Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

MAY 15th

On this day in history in 1836, Francis Baily first observed 'Baily's Beads'.

The curious effect known as 'Baily's Beads' can be observed during an eclipse of the sun, when the rugged lunar landscape allows beads of sunlight to shine through.

Francis Baily was born on 28th April 1774, at Newbury, Berkshire, the son of Richard Baily, a small town banker. He was educated at the local school, where he aroused attention for his aptitude for mathematics and scientific investigation. His fellow students gave him the title of ‘The Philosopher of Newbury’. After leaving school in 1788, his parents placed him in a London banking house, where he served an apprenticeship in the finer arts of business finance.

In 1795, he believed that he had learned all that he needed to know regarding banking, and decided to indulge his passion for scientific investigation. He travelled to the unexplored regions of North America and was particularly absorbed by the frequent displays of meteor showers which happened to occur at that time. Upon returning to his parents’ home in Newbury, he published a brief account of his observations, before his father insisted that he find gainful employment.

In 1799, Baily entered the London Stock Exchange and during a successful career, wrote and published volumes on tables for purchasing of leases, interest and annuities, and life annuities and life insurance. These works earned him a reputation as a writer on life tables, and brought him sufficient earnings to enable him to retire at the age of 50.

By 1825, Baily had sufficient leisure and funds to enable him to devote his time to the study of astronomy. In 1827, he was awarded the Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal, for his preparation of a catalogue of 2,881 stars. He revised several star catalogues, and repeatedly protested to the government that the Nautical Almanac, as used by the Royal Navy, was seriously inaccurate. In 1829, he was given the task of reforming the Almanac, producing a universal catalogue containing the positions of over 50,000 stars.

On 15th May 1836, Baily travelled to Inch Bonney, Roxburghshire, the first recorded eclipse expedition, to observe an annular eclipse of the sun. Here he saw the phenomenon, to which he attributed the title Baily’s Beads. Later in 1842, he travelled to Pavia, Italy, to observe the total eclipse of the sun. His publications and descriptions raised considerable interest and led to eclipse watching becoming fashionable amongst the scientific community.

Baily died at his home in London, on 30th August 1844, and was buried in the family vault in Thatcham church. [St Mary’s Church, Church Gate, Thatcham, Berkshire, RG19 3PN] The lunar crater Baily was named in his honour.

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