The First Photograph of the Sun

sun
SSPL—Getty Images
One of the first pictures ever taken of the sun. Leon Foucault and Louis Fizeau, 1845

On Thursday, March 20, we celebrate the vernal equinox—the first day of spring, when neither the Earth’s south pole nor its north pole is tilted away from (or towards) the sun, and the day’s 24 hours are split evenly between dark and light all across the globe. On the occasion of the spring equinox, daytime and nighttime carry equal weight.

In 1845, five years after Dr. J. W. Draper captured the first photograph of the full moon, French physicists Leon Foucault and Louis Fizeau made the first successful photograph of the sun. In a major technological feat at the time, the pair pointed their camera at Earth’s star; after an exposure of just 1/60th of a second, the photo was made. Working with similar tools as Draper, the duo created a daguerrotype about 4.7 inches in diameter.

The naked eye, of course, cannot see the sun in all its glory during the day, but instead witnesses, at best, partial bursts at sunrise or sunset. To see the entire, brilliant sphere at once, as the early viewers of Foucault and Louis Fizeau’s 1845 picture did, was an utterly new experience for most. More than 160 years ago, their seemingly simple black and white photo was remarkable for depicting our sun not as an overwhelming, ungraspable celestial body, but as another star in the sky. Our star in the sky. Visible on its surface are sunspots — areas of intense magnetic activity that are also impossible to see with the naked eye.

Just shy of 20 years after Nicéphore Niépce created the first photograph ever — an image of the French countryside, taken from a window — humanity turned its attention, and its cameras, to the task of capturing what our unaided eyes could not see.

Today, as the plane of Earth’s equator passes the center of the sun, and our planet’s axis is in rare, momentary equilibrium, we mark the changing of the seasons — and look toward brighter days ahead.


Erica Fahr Campbell is an associate photo editor at TIME.


Related Topics: , , , ,

Latest Posts

2014.  Gaza.  Palestine.  Schoolchildren head to class at the Sobhi Abu Karsh School in the Shujai'iya neighborhood. Operation Protective Edge lasted from 8 July 2014 – 26 August 2014, killing 2,189 Palestinians of which 1,486 are believed to be civilians. 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed.  It's estimated that 4,564 rockets were fired at Israel by Palestinian militants.

Inside Gaza with Photographer Peter van Agtmael

What photographer Peter van Agtmael encountered in Gaza changed the way he worked.

Read More
WASTELAND PERMITTED USE: This image may be downloaded or is otherwise provided at no charge for one-time use for coverage or promotion of National Geographic magazine dated December 2014 and exclusively in conjunction thereof.  No copying, distribution or archiving permitted.  Sublicensing, sale or resale is prohibited.     REQUIRED CREDIT AND CAPTION: All image uses must bear the copyright notice and be properly credited to the relevant photographer, as shown in this metadata, and must be accompanied by a caption, which makes reference to NGM.  Any uses in which the image appears without proper copyright notice, photographer credit and a caption referencing NGM are subject to paid licensing.        Mandatory usage requirements: (Please note: you may select 5 branded images for online use and 3 images for print/unbranded)1. Include mandatory photo credit with each image2. Show the December cover of National Geographic somewhere in the post (credit: National Geographic) unless using only one image3. Provide a prominent link to: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/12/superfund/voosen-textat the top of your piece, ahead of the photos 4. Mention that the images are from "the December issue of National Geographic magazine” GOWANUS CANALNew York, New YorkPollutants: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury, lead, copperYear listed: 2010Carved from a tidal estuary 160 years ago, the Gowanus Canal is Brooklyn’s industrial artery—and a deeply polluted waterway. Even so, it’s frequented by herons, seagulls, crabs, and canoeists. Defying local fears of economic stigma, the EPA listed the canal as a Superfund site in 2010. It hopes to start dredging contaminated mud in 2016.

Photojournalism Daily: Nov. 24, 2014

Mideast Israel Palestinians

The Best Pictures of the Week: Nov. 14 – Nov. 21

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 19,250 other followers