MONTVILLE, NJ — When it comes to solar eclipses, New Jersey isn’t totally “in the dark” historically, according to astronomy lecturer Paul Cirillo.
New Jersey’s own Menlo Park inventor Thomas Edison traveled to Wyoming with a group of other scientists to view the 1878 eclipse. The 31-year-old had just invented the phonograph. He wanted to test his newest invention: the tasimeter, said Cirillo, a board member of the New Jersey Astronomical Association, which operates the Paul Robinson Observatory in High Bridge — the largest public observatory in New Jersey.
The tasimeter measures small changes in temperature. Unfortunately, Edison was trying to measure the temperature of the corona of the sun and it gave off so much heat that it was off the scale of the invention. Before Edison could readjust the scale, the eclipse was over.
Some say that during the fishing trip that followed the eclipse, a bamboo fishing rod was thrown onto a campfire, and when Edison saw the way it burned in individual strands, it “sparked” an interest in him to use bamboo in light bulb filaments, but others contest this story as myth.
Princeton professor Albert Einstein also has ties to solar eclipses because they confirm his Theory of General Relativity, which states that all masses cause a curvature of space-time.
During the 1919 eclipse, scientists measured the positions of stars, then compared them with their normal positions in the sky and proved Einstein’s theory. After the New York Times published the findings, Einstein became a household name.
The books “Edison and His Inventions: Including the Many Incidents, Anecdotes and Interesting Particulars,” edited by James Baird McClure and “Eclipse: The Celestial Phenomenon that Changed the Course of History” by Duncan Steel, and these articles: Space and Eclipses were also used to research this article.