Physics in Perspective

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 379–394 | Cite as

Amazonia Introduced to General Relativity: The May 29, 1919, Solar Eclipse from a North-Brazilian Point of View

  • Luís C. B. Crispino
  • Marcelo C. de Lima


In 1919, A. C. D. Crommelin and C. R. Davidson, British astronomers from the Greenwich Observatory in England, passed by Amazonia on their Brazilian journey aiming to measure the bending of stars' light rays during the total solar eclipse of May 29, 1919, and thereby put the theory of general relativity to the test. In the context of Crommelin’s and Davidson’s visit, we discuss how Amazonia was introduced to Einstein’s theory of gravitation, and also the observations and repercussions of the May 29, 1919, solar eclipse in Belém, capital city of the North-Brazilian Pará state.


General relativity Solar eclipse Amazonia Brazil Albert Einstein A. C. D. Crommelin C. R. Davidson 



We thank Rodrigo P. Vaz for his contribution in the early stages of the research related to this work. We are also grateful to Franciney C. Palheta for profitable discussions, to Rosa E. C. C. Lopes, Ângela B. Klautau and Atsushi Higuchi for useful comments, and to Christina H. da M. Barboza for email correspondence. We acknowledge the help from (i) Simone Maria Matos Moreira and Ranulfo Figueiredo Campos, from Biblioteca Pública Arthur Vianna, Belém, Brazil; and (ii) Kátia Teixeira dos Santos de Oliveira, from Biblioteca do Observatório Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We would like also to thank Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), and Fundação Amazônia de Amparo a Estudos e Pesquisas do Pará (FAPESPA), from Brazil, for partial financial support.


