JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
Our "What is It?" image for today is the following:
(1) this could be microscopic, but it isn't; as a matter of fact, this is enormous;
(2) this is a side view,
(3) from space,
(4) and was drawn in 1891.
(5) That rounded bit on the bottom is the Earth.
This wonderful image is an early-ish attempt at showing the aurora borealis. It is an attempt to show what the aurora looks like from space, a side-long image of the event with the Earth at bottom, trying to display the magnitude of the event (and also without any clouds). I think that this was a remarkable attempt given the time and the tools available for this sort of imaginative rendition to have been made. This (and the image below) appear as plate 4 and a text illustration on page 113 respectively in Amedee Guillemin's (1826-1893) Electricity and Magnetism, published in London, 1891.
The aurora is about the most impressive displays in the Earth's atmosphere, and little understood, really, until the 20th century--and it wasn't until the 19th century that it was shown that there was a relationship between the Earth's magnetic field and the aurora. And remember, it wasn't until the early 19th c that even the clouds were given scientific designations (by Luke Howard)--the aurora borealis was a more difficult and entirely different matter. The aurora has been depicted in books for a very long time--since at least the mid-16th century--with varying degrees of success, though without being told what the stuff was being depicted in the sky most wouldn't recognize the aurora for what is was supposed to be. No doubt seeing the phenomenon from the 16th c Northern European printing centers would have been confusing and more.
Capturing the aurora on film for a more static study was not possible in any real sense for many decades after the invention of photography, the first success may well have come a year after the publication of the Guillemin book in 1892 by Martin Brendel ("Northern Light over Alta"). Not only was there the "being there" difficulty in capturing the phenomenon, but also the capacity of the camera's film and lenses, which simply were not up to the task for an extended time.
[Sources for the images as well as the full text of the book: http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupid?key=ha001481470]
A good series of articles on representing the aurora borealis is found here:
- http://www.bivrost.com/visions-of-the-northern-lights-pt-1-the-drawing-board/ and
Another version of the aurora from Guillemin's book: