'Solar Spot', c 1850.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Painting in oil distemper and lampblack on paper by James Nasmyth (1808-1890) showing a group of sunspots. Working from sketches made directly at his telescope, he used his considerable artistic skill to produce this portrayal the surface of the Sun on the 5th June 1864. A succesful industrialist and engineer, Nasmyth made extensive observations of the Sun after he retired from busines in Manchester and moved to a new home near Hawkshurst in Kent. Through his observations Nasmyth discovered fine-scale solar features, which he called 'willow-leaf-shaped objects', a detail that is clearly evident in this painting. Difficult to view, their existence was disputed for many years, but today these structures are termed solar granulation.