The discovery of Helium, the second element in the periodic table, is a seminal event in the history of science. However, what is not widely known is that this discovery was made by not one but two scientists in the same year, both of whom made their discoveries on Indian soil.
The Vijaydurg Fort in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra serves as a testament to this momentous occasion, as it is widely considered the birthplace of Helium.
In the 19th century, a British scientist named Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer observed a bright yellow line during a total solar eclipse and identified it as the previously unknown element Helium through his spectroscopic analysis. The event was observed from the vantage point of the Vijaydurg Fort and had set up a raised platform to facilitate the use of his telescope.
To this day, visitors to the fort can still observe the raised platform and a government board that commemorates the discovery of Helium by Sir Joseph Norman Lockyer. The board reads that the British scientist was observing a solar eclipse from the fort on 18 August 1868 when he made the ground-breaking discovery of Helium, observed through his telescope in the form of a yellow flame.
The other scientist credited with the discovery of Helium is the French astronomer Jules Janssen, who made his discovery in Guntur, located in Andhra Pradesh today. On the 18th of August 1868, Janssen also observed helium emission lines during a total solar eclipse. Through his spectroscopic analysis, he was able to identify it as the previously unknown element Helium.
Interestingly, both scientists discovered the same element simultaneously in different parts of India. This is a testament to the fact that science knows no borders, and breakthroughs can coincide in other parts of the world.