The role of eclipses and european observers in the development of ‘modern astronomy’ in Thailand

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingPaper in conference proceeding


‘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.


  • Wayne Orchiston
  • Darunee Lingling Orchiston
  • Martin George
  • Boonrucksar Soonthornthum
  • Lars Gislén
  • Suzanne Débarbat
  • Matthieu Husson
External organisations
  • University of Southern Queensland
  • Laboratoire d'Études du Rayonnement et de la Matière en Astrophysique et Atmosphères (LERMA)
  • National Astronomical Research Institute Of Thailand (NARIT)
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Growth and Development of Astronomy and Astrophysics in India and the Asia-Pacific Region
Subtitle of host publicationICOA-9, 2016
EditorsWayne Orchiston, Aniket Sule, Mayank Vahia
Number of pages44
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-13-3645-4
ISBN (Print)9789811336447
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jun
Publication categoryResearch
Event9th International Conference on Oriental Astronomy, ICOA 2016 - Pune, India
Duration: 2016 Nov 152016 Nov 18

Publication series

NameAstrophysics and Space Science Proceedings
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
ISSN (Print)1570-6591


Conference9th International Conference on Oriental Astronomy, ICOA 2016