The beads were first described by British astronomer Francis Baily. He was born in Berkshire in 1774 and helped found the Royal Astronomical Society. Baily was such an important figure at the Society that he was made President four times. Interestingly, astronomy began as a hobby for him. He originally worked at the London Stock Exchange and made so much money that he was able to retire early and devote his life to astronomy.
On May 15, 1836 Baily saw the beads of light that would bear his name during an annular eclipse of the Sun in Roxburghshire. An annular eclipse is when the shadow, or umbra, of the Moon doesn’t reach all the way to the Earth during an eclipse, and there’s a ring, or annulus, of light round the Moon. This happens when the Moon is a bit too far in its orbit to cover the Sun completely. Baily’s beads can be seen with this sort of an eclipse, sometimes as a complete, beautiful necklace, but not the diamond ring effect.
Baily was so awed by the event that his writing about it inspired other people to travel to see solar eclipses. Baily himself traveled to Pavia, an ancient college town in Lombardy, Italy, and on July 8, 1842 saw the beads again during a total eclipse of the Sun. He died two years later, on August 30, 1844.