The Role of Eclipses and European Observers in the Development of ‘Modern Astronomy’ in Thailand

  • Wayne Orchiston
  • Darunee Lingling Orchiston
  • Martin George
  • Boonrucksar Soonthornthum
  • Lars Gislén
  • Suzanne Débarbat
  • Matthieu Husson
Conference paper
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings book series (ASSSP, volume 54)


‘Modern astronomy’ was introduced to Siam (present-day Thailand) (Siam officially changed its name to Thailand in 1939) when the Belgian Jesuit missionary-astronomer Father Antoine Thomas carried out stellar and lunar eclipse observations during 1681 and 1682 in order to determine the latitude and longitude of Ayutthaya. Three years later a contingent of French Jesuit missionary astronomers observed a total lunar eclipse from Lop Buri, which marked the start of an intensive two-and-a-half year period of observational activity at Lop Buri under the sponsorship of King Narai. During this interval, a partial solar eclipse and two further lunar eclipses were observed from a number of different observing sites. Although a substantial astronomical observatory was constructed in Lop Buri and this was used by French Jesuit missionary-astronomers, ‘modern astronomy’ ended suddenly in 1688 when King Narai died and most Western missionary-astronomers were expelled from Siam.

‘Modern astronomy’ only re-emerged in Siam after a hiatus of almost 200 years when another royal supporter of astronomy, King Rama IV, invited French astronomers to observe the total solar eclipse of 18 August 1868 from Siam, and his son, King Rama V, hosted British astronomers during the 6 April 1875 total solar eclipse. Thailand’s romance with total solar eclipses continued during the 9 May 1929 solar eclipse when King Rama VII visited British and German astronomers based near Siam’s southern border, and this was the catalyst required for the birth of home-grown ‘modern astronomy’. Soon after, Siam’s first astronomy classes began at Chulalongkorn University, and in 1944 this university hosted Siam’s first professional astronomer when Rawee Bhavilai, a solar specialist, joined the Physics Department. The latest phase in the professionalisation of astronomy occurred in 2009 when the Government approval the formation of the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT).

In this paper we trace the critical roles that solar and lunar eclipses played in the emergence and final adoption of ‘modern astronomy’ in Thailand from 1682 through to the present day.



We wish to thank Visanu Euarchukiati (Bangkok, Thailand) for locating a copy of A.J. Irwin’s cadastral map of Lop Buri and making this available to us (so that we could prepare Fig. 4). Apart from the calculations for Tables 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9, which were performed by the third author of this paper, research on the seventeenth century eclipses was largely based on data gathered by the first two authors during a detailed literature survey and on three visits to Lop Buri and Ayutthaya in 2014 and 2015. We are grateful to staff from the Lop Buri City Hall, and the Department of Fine Arts at Kraisorm Siharat Pavilion (the ‘Water Reservoir Palace’ in Lop Buri) for their assistance. Finally, we wish to thank the King Prajadhipok Museum, Office of the National Research Council of Thailand, Observatoire de Marseille and the Royal Astronomical Society for kindly supplying Figs. 12, 17, 18, 22, 23 and 24.


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Copyright information

© Hindustan Book Agency 2018 and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wayne Orchiston
    • 1
    • 2
  • Darunee Lingling Orchiston
    • 3
  • Martin George
    • 3
  • Boonrucksar Soonthornthum
    • 1
  • Lars Gislén
    • 4
  • Suzanne Débarbat
    • 5
  • Matthieu Husson
    • 5
  1. 1.National Astronomical Research Institute of ThailandChiang MaiThailand
  2. 2.Centre for AstrophysicsUniversity of Southern QueenslandToowoombaAustralia
  3. 3.Astrophysics GroupUniversity of Southern QueenslandToowoombaAustralia
  4. 4.Lund UniversityHörbySweden
  5. 5.LERMA, Observatoire de ParisParisFrance

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