History of Astrophotography - Resources

by catcher Thursday, August 16, 2012 3:36 AM


History of Astrophotography

The Ultimate History of Astrophotography

by catcher Thursday, August 9, 2012 11:51 PM


Buy the eBook or Printed Book - at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.

Here are some recent comments made by those who have purchased the 'Catchers of the Light':

"What a unique book this is. Read and go with Dr. Hughes on a magical journey to the stars. How refreshing to read something so completely new and not get the feeling that you have read it all before. The author's painstaking research, knowledge and enthusiasm are really 'out of this world'. This is one of the best books of our time." - Jonathan Taylor, Brisbane, Australia.

"A fascinating insight into the subject of Astrophotography. It is amazing that a single person has been responsible for creating this magnificent and incredibly interesting book. If anyone wants a good decent book in their library then it should be this one."  - Dora Studd, Felixstowe, Suffolk, England.

"With its sleek and innovative presentation and thought provoking title this book has to be a winner. You know from the minute you turn the first page that it is something special. Read it, learn from it, but above all enjoy it." - Peter Ross, Cork, Ireland.

"These Hitherto forgotten and anonymous pioneers of Astrophotography have been resurrected by Dr Hughes to give them their rightful place in history. These are not fictitious characters invented by the author but actual people with hopes and aspirations to push their chosen subject into the future. A history book, a reference book, a story book. A classic." - Claire Ferguson, Edinburgh, Scotland

"This is a great book on a fascinating subject that has an appeal to a wide audience. Your format and style has made it not only accessible to as many of those as possible but has ensured also that each reader comes away with something new to think about with regards to the star watchers and the heavenly bodies themselves. So full of poetry and information, the book is not at all burdened as with an academic text. The short chapters add to the good flow and the personal information that you bring of your own love and experiences with Astrophotography help connect the reader to the subject in an intimate way." - Steve Seven, Harz, Germany

"Brilliant presentation on the art of astrophotography! This is an extremely well organized, erudite history, smoothly and beautifully written. I recommend this highly to anyone interested in astrophotography and to anyone who just wants to learn something new about a fascinating field.” – Professor Patricia Laster, USA.


History of Astrophotography

Digital Astrophotography

by catcher Monday, July 23, 2012 2:50 AM

The 'Catchers of the Light'

The CCD Chip has revolutionized modern Astrophotography beyond all recognition from the seemingly crude attempts made by the early pioneers of the 19th century to the magnificent coloured images of the modern digital camera.

As to what will happen in the next two centuries of Astrophotography is anybody’s guess, but whatever happens, nothing can take away the work of those described in the pages of this blog. They were the ‘Catchers of the Light’. 

Modern Amateur CCD Image of part of the Eastern Part of the Veil Nebula (NGC 6992) in Cygnus, by Gordon Haynes, taken on the 9th of January 2009, using a Takahashi BRC-250 and a Starlight XPress SXV-H36 CCD, total exposure 4 hours

Modern Amateur Astrophotography

The modern amateur Astrophotographer using only modest equipment to obtain images better than larger but outdated telescopes first appeared the persona of Eugen Von Gothard, a wealthy and talented scientist from Hereny in Hungary.

On the 1st of September 1886, Von Gothard took a photograph of the famous ‘Ring’ nebula (M57) in the constellation of Lyra using a ‘mass produced’ 10.25-inch reflector made by John Browning of London. His photograph clearly showed its faint 15th magnitude central star, a feat only possible visually by instruments much larger than his.

This photograph heralded the rise of the amateur in astronomical photography, who not only took high quality images, but ones which of scientific importance, all with the aid of affordable instruments with apertures of sizes bordering on the small. 

The appearance of Von Gothard’s photographs caused a supernova like effect on the astronomical community. Herman Carl Vogel, the Director of the Potsdam Observatory went so far as to express the opinion that the ‘photographs of Herr von Gothard’s taken with this comparatively small instrument show results which far surpass any obtained by eye observation with the largest telescope’.

The Rise of the Amateur

In the years to come Von Gothard was joined by other equally remarkable amateurs, like Alfred Rordame, a violinist from Salt Lake City, Utah, who photographed in 1921 features in the cloudy atmosphere of the planet Venus; or another violinist, the elusive

Marcel De Kerolyr (1873-1969) who took during the years 1929 to 1934 perhaps the finest pre-digital images of Deep Space Objects. De Kerolyr’s 1932 wide field image of the region surrounding the iconic ‘Horsehead’ nebula in Orion, obtained with an 80cm telescope is perhaps the leading contender for the title of ‘Greatest Astronomical Photograph' of all time.


However, the greatest advance of the amateur in Astrophotography came in the years which followed the invention of the Charge Coupled Device or CCD in 1969. In 1974 the first digital image of an astronomical object - the Full Moon was obtained with an 8-inch reflector and a CCD chip possessing a resolution of only 10,000 pixels.

In the 1990s the first amateur astronomical CCD cameras began to appear. These relatively primitive devices had pixel resolutions measured in the 100,000s, but nevertheless could be linked to a personal computer for image acquisition and processing functions.

Modern Amateur 'Research' Astronomical CCD Camera: Photograph courtesy of Santa Barbara Imaging Group

Budget 'Professional' Equipment

The coming of the twenty-first century saw even greater advances in amateur CCD technology, when the first budget cameras were introduced alongside research quality megapixel models for those with deeper pockets.

This seed change in CCD technology coupled with the availability of high quality telescopes of Schmidt-Cassegrain design, sturdy computer controlled mounts fitted with accurate GOTO/Tracking DCD Servo motors brought about a revolution that changed the practice of Astrophotography beyond all recognition.

The introduction of Personal computers with fast processor chips and large storage discs from the late 1990s onwards; which when used with sophisticated image acquisition and image processing software provided the amateur with additional and much needed essential resources.

