse, with the Moon too far from the Earth to cover the Sun entirely, that had a duration of 4 minutes and 10 seconds in the annular stage. Here's the chronology:

2:30:38 p.m. CDST, SW edge of Moon makes first contact with the Sun, then 52 3/4 degrees above the SW horizon.
3:57:12 p.m., annular stage _begins_ with both bodies 40 degrees above the WSW horizon.
3:59:17 p.m., maximum annular eclipse, with 90.5% of the Sun's surface covered by the Moon.
4:01:22 p.m., annular eclipse ends as the leading edge of the Moon exits the Sun's NE rim, with both objects 39 1/6 degrees over the WSW/W skyline. Duration = 4 min. 10 sec.
5:18:42 p.m., last contact, with both bodies 26 3/4 degrees above the western horizon.

The partial solar eclipse of 7/18/1860 covered 83.3% of the Sun's surface, the partial solar eclipse of 10/19/1865 obscured 68.5% of the solar surface, and the partial solar eclipse of 8/7/1869 hid 93.5% of the solar disc. There were some piddling little partial solar eclipses that I have left out of consideration. Therefore your best candidate for a major eclipse that would have attracted the attention of astronomers and which lasted long enough to justify an excursion to St. Vincent would have been that of May 26, 1854. Hopefully narrowing down the eclipses to one strong contender will enable you to discover some eyewitness accounts.

Dr. Timothy L. Bratton
Department of History/Political Science
Jamestown College
Jamestown, ND