  1. 1.
    The local importance of this moment can be illustrated by the fact that Booth company even offered a lunch onboard of the Anselm, with the purpose of celebrating the reorganization of its regular navigation services between Amazonia and Europe, which were reduced as a consequence of World War I (see “Uma festa no Anselm,” O Imparcial, Belém, March 24, 1919). At that time, articles related to the First World War, which had just ended, could be often found in the Belém press, including news about the situation of Germany (see, e.g., “A Allemanha de hoje,” Estado do Pará, April, 24, 1919, 1) and Italy (see, e.g., “A situação internacional. A Itália estremecida com os seus alliados,” Estado do Pará, April 25, 1919, 1).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A. C. D. Crommelin, “The Eclipse Expedition to Sobral,” The Observatory 42 (1919), 368–71.ADSGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    F. Dyson, A. Eddington, and C. Davidson, “A Determination of the Deflection of Light by the Sun’s Gravitational Field, from Observations Made at the Total Eclipse of May 29, 1919,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 220 (1920), 291–333.ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    “O Porto de Belém. Passageiros,” Estado do Pará, April 9, 1919, 4.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Crommelin, “Eclipse Expedition” (ref. 2).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    “O Proximo Eclipse Total do Sol,” Estado do Pará, April 20, 1919, 1.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Paulino de Brito, “Repercussões. Novidades Scientificas,” Estado do Pará, April 22, 1919, 1.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
  9. 9.
    Dyson et al., “Deflection of Light” (ref. 3).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Crommelin, “Eclipse Expedition” (ref. 2).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    A. Einstein, “Über das Relativitätsprinzip und die aus demselben gezogenen Folgerungen,” Jahrbuch der Radioaktivität und Elektronik 4 (1907), 411–62.ADSGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Abraham Pais, “Subtle is the Lord…”: The Science and the Life of Albert Einstein (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    A. Einstein, “Über den Einfluß der Schwerkraft auf die Ausbreitung des Lichtes,” Annalen der Physik 35 (1911), 898–908.ADSCrossRefzbMATHGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    A. Einstein and M. Grossmann, “Entwurf einer verallgemeinerten Relativitätstheorie und einer Theorie der Gravitation,” Zeitschrift für Mathematik und Physik 62 (1913), 225–61.zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    A. Einstein, “Erklärung der Perihelbewegung des Merkur aus der allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie,” Sitzungsberichte Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften 2 (1915), 831–39.zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    It is worth mentioning, in passing, that a controversy involving the mathematician David Hilbert, relative to the priority in the formulation of the field equations of general relativity, have been subject of numerous discussions in the literature, as may be found in David E. Rowe, “Einstein Meets Hilbert: At the Crossroads of Physics and Mathematics,” Physics in Perspective 3 (2001), 379–424.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    See Marshall Missner, “Why Einstein Became Famous in America,” Social Studies of Science 15 (1985), 267–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Jeffrey Crelinsten, Einstein’s Jury: The Race to Test Relativity (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2006).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Pais, “Subtle is the Lord…” (ref. 12); Crelinsten Einstein’s Jury (ref. 17); Jürgen Renn, ed., The Genesis of General Relativity: Sources and Interpretations, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 4 vols. (Dordrecht: Springer, 2007); H. Goenner, J. Renn, J. Ritter, T. Sauer, eds., 1999, The Expanding Worlds of General Relativity, Einstein Studies, vol. 7 (Boston: Birkäuser, 1999); J. Eisensteadt and A. J. Kox eds., Studies in the History of General Relativity, Einstein Studies, vol. 3 (Boston: Birkäuser, 1988); A. J. Kox and J. Eisensteadt, eds., The Universe of General Relativity, Einstein Studies, vol. 11 (Boston: Birkäuser, 2005). For the reception of relativity all over the world, and as an example of scientific creation instead a scientific discovery, see M. Paty, “A teoria da relatividade de Einstein como exemplo de criação científica,” in E. Barra, Anais do Encontro da Rede Paranaense de Pesquisa em História e Filosofia da Ciência, 157–78 (UFPR: Curitiba, 2005).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Shozo Motoyama, “A gênese do CNPq,” Revista Brasileira de História da Ciência, 2 (1985), 27–46.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    It should be registered, however, that regardless the positivist inspiration of the Brazilian republic proclaimers, and their professed conviction in the scientific character of the republican order, not much have been done by them to implement public actions for research sponsoring.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Dyson et al., “Deflection of Light” (ref. 3).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Circe Mary da Silva, “Polytechnicians or Mathematicians?,” História, Ciências, Saúde—Manguinhos 13 (2006), 891.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    See C. P. da Silva, “A contribuição de Otto de Alencar Silva para o desenvolvimento da Ciência no Brasil,” Revista da Sociedade Brasileira de História da Ciência 19 (1998), 13–30.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    M. A. Costa, Introdução à Teoria da Relatividade (Rio de Janeiro: Süssekind de Mendonça & Cia, 1922). See also: C. M. S. da Silva, “Recepção da Teoria da Relatividade no Brasil entre 1919 e 1934,” Revista Brasileira de História da Matemática 5 (2005), 57–79; J. Eisenstaedt and J. Fabris, “Amoroso Costa e o primeiro livro brasileiro sobre a Relatividade Geral,” Revista Brasileira de Ensino de Física 26 (2004), 185–92. In 1923 he assumed the presidency of the section of mathematical sciences of the BAS. In 1928 he taught a course on non-Archimedean geometry at the University of Paris and, at the Collège de France, he presented the communication “L’univers infini - Quelques aspects du probléme cosmologique.” On his return to Brazil, Costa died tragically and prematurely in a plane crash in the Guanabara Bay, in Rio de Janeiro, on December 3, 1928, during the celebrations dedicated to the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos Dumont.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    L. C. B. Crispino, V. B. Bastos, and P. M. Toledo, eds., As Origens do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi. Aspectos Históricos e Iconográficos (1860-1921) (Belém: Paka-tatu, 2006).Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    “O Proximo Eclipse do Sol,” Estado do Pará, May 28, 1919, 1.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    “O eclypse solar de hoje,” Estado do Pará, May 29, 1919, 1.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    “O eclypse de hontem. O que se passou em Belém,” Folha do Norte, May 30, 1919, 1.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Dyson et al., “Deflection of Light” (ref. 3); Crelinsten, Einstein’s Jury (ref. 17).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Dyson et al., “Deflection of Light” (ref. 3); Peter Coles, “Einstein, Eddington and the 1919 Eclipse,” arXiv,
  32. 32.
    See C. L. Vieira and A. A. P. Videira, “Carried by History: Cesar Lattes, Nuclear Emulsions, and the Discovery of the Pi-Meson,” Physics in Perspective 16 (2014), 3–36.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of PhysicsPará UniversityBelémBrazil

Personalised recommendations