 Modern Schmidt-Cassegrain GOTO Telescope: Photography by the Author

Modest Equipment

The modern amateur possessed of only modest equipment of the kind previously described, is now able to take images of the Moon, Planets, Comets, Star Clusters Nebulae and every other kind of object to be found in the heavens with a quality that the early pioneers of astronomical photography probably had never even dreamt was possible. The magnificence of these images was beyond even their pioneering comprehension and imagination.

What is even more remarkable is that these images are regularly taken on a daily basis, not by just one or two amateurs but thousands in every corner of the world. The images they capture are infinitely superior to those obtained in the 1970s by the ‘Great Reflectors’ atop the mountains of California using conventional photographic emulsion based glass plates, at a time when the ‘firstlight’ of a photon hit a CCD chip. 

The 'Horsehead' Nebula (B33) in Hydrogen Alpha Light, 4-inch WO FLT refractor, SBIG ST10E CCD, 2009; Photograph courtesy of Theodore Arampatzoglou


“The average amateur photographer doubtless takes a passing interest in the beauties of the night sky, and nearly every amateur astronomer of my acquaintance is a dabbler in photography. Many seem to be deterred from combining the two hobbies by the impression that nothing can be done without very elaborate and costly apparatus, an impression which the perusal of the average astronomical textbook does little to remove.

Yet photographs of comets, the Milky Way, etc., from which valuable scientific results have been deduced, have been secured with simple and inexpensive apparatus of a portable character.

One of our greatest living astronomers, Professor G. E. Hale, states, ‘The results of amateur observations may not only be useful—they may equal, or even surpass, the best products of the largest institutions’.”

Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939), from Astronomical Photography for Amateurs, 1921.

To read more on this subject read the eBook chapter on Modern Digital Astrophotography or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'.

Buy the eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.


History of Astrophotography

Astrographs: Photographic Telescopes

by catcher Monday, July 23, 2012 2:49 AM

'Anything Goes'

In the early years of astronomical photograph pioneers like John William Draper, Warren De La Rue and the Bonds of Harvard, William Cranch and his son George Phillips used whatever equipment they had, no matter whether it was suitable or not.

The 'Great Refractor'

Only in 1864 did the New York amateur scientist, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd create the first Astrograph - a telescope designed specifically with photography in mind. It would be many years before photographic refractors became used in a professional observatory.

At that time the ‘Great Observatories’ were more interested in claiming the title of owner of the ‘largest’ telescope rather than caring about whether it was the best or even less whether it was photographically corrected’. This ‘blinkered’ attitude effectively meant who had the biggest ‘Great Refractor’. Its rival - the reflector was considered the instrument of amateurs and cranks, despite it having achieved great success in the hands of Sir William Herschel and his son Sir John Herschel.

Those who held the purse strings often did not care about science but only their egos; and astronomers were often only too glad to receive the gift of a ‘Great Refractor’; and besides many even up to the end of the nineteenth century were not convinced of the advantages of photography over visual observations.

40-inch Yerkes Observatory Refractor: Photography courtesy of the University of Chicago Archives

'Aperture Fever'

As a consequence the nineteenth century was the age of the ‘Great Refractor’, many examples of which sprang up across the North American Continent and Europe, with every few years an even bigger one would appear under the Dome of this observatory or another, until it was supplanted by one elsewhere; 15-inch (1839), 18.5-inch (1862), 24.5-inch (1869), 26-inch (1873), 30-inch (1885), 30.3-inch (1887), 36-inch (1888), 40-inch (1897). It was a case of aperture fever bordering on scientific insanity. However there appeared a few voices of reason in the astronomical community who supported either the reflector which was better by design suited to photography, or the photographic refractor.

The 3rd Earl of Rosse

William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse (1800-1868) at his estate in Parsonstown (now Birr) built a series of ‘Great Reflectors’, culminating in the completion of his 72-inch ‘Leviathan’ in 1845. Using this instrument Parsons saw details in the objects known as ‘nebulae’ which the refractors could not see. In particular he observed that several exhibited a ‘spiral’ nature. Such nebulae were later to be found separate ‘Island Universes’ lying millions of light years beyond the boundaries of our own Milky Way star system.

The 72-inch 'Leviathan of Parsonstown', 2009: Photograph by the Author

'Photographic Refractors'

Edward Charles Pickering, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory, went against the norm of his fellow observatory heads - and believed in small photographic refractors as the best way forward for the new science of Astrophysics. In 1885 Pickering obtained $2000 from a grant provided by the Bache Fund of the American National Academy of Sciences for the purchase an 8-inch Photographic Refractor.

It was with this instrument that his younger brother William Henry Pickering took a photographic plate on the 6th of February 1888, on which Williamina Fleming found the dark nebula known as the ‘Horsehead’ - probably the most iconic of the all the wonders to be seen in the heavens. Furthermore he used this Astrograph and others to carry out useful science in the areas of stellar spectroscopy and photographic sky surveys.

The 'Carte du Ciel' Astrographs

With the instigation of the ill-fated ‘Carte du Ciel’ photographic sky mapping project in 1887, the appearance and use of photographic refractors bred like clones across the globe from Greenwich, to Paris, to Rome, to North Africa, to Australia and to South America; all made to the same specification based on a 13-inch aperture.

The 'Crossley' Reflector

The first nails in the coffins of the ‘Great Refractors’ had begun to appear.In 1898 the nails had begun to be hammered into the coffins when, James Edward Keeler and his assistant Charles Dillon Perrine began taking photographs with a 36-inch reflector of many well known Deep Space Objects. The images they obtained were of such magnificence that they made even the most sceptical of astronomers believe that the new era of the large silvered mirrored reflector had begun and the age of the ‘Great Refractor’ had come to an end.

The Reflector Cometh

So it proved to be when in 1908 a 60-inch reflector appeared atop Mount Wilson in California, followed nine years later by an even bigger one of 100-inch aperture next to it. Following the 1900 Paris exhibition when a refractor of 49-inch aperture made a final bow before being scrapped, no more ‘Great Refractors’ were built, save the 30-inch Thaw photographic refractor completed for the Allegheny Observatory, Pittsburgh in 1914.

