By 1780, the American Revolutionary War had been raging for years. The year prior, the British had set up a fort to control the area around Penobscot Bay, in what is today, Maine. A large American force, subsequently sent to reclaim the area, was beaten off and destroyed. Nevertheless, late in 1780, one of the co-founders of the recently formed Academy of Arts and Sciences, Samuel Williams, and a small party set off on a Harvard-sponsored expedition External to view a rare astronomical event -- a total solar eclipse of the sun. Williams had calculated the ideal spot to view the eclipse -- Penobscot Bay -- in British territory. Securing a safe passage from the British, Williams and his group set up camp on an island in the bay. On the day of the eclipse, Oct. 27, 1780, Williams and his party watched as the moon began to pass in front of the sun. More and more of the sun was gradually obscured by the moon, until only a small part of the sun was visible, but then the process began to reverse! Williams had miscalculated where he needed to be by a few miles and the group were a few miles outside of where they needed to be to observe the total coverage of the sun of totality! Williams' expedition, one of the first sponsored by an academic institution, missed totality, but the observations he made did describe phenomena that would only be recognized and named by later observers. For more of Williams' observations, see the Memoirs of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, vol. 1 (1783), pg. 86 External.
This guide is intended as an overview of resources available on the subject of solar eclipses. Solar Eclipses occur when the moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow over the surface of our planet. With the interaction of these celestial bodies being central to an eclipse. The visual wonder of solar eclipses leads many to wish to observe or photograph eclipses, and even, as Williams did, to organize expeditions to travel all over the world to view eclipses. The guide highlights resources in these areas and provides examples of material such as guidebooks that primarily provide information for travelers going to view a solar eclipse, but does not attempt to exhaustively list all relevant resources. If you have additional questions about this topic, please Ask a Librarian.
In April 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible from the United States, along a path running from Texas to Maine. The eclipse will be partially visible, to varying degrees, throughout the most of the remainder of the United States. The following highlighted resources include basic information about the 2024 eclipse. More can be found among many of the resources listed in this guide!