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HomeContentsThemes > Astronomy

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In the 1830's in France and Great Britain there were close links between photographic developments and astronomy. In France Francois Arago (1786-1853) who was both a politician and an astronomer requested that Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) should take a photograph of the moon and he did in 1838 - and this is all the more remarkable as he did not announce his invention of photography until the following year.
 
In Great Britain the Astronomical Society of London was founded in 1820 and awarded a Royal Charter on 7 March 1831 to become the Royal Astronomical Society (Great Britain). Sir John Frederick William Herschel (1792-1871) was an early President of the society (1827-29, 1839-41, 1847-49) and had carried out experiments on fixing images - indeed it was he who first used the word photography in 1839 and was a correspondent with William Henry Fox Talbot the British inventor of photography.
 
Although the moon was the first celestial body to be photographed with John William Draper in the USA taking one of the earliest photographs in about 1839. Astronomers appreciated the immense value that photography could be for recording their findings and the speed at which research was carried out was bewildering.
  • On 8 July 1842 a partial solar eclipse was photographed by G.A. Majocchi of Milan.
  • In America, in 1843 John William Draper (1811-1882) put a Daguerreotype plate in a spectrum of the sun and discovered the ultra violet area. (Smithsonian, National Museum of American History, Division of Information Technology and Society, Photographic History Collection)
  • Léon Foucault (1819-1868) and Armand Hippolyte Fizeau (1819-1896) in April 1845 took 1/60 second exposure of the sun and it was sharp enough to see the sunspots. Three years earlier the French instrument maker Lerebours had taken a photograph of the sun but it wasn't clear.
  • Hermann Krone (1827-1916) took the first daguerreotype of a shooting star in 1848.
  • Alpha Lyrae was the first star photographed in July 1850.
  • 28 July 1851, a 24 second exposure Daguerrotype of total solar eclipse was taken in 1851 by Berkowski in Koenigsberg, East Prussia and Hermann Krone took one at the same time. Solar eclipses have continued to create interest and on 18 July 1860 Warren De La Rue (1815-1889) and George Biddell Airy (1801-1892), the British Astronomer Royal between 1835 to 1881, went on the first serious scientific expedition to record the solar eclipse at Rivabellosa in Spain. Warren De La Rue took 40 plates including one of totality and there is an album of the expedition in the library of the Royal Astronomical Society in London.
  • The first photograph of a nebula was one of the Orion nebula taken in September 1880 by Henry Draper, the son of John William Draper, on a silver bromide dry plate, he also carried out early photographic work on stellar spectra and spectrum analysis.
Early examples of photographic astronomy
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Donati's Comet 
1858
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Unidentified photographer/creator
Donati's Comet 
1858
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Warren De la Rue
The Moon (No. 2) 
[The Moon in Twelve Phases] 
n.d.
 
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Astronomy
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Dr. Jeonghee Rho (SSC/Caltech)
The Trifid Nebula dotted with glowing stellar incubator 
n.d.
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NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team, STScI, AURA
Stars in the Tarantula Nebula 
1999, 1 April
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NASA, Hubble Space Telescope
Stellar 
1995, 1 April
 
When the Hubble space telescope was launched into space on 25 April 1990 there was disappointment when the images came back being out of focus. The 1993 mission by Space Shuttle Endeavor installed an elegant fix and since then the images have been both clear and remarkable. As other space telescopes and improved analytical tools are developed we are entering galaxies of abstract patterns.
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Astronomers have traveled the world to observe celestial events such as lunar and solar eclipses, comets and the transit of Venus. Major expeditions have been funded by scientific bodies and the wealthy for hundreds of years.
 
  
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