There’s a first for everything—and sometimes, when we’re lucky enough, it gets caught on film.
The first photograph of a black hole
Fifty years after astronomer John Wheeler coined the term “black hole” to describe extremely dense objects possessing such strong gravitational pull that even light cannot escape (the existence of which Einstein had first predicted 51 years before that), a team of scientists actually captured a black hole’s image on film. That was in 2017, but it took another two years for the image to make its way to the public—because photographing a black holeinvolved a worldwide network of radio telescopes from which all the data had to be strategically assembled into a cohesive whole. The photo helped scientists discover what is inside a black hole.
The first solar eclipse ever photographed
total solar eclipse (in which the position of the moon causes a total obstruction of the sun from somewhere on Earth) occurs somewhere on Earth about once every year or two, but the location from which any given solar eclipse is visible can be so remote that no human is present to see it. Nevertheless, a Victorian-age photographer managed to capture the first image of a total solar eclipse in July 1860, just over 20 years after the very first photograph of anything was ever taken. Now that’s progress.
First photo of an airplane in flight
Photos of airplanes flying are no big deal nowadays, but back in 1903, aviation was still so new that no one had ever captured an image of an airplane flying, let alone taking off. But that’s precisely what happened here at Kitty Hawk when Orville Wright arranged for this photo to be taken of the first controlled, sustained, and powered heavier-than-air flight.
The first aerial photo of Everest
The first aerial photograph of Mt. Everest’s summit was taken in April 1933 during another first: the first airplane flight over Mt. Everest. Many believe this photograph is dated April 3, 1933, but a nephew of the photographer and pilot of the plane from which the photograph was taken, writing for National Geographic, notes that the photos from April 3 didn’t come out. On April 16, 1933, they made another attempt and successfully returned with photos.
First photo of Earth from the moon
On August 23, 1966, humans were given their first opportunity to see what Earth looks like from the moon. The photo was taken robotically, by Lunar Orbiter 1 from a distance of about 236,000 miles. Fun fact: It wasn’t the first time Earth had been photographed from space; that happened in 1946 via a 35 mm camera strapped to a rocket that a group of scientists managed to launch 65 miles into space.
First color photo of Earth
Just as the first photograph of a black hole was accomplished through the assembly of disparate pieces of data from separate instruments, so too was the first color photograph of Earth. In 1967, two different satellites that had been launched months apart took photographs of the Earth, which were put together to create this first color image of Earth from space. We may have these incredible photos, but there are still plenty of bizarre mysteries about the universe that no one has solved.
First photo of a human on the moon
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon as well as the first human to take a photo while standing on the moon. But, alas, Armstrong was not the first human to be photographed on the moon. That distinction went to Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, who was the second human to walk on the moon but wasn’t holding the camera. Both men left footprints on the moon that are still clearly visible—check out these other spooky facts you never knew about the moon.
The first time a plane broke the sound barrier
The reason this photo looks unreal is that what it’s capturing had never ever been captured on film before: It’s the moment a Navy jet fighter plane crashed through the sound barrier. As the plane accelerated towards the speed of sound, shock waves caused a cloud to form, which the plane broke through upon reaching the speed of sound, according to the Acoustics Graduate Program at Penn State University.