In the years that followed many new ‘Great Reflectors’ appeared under the domes of the world’s observatories, whose designs were based on high quality optics, entirely suited to astronomical photography. Telescopes using the Schmidt and Ritchey-Chretien optical systems also began to slowly displace the conventional Newtonian/Cassegrain designs as adopted by the 200-inch Hale reflector on Mount Palomar.

 60-inch Reflector, Mount Wilson Observatory, 1908: Photograph courtesy of the Mount wilson Observatory

The 'Hubble'

On the 24th of April 1990 the ultimate Astrograph - the Hubble Space Telescope was launched into orbit above the Earth and with it a new chapter in the history of Astrophotography was opened. 

The 'Great Orion Nebula' (M42) - Hubble Space Telescope: Photograph courtesy of NASA


"But in ‘telescopic’ photography the conditions are quite different. The instrument is not designed for the purpose, and in refractors the actinic rays come to a different focus from the visual rays, so that the ground glass requires suitable adjustment. Focal lengths and apertures have to be determined, and suitable stops manufactured, by the photographer himself,and except for solar photographs, ordinary exposure tables in their usual form are useless. Fortunately, however, all the necessary information can be ascertained without difficulty..”

Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939), from Astronomical Photography for Amateurs, 1921.

To read more on this subject read the eBook chapter on Astrographs: Photographic Astronomical Telescopes or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'.

 Buy the eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.


History of Astrophotography

Photographic Sky Surveys

by catcher Monday, July 23, 2012 2:48 AM

A Woeful Tale

The story of the photographic mapping of the heavens is a woeful tale of failed attempts, over ambitious aims and misuse of valuable resources; and above all the wasted decades of effort on a project that was years ahead of its time and as a consequence lacked the necessary technology to succeed. In the end all became well with the introduction of the modern digital computer, searchable databases, mass storage devices and astrometric satellites.

Ice Age Star Map’, from a Cave at Lascaux, France, circa 14,500 BC

Mapping the Stars

It was not long after the first photographs of stars were obtained in the 1850s that astronomers such as George Phillips Bond and Lewis Morris Rutherfurd began thinking about mapping the stars with the aid of a camera. The operative word here is ‘thinking’. At that time the currently preferred wet collodion process could only obtain impressions of stars down to magnitude nine at best.

It was only following the introduction of mass produced Gelatino-Bromide ‘Ddy’ photographic plates in the late 1870s and early 1880s, which were capable of obtaining well defined images of stars as faint as the 15th magnitude that the technology had matured sufficiently enough for an adventurous pioneer to be able to make such an attempt.

The 'First Attempt'

During the period May to December 1885, the English amateur Isaac Roberts (1829-1904) had taken a number of images with his 20-inch Reflector of regions of the sky 2 x 1.5 degrees in area. His aim was to complete a photograph sky chart of that part of the heavens visible from his observing location, near Liverpool, England. He shortly afterwards abandoned what soon became clear a task that was best left to professional observatories with their far greater resources.

Cape Photographic Durchmusterung

The history of Photographic Sky Charts began well with the successful completion of the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung, a joint project between the Cape of Good Hope Observatory, South Africa and the University of Groningen. It was published between 1896 and 1900 and listed the positions and magnitudes for 454,875 stars down to about magnitude 10.2 in the Southern Hemisphere for Declinations from -18S to -90S.

The 'Carte du Ciel'

In the April of 1887 a congress was held in Paris at the instigation of Ernest Barthelemy Amédée Mouchez (1821-1892), Director of the Paris Observatory with a view to encourage the cooperation of overseas observatories in the production of a photographic chart of the entire sky - a ‘Carte du Ciel’ (CDC). It was attended by 58 astronomers representing observatories and institutions from 19 countries.

At the end of the Congress the delegates agreed in principle to photograph, catalogue and map the positions of millions of stars as faint as the 11th magnitude and ultimately to extend this to those of the 14th magnitude. It was a project doomed to fail from the very outset. Sadly, despite the best will in the world and lots of promises the work was dogged by delays and problems. The zones allocated to several observatories had to be given to others, as they had failed to even begin the work or were not able carry on because of political unrest or war. 

Astrographic Catalogue Plate: Image courtesy of the Royal Greenwich Observatory Archives


In 1900 the zones originally assigned to La Plata Observatory, Argentina were given to Cordoba, Argentina; whilst the zones originally assigned to the Rio de Janeiro Observatory, Brazil were given to Perth, Australia. In 1909, Hyderabad, India  was assigned part of the zones originally to be done by Santiago Observatory, Chile; and in 1920 it was assigned the remainder of those originally given to Santiago.

Following the end of the First World War the Potsdam observatory announced it could not continue with the project. Its zones were reassigned to Uccle, Belgium, Hyderabad and Oxford. An allied bomb in the Second World War destroyed virtually all of the 1226 plates taken at Potsdam. Only 406 plates were ever measured.

Carte du Ciel Astrograph, 1891: Photographycourtesy of the Cape of Good Hope Observatory


The project was a complete and utter shambles. In 1970 at the International Astronomical Union’s 14th General Assembly held in Brighton, England, it was finally acknowledged that after an interval of more than eighty years after its inception, the Carte du Ciel enterprise remained unachieved.

The Astrographic Catalogue part of the CDC project, containing stellar positions and magnitude down to the eleventh, were published between 1902 to 1964, and resulted in 254 printed volumes of printed data. The more ambitious Carte du Ciel Charts for stars down to magnitude 14, were never completed and only one Observatory, Greenwich ever published them.


On the 11th November 1949 whilst the CDC was struggling along in its final death throes, the technology which it so badly needed began to appear. On a mountain in San Diego County, California, 5570 feet (1700 metres) high, a telescope undreamed of in Ernest Mouchez’s day opened its ‘eyes’ to the night sky. It was about to expose the first plate in the modern era of photographic sky surveys.

A year previously, the 48-inch Schmidt Telescope (now known as the Samuel Oschin Telescope) at the Mount Palomar Observatory was completed after nearly ten years in the making. It was not really a telescope at all, but a camera, for it was built from the outset with no provision for an eyepiece.

