How a Particle Accelerator Is Helping to Unearth Long-Lost Pieces of Art

Oli Scarff, Getty Images
Oli Scarff, Getty Images

A particle accelerator is revealing the people in 150-year-old photographs whose features had been lost to time, Science News reports.

For the first time, Madalena Kozachuk, a Ph.D. candidate at Canada’s Western University, and a team of scientists used an accelerator called a synchrotron to scan daguerreotypes, an ancestor of modern photography.

before and after image of a damaged dagguereotype
Kozachuk et al. in Scientific Reports, 2018

Invented by French painter and physicist Louis Daguerre, daguerreotypes were popular from around the 1840s to the 1860s. They were created by exposing an iodized silver-coated copper plate to a camera (the iodine helped make the plate's surface light-sensitive). Subjects had to sit in front of the camera for 20 to 30 minutes to set the portrait, down from the eight hours it took before Daguerre perfected his method. Photographers could then develop and fix the image with a combination of mercury and table salt.

Because they’re made of metal, though, daguerreotypes are prone to tarnish. Scientists can sometimes recover historical daguerreotypes by analyzing samples taken from their surface, but such attempts are often both destructive and futile, Kozachuk wrote in a study published in Scientific Reports.

Kozachuk found that using a particle accelerator is a less invasive and more accurate method. While some scientists have used X-ray imaging machines to digitally scan other historical objects, such instruments are too large to scan daguerreotypes. Reading the subtle variations on a daguerreotype surface requires a micron-level beam that only a particle accelerator can currently produce. By tracing the pattern of mercury deposits in the tarnished plate, the researchers were able to reveal the obscured image and create a digital photo of what the daguerrotype looked like when it was first made.

before and after image of a recovered dagguereotype
Kozachuk et al. in Scientific Reports, 2018

“When the image became apparent, it was jaw-dropping,” Kozachuk told Science News. “I squealed when the first face popped up.”

Scanning one square centimeter of each 8-by-7 centimeter plate took about eight hours. The technique, though time-intensive, may allow museums and collectors to restore old daguerreotypes with minimal damage.

“The ability to recover lost images will enable museums to expand their understanding of daguerreotype collections, as severely degraded plates would not otherwise have been able to be studied or viewed by interested scholars,” Kozachuk wrote.

[h/t Science News]

Here's the Best Way to See New York's Manhattanhenge Sunset

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

New Yorkers are going to see a lot of people stopping to take pictures of the horizon in the coming days. Manhattanhenge, a term used to describe the two days of the year when the Sun sets in perfect alignment with Manhattan's east-west street grid, will be visible at 8:13 p.m. on May 29 (half-sun, the preferred view for photographers) and 8:12 p.m. May 30 (full sun). Here's a sample of what you can expect to see.

People taking pictures of Manhattanhenge
Mike Pont/Getty Images for S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water

Manhattanhenge takes its name from the same phenomenon at Stonehenge, when the solstice Sun lines up perfectly with the large stones. To get the best view in the city, Dr. Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, told The New York Times to stand as far east as you can and look west toward New Jersey. Cross streets that offer an ideal view include 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd, 57th, and 79th streets. She also recommends Gantry Plaza State Park in Queens as an option in a different borough.

A view of Manhattanhenge
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Can't make it to New York this week? Manhattanhenge will make another appearance on July 12 and July 13. If you want to know more about the phenomenon, the museum will be hosting a presentation by Faherty at Hayden Planetarium at 7 p.m. on July 11.

This story was updated in 2019.

Long-Lost Film Footage of Queen Victoria on Her Final Trip to Ireland Has Been Rediscovered

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Queen Victoria's reign predated televised royal weddings and press conferences, but the British monarch did live long enough to see the advent of motion pictures. According to The Telegraph, the clip below, filmed one year before her death, is thought to be among the last footage ever recorded of the queen.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City rediscovered the film in its archive of 68mm nitrate prints and negatives from early cinema history. The footage, captured during Queen Victoria's final trip to Ireland in 1900, shows a different side of the monarch than what she shared in her stoic portraits. She's wearing sunglasses and holding a parasol to protect herself from the sun, and when admirers come up to her, she greets them with a rare smile.

"In a moving image you get so much more, even something as brief as this, of the personality, of the presence of this woman," film curator Dave Kehr said in a video from MoMA.

Queen Victoria died in 1901, concluding what had been the longest reign of any British monarch at that point in history. Her great-great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II has since surpassed that achievement.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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