A solar eclipse on May 29, 1919 changed science forever.

The story starts earlier on November 15, 1915 when German scientist Albert Einstein presented a paper about his general theory of relativity. The theories were hard for most people to understand. However, a British astronomer, Stanley Eddington, was fascinated by the theory and worked to help explain it to his colleagues.

7EN-S1-C0010943 (929331) German-born physicist Albert Einstei n (1879-1955), at left, was famous for his theories of relativity. British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington (1882-194 4), at right, pioneered the study of internal stellar structure. In 1919 Eddington led an expedition to observe stars near the sun during a solar eclipse. The results were hailed a s confirmation of Einstein’s 1915 theory of General Relativity, which predicted that light passing close to a large mass (like the Sun) bends twice as far as predicted by Newton’s theory of gravity. Photographed at the University of Cambridge Observatory, UK, in 1930.

The 1919 solar eclipse provided the perfect opportunity to prove Einstein’s theory. The sun’s gravity, Einstein said, would pull light rays making them bend or curve. A solar eclipse was the perfect time to measure this shift. Scientists needed to photograph some bright stars before the eclipse and then during the eclipse and compare the two. If the stars appeared to move, the light was bending.

This is a difficult concept for kids! But the NextGen Science Standards ask kindergarten kids to understand the concepts of PUSH and PULL. In space, gravity is the pull, while acceleration is the push. By using the simple concepts of PUSH and PULL, kids begin the process of conceptualizing Einstein’s theory. It will likely be a life-time journey, but we can start it very simply in elementary school.

ECLIPSE: How the 1919 Solar Eclipse Proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity

ECLIPSE: How the 1919 Solar Eclipse Proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity | book cover | MimsHouse.com. Available October, 2019.

Available in October, 2019 is our story ECLIPSE: How the 1919 Solar Eclipse Proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. It tells the story of Eddington’s trip to a small African island of Principe, also known as the Chocolate Islands because cacao nuts were grown there. In 1919, it was a 47 day boat trip. Once there, Eddington and his associate Edwin Cottingham set up the telescopes and waited for May 25, 1919.

Just in case the weather was bad, astronomers also sent a team to Brazil to photograph the solar eclipse. Both locations were remote and difficult to reach with the huge telescopes required. Heat and humidity plagued both teams, causing photographic materials to warp, which threw off the focus.

Interior page of ECLIPSE by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Peter Willis.

This is a dramatic story! On Principe, it rained that morning, only clearing up right as the eclipse started. The scientists only had 302 seconds of totality, the time when the sun was totally blocked. They exposed photographic plates with a metronome ticking off the seconds.

Measuring a Solar Eclipse

The analysis of data took months because they had to account for temperature, humidity, position of the telescope on Earth and more. Finally, on November 6, 1919, astronomers announced the results: light does bend around the sun. The photographs proved Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

An interactive element is built into the story. If you flip the top-right corner, the images will show a solar eclipse happening.

The story is illustrated by Peter Willis (see Peter’s interview on the Children’s Book Council website), a British artist. It joins the other books in the Moments in Science series:

If you’d like a review copy when they become available, leave your email below.

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