Monday, July 20, 2009

Guntur and Helium !

Total solar eclipse is occurring on August 23, 2009. Not many know that the observation of the total solar eclipse in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh 133 years ago by a British astronomer had led to the discovery of a new element and the unravelling of secrets of nuclear fusion in the sun. Let me paraphrase a news item from The Hindu few years back : "Helium was first discovered on the soil of Guntur on August 18 in 1868. Two teams -- the British team led by Colonel Tennant and the French team led by Jannsen -- observed the total solar eclipse on August 18, 1868, from Guntur.When the solar corona flashed into view as the moon completely blocked the photosphere of the sun, the light was spectroscopically analysed by subjecting it to pass through a prism. The spectral lines produced an extra yellow line which was not known before and did not tally with any known elements before, he pointed out. The British scientist, Sir Norman Lockyer, suggested that this extra line would be the signature of a new and unknown element in the sun which he called `helium', from the word `Helios,' which meant sun in Greek".

No comments: