Essential Information

Royal Observatory

08 May 2015

Emily from our Photo Studio has been looking at some amazing 1919 glass plates from our collection. 

This week we were inspired by three glass plates from 1919 of the eclipse of the Sun.

Eclipse of the sun, 1919, showing a great prominence. AST1091


The glass plates are 8” x 10” and very fragile; in spite of having had object handling training I was still nervous handling them.

Another of the glass plates showing the eclipse of the Sun 1919. AST1092


The glass plates are interesting for a few different reasons. Due to the brittle nature of glass plates it is fortunate that they are in good condition and that the scans have produced high quality images considering they’re from the 1900s. When viewed on a light box there is still a lot of detail on them. It is also exciting to see the night sky as it would have been seen almost 100 years ago. These glass plates demonstrate how photography can capture a brief moment in time and show a real photographic skill; these days people use a lot of digital equipment for astronomical photography.

Eclipse of the Sun 1919. AST1093


Melanie Vandenbrouck, Curator of Art, and Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer, came to see the glass plates on a light box. It was wonderful watching two of the Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year judges getting excited over the glass plates.

Marek Kukula and Melanie Vandenbrouck viewing the glass plates


As a curator of art, Melanie interpreted the aesthetics from the plates whilst Marek provided the scientific background and relevance of them. We had been so focused on the eclipse we hadn't even realised that you could see stars on one of the glass plates, which Marek highlighted for us. We haven't looked at the plates in the same way since.

Marek Kukula and Melanie Vandenbrouck getting a closer look at the plate over the light box


We have a highlights page dedicated to our fantastic collection of astronomical images on our recently updated Picture Library website. To keep up to date with the latest news from the Photographic Studio follow our Twitter Feed @RMGPhotoStudio.