Bernard Ferdinand Lyot

Bernard Ferdinand Lyot


Date of Birth
February 17, 1897
Date of Death
April 2, 1952

After studying engineering at l’École Supérieure d'Électricité in Paris, Bernard Lyot assisted the physicist Alfred Pérot at l'École Polytechnique. During this period he also studied mathematics, physics, and chemistry at the University of Paris. From 1920 to 1952 he worked at the Meudon Observatory, which became part of the Paris Observatory in 1926. There he was encouraged by its director, Henri Deslandres. An expert in optics and an ingenious inventor, Lyot constructed a polariscope of unprecedented sensitivity to investigate the polarization of light reflected from the planets. Making many observations at the Pic du Midi Observatory, he found that the lunar surface behaves like volcanic dust and that Mars has sandstorms, and he investigated the atmospheres of the other planets. Starting in 1929 he improved his polarimeter and developed an optical system that eliminated scattered light to create the coronagraph, a device which allows observation of the solar corona without an eclipse. By 1931 he was obtaining photographs of the corona and its spectrum. He developed monochromatic polarizing filters with transmission only one angstrom wide for his solar studies. He found new spectral lines in the corona, and he made the first motion pictures of solar prominences in 1935 [a better version compiled later]. Lyot died while returning from an eclipse expedition to Sudan.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Wilson, Ralph E., PASP 59, 53-58 (1947).

Other awards

French Academy of Sciences, Lalande Medal, 1928.
Société Astronomique de France, Janssen Prize, 1932.
Franklin Institute, Potts medal, 1942.
National Academy of Sciences, Henry Draper Medal, 1951
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1939, presented by H.C. Plummer, MNRAS 99, 538-40 (1939).

Biographical materials

D’Azambuja, L., “l’Oeuvre de Bernard Lyot,” l’Astronomie 66, 265-277 (1952).
Bitterman, Jay, Lake County Astronomical Society
Charbonneau, Paul, Great Moments in the History of Solar Physics
Club Astronomique du Val de Loir [in French]
Baum, Richard, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 718-19.
de Broglie, Louis, Notice sur la vie et l’oeuvre de Bernard Lyot; lecture faite en la seance annuelle des prix du 8 decembre 1969 (Palais de l’Institut, Paris, 1969).
Dollfus, A., “Bernard Lyot, l’Invention du Coronographe et l’Étude de la Couronne: Un Cinquantenaire,” l’Astronomie 97, 107-28 & 315-29 (1983).
Gros, Monique, “Bernard Lyot (1897-1952),” l’Astronomie 112, 8-12 (1998).
Le Coultre, M. F, Bernard Lyot et l’Astrophysique. Brochure, 1955.
Lévy, Jacques, Dictionary of Scientific Biography 8, 581-82.
l’Observatoire de Montréal, Bernard Lyot (1897-1952)
l’Observatoire de Paris Bibliotheque [in French].
Observatoire Midi-Pyrenees, Biographie de Bernard Lyot [in French].


Chevalier, A., Comptes Rendus 234, 1501-05 (1952).
Danjon, A., Ann. d’Astrophys. 15, 75-78 (1952).
Menzel, Donald H., Sky & Telescope 11, 193 (1952).
P[laskett], H.H., Observatory 72, 157-59 (1952).
Wilkins, H. Percy, Observatory 72, 241-42 (1952).
More obituaries


Département d’Astronomie Solaire de l’Observatoire de Paris Laboratoire de Physique du Soleil et de l’Héliosphère (several)
Pic du Midi (at the eyepiece of the Baillaud telescope in 1937)

Named after him

Minor Planet #2452 Lyot
Bernard Lyot Telescope, Pic du Midi
The Lyot Project, American Museum of Natural History


Papers, etc.

Lyot’s papers are at the Observatoire du Paris archives. There is some information about this collection at the AIP Center for History of Physics.

Other References: Historical

There is an extensive bibliography of works both about and by Lyot at as part of the online exhibit “Le fonds Bernard Lyot” at the Paris Observatory:

Charbonneau, Paul, “Great Moments in the History of Solar Physics”

Davoust, Emmanuel, “A Hundred Years of Science at the Pic du Midi Observatory” in Giles Novak & Randy Landsberg, eds., Astrophysics From Antarctica, ASP Conference Series, vol. 141 (Astron. Soc. Pacific, San Francisco, 1998), pp. 39-53.

Davoust, Emmanuel, l’Observatoire du Pic du Midi: Cent ans de vie et de science en haute montagne (CNRS editions, 2000)

Département d’Astronomie Solaire de l’Observatoire de Paris & Laboratoire de Physique du Soleil et de l’Héliosphère, “La Physique Solaire au Cours du Temps”

Dollfus, A., “Un pionnier de l’astronomie moderne. Bernard Lyot et le coronographe: la suite de l’œuvre,” l’Astronomie 97, 315-29 (1983).

Hufbauer, Karl, “Artificial Eclipses: Bernard Lyot and the Coronagraph, 1929-39,” Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 24, 2, 337-94 (1994).