It was at the time the ultimate Astrograph. The Schmidt optical design enabled photographs to be taken of the sky which were completely ‘flat’ with no distortion of the star images at the edges; which meant the whole of the plate could be used and not just the inner part as was the case with the CDC plates.

The Samuel Oschin telescope was put almost immediately to good use in 1949, when it began work on the National Geographic Society sponsored – Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (NGS-POSS I). It was completed in 1958, less than ten years after it began – a feat which was meant to be achieved by the CDC.

Not satisfied with this great success, a Second Palomar Observatory Sky Survey (POSS-II) was performed in the 1980s and 1990s that made use of better, ‘faster’ dry plate technology and an upgraded telescope.


In 1994 a digital photographic atlas of the entire sky in both hemispheres was completed, known as DSS I. For the northern sky, the Palomar Observatory Sky Surveys provided almost all of the source data. For the southern sky, images taken by the UK Schmidt Telescope at Anglo-Australian Observatory, were used. The publication of a digital version of these photographic collections has subsequently become known as the First Generation DSS.

In 1996, a more highly compressed version of the DSS was published by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific under the name ‘RealSky’. RealSky is searchable and includes software, which can be used to display any part of the sky up to one degree square, or find Deep Sky Objects (DSOs) which are included in the New General Catalogue (NGC).

Ten years later in 2006, the Second Generation DSS II was finished, and distributed on CDROM to partner institutions. Generally, the data are available through the websites of the partner institutions.

DSS Photographic Plate - 'Horsehead' Nebula: Photograph courtesy of Mount Palomar Observatory

HIPPARCOS and Redemption

The vast amount of effort invested in the CDC project looked for many years to have been a total and utter waste of time, only serving to keep busy those tasked with cleaning the dust that gathered on the tons of printed tomes it produced. But all is now forgiven, because this near century old star positional data has found itself to be of use, somewhat ironically in today’s world of satellites and digital computers - the very technology it lacked to succeed.

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Hipparcos space astrometry satellite launched in 1989 was tasked with the job of creating a ‘Carte du Ciel’ for the twenty-first century. As part of the mission it was found possible to combine old data from the CDC project with Hipparcos measurements to enable highly accurate proper motions to be derived for some 2.5 million stars.


In 2013 ESA plans to launch HIPPARCOS’s successor, GAIA – Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics. It derives its name from the Greek Goddess of Nature Gaia. Its capabilities go way beyond what HIPPARCOS achieved.  

The GAIA Astrometric Satellite: Image courtesy of ESA


“It will often happen that when a picture is token of a portion of the heavens with which the worker is unfamiliar, identification of the principal stars on the plate is exceedingly difficult. Photographic and visual magnitudes differ very considerably; the scale, too, is smaller than a naked-eye view, and 20 minutes exposure on the crowded portions of the Milky Way on a good night will secure thousands of star images, the result of which is often absolutely bewildering.

A reversed image..is also confusing when comparing with an atlas, or portrait lens photographs. A good plan is to put a mark on the edge of the plate which, when in position, will be at the top side of the camera. Then with a good star atlas...the principal stars can soon be identified from the central star on which the telescope was guided. Some practice may be needed, but generally, after a little concentration, the whole group or constellation seems to jump into view, and the proper S. and N. points can be marked on the edge of the plate.”

Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939), from Astronomical Photography for Amateurs, 1921.

To read more on this subject read the eBook chapter on Photographic Sky Surveys or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'.

Buy the eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.


History of Astrophotography

Photographic Astronomical Spectroscopy

by catcher Monday, July 23, 2012 2:03 AM

Photographic Spectra

The single most important use of Photography in astronomical research is in the field of Astronomical Spectroscopy.  It proved to be an invaluable tool not only for the study of the composition and origins of Stars, Nebulae and Galaxies, but more importantly, it was used to measure Galactic Redshifts; and was therefore able to put a ‘yardstick’ on the size of our universe. 

The Electromagnetic Spectrum


For over thirty years after John William Draper took his photograph of the Moon in 1840, the use of spectroscopy for astronomical research was done by visual observation and hand made drawings. Only in 1872 did his son, Henry Draper photograph for the first time the spectrum of a star, when he imaged Vega (Alpha Lyrae), using a 28-inch (72 cm) reflector and a quartz prism.


However by this date Astronomical Spectroscopy had been put on a firm scientific footing by others, and in particular most notably: Lewis Morris Rutherfurd (1816-1892), William Huggins (1824-1915) and the Jesuit Priest Pietro Angelo Secchi (1818-1878).

In 1862 Rutherfurd had published a paper in the American Journal of Science on the spectra of the moon, planets and stars. This was the first paper published on the subject since those of Bunsen and Kirchhoff, and continued the work begun by Joseph Von Fraunhofer in 1814. It included the first attempt at classifying stars based on their spectra. Two years earlier, the Italian astronomer Giovanni Battista Donati, had begun a series of observations on the spectra of the ‘fixed stars’, the results of which he published in 1862. The chief feature of Donati’s classification was his separation of the various stars according to their colours.

Secchi had begun work on classifying the spectra of stars based on their spectra in 1863. Three years later he had created three types now known as Secchi classes. he added a fourth the so called carbon stars in 1868. A fifth was added in 1877. Even as late as the 1890s a number of astronomers were still using his system.

Fraunhofer Spectrum of the Sun

The 'Father of Astronomical Spectroscopy'

Huggins who has been called the father of astronomical spectroscopy was not so much interested in the classification of stellar spectra but in determining whether a common set of chemical elements existed in the universe as they did on our Earth.

He began studying the spectra of the ‘fixed stars’ with this aim in mind with the chemist and neighbour William Allen Miller. In 1863 they published a paper entitled ‘On the lines in the Spectra of Some Fixed Stars’. This was followed by other papers on the spectra of various stars, which showed that each contained a selection of lines also visible in the Solar Spectrum. That same year they tried to photograph the spectra of the star Sirius, but failed.

