A total solar eclipse was due on 21 September 1922. An eclipse always held scientific interest, but this one offered the chance to confirm one of the most revolutionary theories in science. Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted that light passing near an object such as the sun would be bent by gravity. In 1919, Arthur Eddington’s observations of a total solar eclipse lent support to Einstein’s theory, but some challenged his results. The 1922 eclipse, best observed in Australia, promised to decide the matter. Read MoreLooking at the sun
the charleville rainmaker
Cloudy skies at last! On 26 September 1902, the drought-wearied residents of Charleville looked to the heavens with new hope. They knew, of course, that clouds offered no certainty of rain; too often before they had watched them drift on, merely taunting with the possibility of relief. But this time the people of Charleville had science on their side. They were going to make it rain.
Stationed around the town were six Stiger Vortex guns, their long, funnel-shaped barrels aimed skywards. At noon the guns were manned, and at the direction of the Mayor, ten shots were ‘fired from each in quick succession’. A few drops of rain fell, but nothing more until two o’clock, when there was a light shower. The drought had not been broken, but it seemed an encouraging start. Perhaps, it was suggested, the prevailing strong winds had ‘interfered with the force of the vortices’.1
Later that afternoon, the experiment was repeated. This time there was no rain. Nothing. Moreover, two of the guns exploded, rendering them unusable. No-one was injured, but the experiment had clearly failed. There would be no more rain. The clouds again moved on, while the would-be rainmakers succumbed to disappointment and recrimination.2 Read MoreThe weather prophets