Hufbauer, Karl & A. Dollfus, “Bernard Lyot: The Spirit of Innovation,” in Paul Kalas, ed., Proceedings of the Conference In the Spirit of Bernard Lyot: The Direct Detection of Planets and Circumstellar Disks in the 21st Century. June 04 - 08, 2007. University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA [abstract] [presentation].

Hufbauer, Karl, Exploring the Sun: Solar Science Since Galileo (Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1991).

Lyot, Bernard, Notice sur les Travaux Scientifiques de Bernard Lyot (1935).

NASA Sun-Earth Day Team, “Technology through Time Issue #45: Coronagraph”

Oppenheimer, Ben, The Lyot Project, “Coronagraphy”

Petit, Edison, “The Lyot Telescope and Monochromator,” Griffith Observer 17, ? (Sept. 1953).

Rondi, André & Sylvain, “Flammes du Soleil” [images and text from a film made in the 1950s at the Paris Observatory as a tribute to Lyot]
This site is an adjunct to the authors’ site on construction of a coronagraph:

Russell, Henry Norris, “The Eclipse, Bad Weather, and a New Way Out,” Scientific American 147, 338-39 (1932).

Russell, Henry Norris, “Artificial Eclipses: At Their Triennial Meeting the World’s Astronomers Witnessed the Amazing New Technique of Observing Solar Prominences and Corona without an Eclipse,” Scientific American 159, 240-41 (1938).

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Other References: Scientific

Lyot, B., Oeuvres, extracts from l'Astronomie, 1920-42 [This may not have been published, but it is in the Paris Observatory Library].

Fouche, Maurice, Bernard Lyot, Ernest Esclangon, & Carl Stormer, “La Perturbation Magnetique du 14 au 16 Mai, l'Aurore Boreale et les Taches du Soleil,” L'Astronomie 35, 225-37 (1921).

Lyot, Bernard, “Etude des surfaces planétaires par la polarisation,” Comptes Rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Sciences 177, 1015ff (1923). [A paper with the same title appeared in L’Astronomie 38, 102-04 (1924).]

Lyot, Bernard, “Polarization of the Moon and of the Planets Mars and Mercury,” Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Sciences 178, 1796-98 (1924). [reprinted with commentary in A Source Book in Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1900-1975, Kenneth R. Lang & Owen Gingerich, eds. (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1979), pp. 108-10.]

Lyot, Bernard, “Recherches sur la Polarisation de la Lumière des Planètes et de quelques Substances Terrestres,” doctoral thesis, Université de Paris, 1929.

Lyot, Bernard, “Recherches sur la polarisat de la lumière des planetes et de quelques substances terrestres,” Annales de l’Observatoire de Paris, Section de Meudon, 8, 1 (1929). English translation available as NASA TT F-187: Research on the Polarization of Light from Planets and from Some Terrestrial Substances (Office of Technical Services, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, 1964).

Lyot, Bernard, “Étude de la Couronne Solaire en dehors des Éclipses,” Zeitschrift für Astrophysik 5, 73-95(1932).

Lyot, Bernard, “The Study of the Solar Corona and Prominences without Eclipses (George Darwin Lecture, 1939),” MNRAS 99, 580-94 (1939).

Lyot, Bernard, “Le Filtre Monochromatique Polarisant et ses Applications en Physique Solaire,” Ann. d’Astrophys. 7, 31-79 (1944).

Lyot, Bernard, “Planetary and Solar Observations on the Pic du Midi in 1941, 1942, and 1943,” Ap.J. 101, 255-59 (1945).

Lyot Bernard, “Procédés permettant d'étudier les irrégularités d'une surface optique bien polie,” Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Sciences222, 765-68 (1946).

Lyot Bernard, “Une nouvelle méthode d'observation de la couronne solaire,” Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Sciences 231, 461-64 (1950).

Lyot, Bernard & Audoin Dollfus, “Etude spectroscopique de la rotation de la couronne solaire, ” Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Sciences 233,1529-32 (1951).

Lyot, Bernard, “L'aspect des Planètes au Pic du Midi dans une Lunette de 60 cm d’Puverture,” l’Astronomie 67, 3-21 (1953).

Aly, M.K., “Preliminary Note on Measures of Coronal Emission Lines Observed at Total Solar Eclipse, February 25, 1952, by B. Lyot and M.K. Aly, ” Ap.J. 122, 438-43 (1955).

Divan, Lucienne & Charlotte Pecker, “Étude des spectres pris par Bernard Lyot à l’éclipse de Khartoum du 28 février 1952. - I. Résultats expérimentaux,” Annales d’Astrophysique , 23, 541-66 (1960).

Pecker, Charlotte, “Étude des spectres pris par Bernard Lyot à l’éclipse de Khartoum du 28 février 1952. - II. étude d’une condensation coronale,” Annales d’Astrophysique 23, 764-87 (1960).

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Other Works: Popularizations, History, etc.

Lyot, Bernard, “Comment Construire Soi-Meme son Observatoire,” L’Astronomie 42, 417-32 (1928).

Lyot, Bernard, “The Study of the Solar Corona without an Eclipse,” JRASC 27, 225-34 (1933) and 27, 265-80 (1933) [translations by R.K. Marshall of l’Astronomie 45, 248 (1931) and 46, 272 (1932)].