A year later in 1864, Huggins made one of his greatest discoveries when he recorded the spectra of ‘Cat’s Eye Nebula’ (NGC 6543), a bright Planetary Nebula in Draco. Instead of a series of spectral lines he found only a single bright Emission line. He concluded that this was due to gas, thus proving that certain ‘nebulae’ were in fact gaseous and not made up of individual stars.

Draper Catalogue of Stellar Spectra

In 1882 Edward Charles Pickering, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory began a programme of astronomical spectroscopy using objective prisms. This type of setup enabled up to 200 stellar spectra to be captured on a single photographic plate. This work was continued under the auspices of the Henry Draper Memorial, a fund set up by the widow of Henry Draper to honour his work in the field of astronomical spectroscopy.

In 1890 the Draper Catalogue of Stellar Spectra is published by Edward Charles Pickering, which contains the photographic spectra of 10,351 stars, nearly all of them north of 25° south declination. In this work the spectrum of each star was classified according to a scheme developed by Williamina Fleming (1857-1911). In her system known as the ‘Draper Classification’, the letters A to Q (omitting J) were used to classify stellar spectra.

Fleming’s system was later modified by Annie Jump Cannon into the familiar Harvard Classification based on the spectral types: O, B, A, F, G, K and M, arranged according to the surface temperatures of the stars, such that those of Class O (blue-white stars) were the hottest and those of Class M (red stars) the coolest.

Harvard Classification of Stellar Spectra, 1890

The MKK Classification of Stellar Spectra

In 1943 a new system was introduced by the astronomers William Wilson Morgan (1906-1994) and Philip Childs Keenan (1908-2000), together with their photographic assistant, Edith M. Kellman (1911-2007).

The MKK system named after its authors, differed from that of Harvard’s in that it was a two dimensional system based on both temperature and luminosity, whilst the Harvard classification was based on surface temperature only. The MKK system was revised in 1953 and renamed the MK or Morgan-Keenan classification. This system is currently the accepted method for the classification of stellar spectra.


Perhaps the greatest and most widely known use of astronomical photographic spectroscopy is as a 'Yardstick' for measuring the size of the Universe. At Mount Wilson in the late 1920s, Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953) and Milton Lasell Humason (1891-1972) began a programme of work aimed at extending Hubble’s own measurements of galaxy distances based on Shapley’s Cepheid period-luminosity data and using Slipher’s galactic redshift measurements.

During the course of this work they discovered that there existed a roughly linear relationship now known as Hubble’s Law, between the distance of a galaxy and the value of its recessional redshift velocity. Although they were not the first to suspect that a relationship existed between ‘redshifts’ in a the spectra of external galaxies and distance, it was Hubble and Humason in 1929, who quantified it in mathematical form, drew a graph of it and proved conclusively of its existence by observational means.Extra-Galactic 'Redshifts', Milton Lasell Humason, 1936


“No reference has been made to the use of the prismatic camera or grating spectrograph, as these are beyond the limits of an elementary treatise.”

Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939), from Astronomical Photography for Amateurs, 1921.

To read more on this subject read the eBook chapter on Photographic Astronomical Spectroscopy or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'.

Buy the eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.


History of Astrophotography

Deep Space Astrophotography

by catcher Saturday, July 21, 2012 12:00 AM


Many a modern Astrophotographer having ‘cut his baby imaging teeth’ on the Moon and Sun, has experienced an irresistible urge to ‘have a go’ at Stellar Photography, perhaps even before attempting a planet or two.

So it was with the early pioneers, when on the evening of the 17th of July 1850, John Adams Whipple (1822-1891) and George Phillips Bond (1825-1865), obtained the very first photograph of a star, that of Alpha Lyrae, Vega, using the 15-inch (38cm) Harvard refractor. Its image was captured on a Daguerreotype plate with a 100 second exposure. The second magnitude star Castor (alpha Geminorum) was also photographed and represented the faintest star imaged at that time. Only in the following year of 1851, did Whipple ‘have a go’ at the planet Jupiter.

'The Bonds of Harvard'

Seven years later, G.P. Bond assisted by Whipple and his partner James Wallace Black began using the more sensitive wet collodion process to carry out further experiments in stellar photography. On the 27th of April 1857 they obtained a photograph of the double star Mizar (zeta Ursa Majoris) and its fourth magnitude companion Alcor (80 UMa) They also took images of the double-double star epsilon Lyrae and in doing so capture a star of the sixth magnitude, the faintest imaged at that time. 

Mizar-Alcor System, Ursa Major, George Phillips Bond, John Adams Whipple, James Wallace Black, Harvard 15-inch 'Great Refractor', 1857

'The Lawyer'

Bond and Whipple’s work on stellar photography was continued by the New York amateur scientist and lawyer, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd (1816-1892). During the years from 1858 to 1877, Rutherfurd took 664 collodion photographic plates of star groups and open clusters, including 54 of the Pleiades (1865-1874) and 23 of the Praesepe (M44) cluster (1865-1877). The faintest stars which appeared on his plates were of magnitude 9 at best. Rutherfurd’s images were obtained with an 11.25-inch ‘photographically corrected’ refractor - it was the very first Astrograph.

'Our Man in Cordoba'

Benjamin Apthorp Gould (1824-1896), the very first astronomer to be awarded a Doctorate in that subject, continued where Rutherfurd had left off. In a ten year period from 1872 to 1882, he and his assistants at the National Observatory of the Argentine at Cordoba took photographs of many of the well known open clusters visible from the southern hemisphere. He was also one of the first to make use of the increased sensitivity of the ‘dry’ photographic plate and managed to obtain images of stars as faint as the tenth magnitude.

'The Nebula Man'

The 30th of September 1880 marked one of the greatest milestones in the history of Astrophotography. On that date, Dr. Henry Draper (1837-1882), the son of the ‘First Astrophotographer’, John William Draper (1811-1882), using an 11.25-inch Alvan Clark photographic refractor obtained the very first photograph of a ‘Deep Space Object', when he imaged the ‘Great Orion’ Nebula (M42). His photograph taken with a ‘dry’ photographic plate and an exposure of 51 minutes became that night one of the most famous ever; and marked the beginning of Deep Space Astrophotography.

