This illustrated children’s book explains how a famous experiment used a solar eclipse to prove that light bends around the sun.
In 1919, British astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington, head of the Cambridge Observatory, joined Frank Dyson, director of the Greenwich Observatory, for an expedition to Principe Island, off the coast of Africa, to take scientific photographs of the solar eclipse on May 29. Four years previously, Albert Einstein introduced his new theory of general relativity, saying “that the sun’s huge gravity pulled and bent light.” To prove it, astronomers needed to measure the light bending. Usually the sun is too bright, but a solar eclipse would block the sphere enough for scientists to photograph stars around it, measure their positions, and compare them. Eddington and his team took 16 photographic plates, carefully timed using a metronome. A similar team went to Brazil, and although clouds obscured some photos, this body of evidence was valuable in proving Einstein’s claim that light bends with the sun’s gravity. Pattison (The Falconer, 2019, etc.) takes a complicated scientific theory and makes it not just fairly understandable, but entertaining as well. Concepts are explained in simple and, often, more detailed terms. “Eclipse,” for example, is introduced with a pared-down, one-sentence definition (“A solar eclipse is when the moon moves between the earth and the sun”) followed by a more detailed, paragraphlong explanation on the next page. Willis’ (Pollen, 2019) illustrations are a delight, using a collage technique that combines original art with scraps from newspapers and books. People (nearly all white men) are depicted with blocky, rectangular bodies that are clothed in recognizable styles of the time. These characters have doll-like, simplified expressions, but they deftly show personality, such as the surprise on scientists’ faces. Backgrounds are stylized but nicely detailed, often with animals like dogs, cats, and birds. In an appealing additional feature, the upper-right corner of the book can be quickly flipped to show the progress of an eclipse. An approachable and well-illustrated introduction to an important moment in science.