1st R. C. Gupta Lecture

1st R. C. Gupta Endowment Lecture
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 at 6:30pm
IUCAA, Pune

Title: Who first discovered Helium in the Sun?


By
Dr. Biman Nath, Raman Research Institute, Bengaluru

Helium was the first element ever discovered by astronomers. Its presence was first indicated in the Sun and not on Earth.This discovery also marked the birth of the new science of astrophysics. However, it turns out that the events leading to the discovery of helium has been rather misrepresented in books, journals, and even encyclopaedias. The usual story about its joint discovery during a solar eclipse in 1868 by French astronomer Pierre Janssen at Guntoor in India and later in England by Norman Lockyer, is far from the truth. Janssen never mentioned any signature of a new element in the solar spectrum in his reports. The actual story turns to be as dramatic as in fiction, and yet, the story is now remembered only in fragments, that too in a distorted form. In reality, it was from Machilipatnam and not Guntoor that Norman Pogson first saw the signatures of helium, but his name has been completely forgotten in the discovery story. In this talk Dr. Nath will try to reconstruct the events leading to the discovery of helium in the Sun, and also discuss the possible reasons why a folklore has replaced the real story.