'Great Orion Nebula' (M42), Henry Draper, 11-inch refractor, 1882

Andrew Ainslie Common & Isaac Roberts

Henry Draper died two years later and was unable to continue the great work he had started in the field of Deep Space Astrophotography save to take two improved images of M42. His mantle was taken up by others, including Andrew Ainslie Common (1841-1903) and Isaac Roberts (1829-1904). Common was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society of London in 1884 for his astronomical photographs and in particular his image of the ‘Great Orion’ nebula taken on the 28th of February, the previous year. Isaac Roberts was one of the most prolific of all Astrophotographers, taking over two thousand photographic plates. It was his images of well known Deep Space Objects that were the first to show what many of them actually looked like.

'Great Andromeda Spiral ' (M31), Isaac Roberts, 20-inch reflector, 1888

Other 'Great Astrophotographers'

During the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the finest images of Deep Space Objects were obtained by four astronomers in particular - James Edward Keeler (1857-1900) and his assistant Charles Dillon Perrine at the Lick Observatory, using a 36-inch reflector made by Andrew Ainslie Common; George Willis Ritchey (1864-1945) using the 24-inch reflector of the Yerkes Observatory and later the 60-inch Mount Wilson reflector; and the little known Irish amateur William Edward Wilson (1851-1908), using a 24-inch reflector at his Observatory at Daramona.

'Wide Field Astrophotography'

In the field of ‘wide’ Astrophotography Edward Emerson Barnard (1857-1923) and his friend Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf (1863-1932) imaged supreme. During the years 1892 to 1895, Barnard obtained a series of magnificent images of Milky Way starfield and nebulae using the Lick Observatory’s Crocker Astrograph. He followed this up with his ‘Atlas of Selected Regions of the Milky Way’, published posthumously in 1927. The photographs contained in this great work were obtained with Bruce ‘Triple’ Astrograph of the Yerkes Observatory, many of which were actually taken from when the telescope was temporarily situated on Mount Wilson in California in 1904-1905.

Max Wolf at Heidelberg used his 6-inch Double Astrograph from 1891 and then later from 1900 the Observatory’s 16-inch Bruce Double Astrograph to take many magnificent photographs of Nebulae and regions of the Milky Way. It was he who independently discovered the ‘Horsehead’ nebula on a plate taken in 1891, thirteen years after Williamina Fleming first saw it. Wolf also named the famous emission nebula NGC 7000 after the American (North) continent.

The 'Milky Way' in Sagittarius, Edward Emerson Barnard, 6-inch 'Crocker' Astrograph, c1892

Marcel De Kerolyr - Forgotten Astrophotographer

It was to be a further three decades again before the photographs of Keeler, Ritchey, Wilson, Barnard and Wolf were surpassed in quality by the images of the now forgotten Astrophotographer, Marcel De Kerolyr (1873-1969), taken in the years from 1929 to 1934, using in the main the 80cm reflector of the Astrophotographic station of the Paris Observatory at Forcalquier, France.

'Cocoon' Nebula (IC 5146) in Cygnus, Marcel De Kerolyr, 1933, 80cm reflector


Stellar Photography - Here we are dealing with conditions entirely different...with objects often far beyond the limit of visibility to the unaided eye, and in the case of faint stars and nebulae, often away out of reach of average telescopes. For this class of work the ordinary visual form of telescope, whether reflector or refractor, as used by amateurs, is entirely unsuitable, and unless the worker has a good clock-driven stand, and is prepared to mount a reflector of focal aperture between f/4 and f/5 it is advisable to stick to doublet lenses.”

Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939), from Astronomical Photography for Amateurs, 1921.

To read more on this subject read the eBook chapter on Deep Space Astrophotography or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'.

Buy the eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.


History of Astrophotography

Solar System Astrophotography

by catcher Friday, July 20, 2012 4:08 AM

'Planets & Comets'

The successful imaging of the diverse set of objects contained in our Solar System represented the biggest challenge to date for the pioneers of nineteenth century Astrophotography.

The earliest attempts by John Adams Whipple (1822-1891) carried out in 1851 and 1857, at photographing a planet, even one the size of Jupiter met with what can at best be described as limited failure. The images obtained of Jupiter were so small as to require a magnifying glass to discern its familiar zones and belts. Other attempts by Warren De La Rue (1815-1889) who captured both Jupiter and Saturn in 1857 and Andrew Ainslie Common (1841-1903) with Jupiter alone in 1879 met with similar failure due to the size of the images obtained, which were only a millimetre or less across.

Comet Donati

It was not until 1858 that the first success came in photographing a body contained within our Solar System and even then it was not a planet, but ironically a much more difficult target - a Comet. On the 27th of September 1858, William Usherwood (1821-1915), a ‘wedding and baby’ photographer from Walton-on-the-Hill, Surrey, England imaged Donati’s Comet - head, tail and all using his jobbing portrait camera. This was a day before a failed attempt was made by George Phillips Bond, using the ‘Great Refractor’ at the Harvard College Observatory.

 The 'Great Comet' of 1882, David Gill, Cape of Good Hope Observatory

The Henry Brothers

Only in 1885-1886 did astronomers succeed in obtaining a large scale image of a planet. This was achieved by the two brothers Pierre Paul Henry (1848-1905) and Mathieu Prosper Henry (1849-1904) when they used a 33 cm (13 inch) photographic refractor at the Paris Observatory to image both Jupiter and Saturn. Their success was due to the use of a refractor of large focal ratio f10.4 and an enlarging lens of magnification x11. This event took place a full five years after Henry Draper had obtained his iconic photograph of the ‘Great Nebula’ in Orion - an object whose light took not minutes to reach us as is the case with a planet, but over 1300 years.

Jupiter and Saturn, Henry Brothers, 1885-1886

Brucia 323

The early years of Solar System Astrophotography were proving much more difficult than anyone could possibly have imagined. However further success came on the 22nd of December 1891 when the then German amateur, Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf (1863-1932), discovered asteroid No. 323 ‘Brucia’ from his observatory at Heidelberg. It was the first asteroid to be discovered photographically.

