On This Day In History: Aurora First Photographed – On Jan 5, 1892

the first successful photograph of aurora borealis – the “northern lights” – was made by the German physicist Martin Brendel (1862-1939).

Although it was limited to a blurred, low-contrast picture, it did suggest some sense of the shape of the aurora, which is admired today in countless color photographs.

Studying the aurora was not easy before the ability to photograph them, gave the first opportunities; also photographing them was rather complicated. The auroral light itself was generally dim, weak and flickering while photographic materials of the time required a long exposure times, and was little sensitive to the deep reds in the aurora.

In order to obtain the first ever useful auroral photograph, Brendel used a colleague’s camera, which was previously used to photograph clouds,

The physicist had travelled to Alten Fiord, Lapland, where he spend several months studying auroral displays and magnetic disturbances. He did not believe that such first photograph of the phenomenon had much scientific value but the concept itself was interesting and worth to develop further.

Brendel’s concept revolutionized the study of the northern lights.


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