The 'Red' Planet

Not so successful were attempts by astronomers to photograph the Red planet, Mars. The story of these attempts represent without doubt the nadir or in more modern phraseology - the ‘pits’ of nineteenth Astrophotography. Not until the Martian images of Carl Otto Lampland and Earl Charles Slipher taken during the first decade of the twentieth century were the first detailed photographs obtained of the planet.

 The 'Red' planet Mars, Yerkes Observatory, 1910


In the November of 1885 that most transient of phenomena, the meteor or shooting star was seen for the first time as trail some 7mm long on a photographic plate taken by Ladislaus Weinek (1848-1913), the Director of the Klementium Observatory in Prague.


The German Otto Rudolf Martin Brendel (1862-1939) during an expedition to Bossekop in northern Norway with Otto Baschin in the winter of 1891-1892 to study the Northern Lights imaged this most beautiful of all of nature’s splendours. His photographs obtained in the January and February represented the first ever successful images of an Aurora.

The 'Earth's Twin'

The cloud shrouded planet Venus proved elusive in showing anything other than a blank face when observed visually or by photography. Only in the March of 1921, did an amateur from Salt Lake City, Utah, named alfred Rordame (1862-1931) obtain a photograph using his 16-inch Mellish reflector, which showed for the very first time markings in its atmosphere.

The 'Green Flash'

The so called ‘Green Flash’ seen as the sun rises or sets, is however the most elusive of all nature’s phenomena. A person can look for it their whole lifetime and never see it. I have looked almost every day for over ten years and still not glimpsed even a speck of green. It took until the September of 1925 before the French astronomer, Lucien Rudaux (1874-1947) obtained the first photograph of it, albeit in black and white.


Ironically the last planet to be photographed was our own world - the Earth; when a camera aboard a captured ‘German’ V2 Rocket; obtained on the 24th October 1946, the first ever photograph of our planet from Space.

The Earth from Space, 1946

Space Probes

The arrival of the age of the space probe in the 1960s marked the beginning of a new phase in Solar System Astrophotography. In 1964, the Mariner 4 spacecraft returned the first pictures of the Martian surface. They showed a cratered, seemingly dead world which largely changed the opinion of the scientific community on whether life existed on Mars, from a ‘maybe’ to a ‘probably not’ vote. Over the course of the decades which followed space probes went to fiery furnace world of the innermost planet, Mercury; landed on inhospitable toxic surface of Venus, roved around the red planet and travelled to the great gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn, then onto the ice giants that are Uranus and Neptune.

Dwarf Planet

A probe is even on its way now as I write these words to the now demoted ninth planet - Pluto and is due to arrive at the dwarf planet in the July of 2015. The images returned to Earth by these probes (and not forgetting the Hubble Space Telescope) represent the finest and most detailed ever captured of the planets, asteroids, comets and natural satellites that make up our Solar System.

Dwarf Planet Pluto, Hubble Space Telescope


The Planets - Very little useful work is possible with amateur equipment, and under the best circumstances the results will be far inferior to these obtained by visual observation even with a very small telescope...Unless a long focal length is available, the image of a planet is so very small and faint, that when sufficiently enlarged, the grain of the plate is so pronounced as to blot out all detail.”

Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939), from Astronomical Photography for Amateurs, 1921.

To read more on this subject read the eBook chapter on Solar System Astrophotography or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'.

Buy the eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.


History of Astrophotography

Solar Astrophotography

by catcher Friday, June 8, 2012 11:05 PM


“Curse the man who invented helium! Curse Pierre Jules César Janssen!” - Principal Skinner from an Episode of the Simpsons TV Series, speaking of the man who in 1868 was the first to discover a chemical element on another world - in the atmosphere of our Sun.

Early Efforts

The earliest extant large scale image of the Sun’s surface dates from the 2nd of April 1845 and was taken by the two French physicists, Armand Hippolyte Louis Fizeau (1819-1896) and Jean Bernhard Leon Foucault (1819-1868) from the Paris Observatory. However it is known that by the August of 1843, they had obtained ‘coin’ size images of the sun’s face which clearly showed the presence of spots.

Eclipse Photography

The first attempt to image an Eclipse of the Sun was made by the Italian physicist Gian Alessandro Majocchi from Milan on the 8th of July 1842, but he only succeeded in obtaining Daguerreotype photographs of the moments before and after totality. He also attempted to photograph the sun during Totality but his image unfortunately showed nothing. His photographs have not survived.

The first truly successful photograph of a Total Eclipse had to wait a further nine years before being taken. This meritorious event occured on the 28th July 1851 when a Daguerreotypist named Berkowski from Konigsberg in East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia) succeeded in capturing the moment of Totality. His photograph recorded the inner corona and several prominences. His first name is not known.

Over the course of the following decades astronomers and the Governments of their countries mounted many Eclipse expeditions to the far flung corners of their empires Their sole aim was to photograph the fleeting moments of totality. Most notably was the 1860 expedition to the village of Rivabellosa in Northern Spain, when on the 18th of July, Warren De La Rue (1815-1889) obtains two Wet Collodion photographs of Totality using the Kew Photoheliograph. The Kew Photoheliograph was the first telescope specifically built to photograph the Sun.

Total Eclipse, Berkowski, 1851

Photoheliographs & 'Revolvers'

The construction of the first Photoheliograph sparked an explosion in the construction of others of its kind, particularly by the English scientific instrument maker, John Henry Dallmeyer.

In the 1870s an extraordinary breed of solar photographic cameras known as ‘Revolvers’ began to appear. These remarkable instruments so called because of their apparent similarity in operation to the gun of the same name were an early forerunner of the Cine camera in that they took repeated images in quick succession to each other.

The most famous of these ‘Repeating Photographic Devices’ were those constructed for the French solar physicist, Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen (1824-1907). His device the ‘Revolver Photographique’ was built to capture the transit of the planet Venus across the face of the Sun, due to take place on the 9th of December 1874.

Other similar devices were constructed by Dallmeyer for use by a number of British expeditions sent to the four corners of the world to do the same thing. At that time Transits of Venus provided a rare opportunity for determining the Earth-Sun distance. This was in the days before radar and space probes. A remarkable fact regarding these expeditions is that as far as it known, despite thousands of ‘Revolver’ photographs being taken, not a single one has survived to this day.

Dallmeyer Photoheliograph, Greenwich Observatory


In 1890 the solar physicist, George Ellery Hale (1868-1938) invented an instrument known as the Spectroheliograph, which was able to take photographs of the Sun at a single wavelength of light. With the aid of the Spectroheliograph, the red solar prominences, could for the very first time be photographed without the need for a total eclipse of the Sun.

Hale Spectroheliograph, 1890

Solar Movies

The American astronomer, David Peck Todd (1855-1939) was without doubt the most unluckiest of people when it came to photographing a Total Solar Eclipse and in particular capturing the sun’s ‘pearly necklace’ known as the Corona. During the years 1887 to 1901, in the course of four separate eclipse expeditions, he failed to take a single image using his purpose built automated repeating photographic machines. In each instance he was ‘clouded out’. Only at the fifth attempt did he succeed during an eclipse expedition to Tripoli in Libya in 1905.

In 1914, Todd made another attempt to photograph a Total Eclipse with his new and improved automated equipment. However it ended in total and absolute failure. Not only did his equipment not arrive in Russia for the 21st of August, the date of the eclipse; but even worse the Danish scientist Dr. Nils Viktor Emmanuel Nordenmark (1867-1962) from his observing site at Solleftea in Sweden succeeded in taking the very first cine film of a total eclipse of the Sun. Todd’s equipment had now been rendered ‘out of date’ by the onset of the modern movie age!


In 1930 even the need for a total solar eclipse of the sun to photograph the peary white corona was rendered obsolete; with the invention of the Coronagraph by the French astronomer, Bernard Lyot (1897-1952). The Lyot Coronagraph, with the aid of a series of baffles and diaphragms removes the unwanted stray light, but at the same time keeps that which is required, and in doing so makes it possible to image only the edge of the solar disc and not its bright photosphere.


From the 1960s onwards with the coming of the space age, a number of satellites and probes have been used to study and image the Sun, including the hugely successful Solar and Heliospheric Observatory or SOHO for short. Following its launch in 1995 SOHO has sent back to us the most spectacular photographs ever taken of our Sun.


“In photographing the Sun through a telescope at the primary focus, as already mentioned the aperture should be stopped down to an equivalent of about f/64...: Slow lantern plates will be found best, and they must be carefully backed. Some form of fairly rapid shutter will be required. M. L. Rudeaux recommends a wide sheet of blackened card- board, with a slit about 1 1/3 ins. wide, which can be moved rapidly in front of the object glass. As the Sun’s direct rays are very penetrating, it is well to cover up the dark slide and carrier during exposure with a focussing cloth or piece of dark calico.”

Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939), from Astronomical Photography for Amateurs, 1921.


To read more go to the eBook on the Solar Astrophotography or buy the complete eBook 'Catchers of the Light' - A History of Astrophotography.

Coronal Holes, SOHO

Buy the eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.


History of Astrophotography

Lunar Astrophotography

by catcher Friday, June 8, 2012 6:03 AM


“A portion of the figure was very distinct,” declared the minutes of the meeting, “but owing to the motion of the Moon, the greater part was confused. The time occupied was twenty minutes, and the size of the figure was about one inch in diameter. Daguerre had attempted the same thing but did not succeed. This is the first time that anything like a distinct representation of the moon’s surface has been obtained.” Contemporary Description of John William Draper’s first Moon Photograph of 1840

Early Efforts

The first attempt at photographing an astronomical object was made by Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) in 1839 when he tried to image the Moon, but his efforts were met with failure. The following year, John William Draper (1811-1882), a Professor of Chemistry at New York University obtained the first successful image of the Moon, and in doing so earned himself title of the ‘First Astrophotographer’.

It was not until the 18th of December 1849 that the next photograph of the Moon was obtained by the Boston Daguerreotypist, John Adams Whipple (1822-1891), using the 15 inch ‘Great Refractor’ at Harvard College Observatory.

Two years later in 1851 he took a series of Lunar Daguerreotypes which became prize winning exhibits at the Great Exhibition held that year at the Crystal Palace, London. In the years that followed a number of astronomers including Warren De La Rue (1815-1889), Lewis Morris Rutherfurd (1816-1892) and Henry Draper (1837-1882)took photographs of the Moon of ever increasing quality and in much greater detail.

In 1852, De La Rue takes first wet collodion Images of the Moon with his 13 inch Reflector from his Observatory in Canonbury, Middlesex, which shows its surface in increased detail. Six years later he obtains the the first stereoscopic images of the moon from his new observatory at Cranford, Middlesex.

In 1863, Henry Draper begins taking photographs of the Moon with his 15 inch Reflector constructed by himself. These photographs were at the time the finest ever taken, until the work of Lewis Morris Rutherfurd two years later.

In 1865, the New York amateur scientist, Lewis Morris Rutherfurd, obtains excellent images of the Moon using a specially corrected photographic 11.25-inch (290mm) lens. His images were for many years the best ever taken, until the work of Pickering, Loewy and Puiseux.

John Adams Whipple, Gibbous Moon, 1852

Better Efforts

During the 1890s and 1900s images of the Moon were taken of sufficiently high quality and detail to form the basis of the earliest Photographic Atlases of the Moon.

In 1897, Edward Singleton Holden begins issuing in serial form the Lick Observatory Atlas of the Moon compiled by Ladislaus Weinek from photographs obtained at the Lick and Paris Observatories. Only 19 sheets of reproduced photographs out of the 60 originally intended were ever published; of low resolution and poor quality.

In 1903 the Harvard astronomer, William Henry Pickering (1858-1939) became the first to publish a complete photographic atlas of the Moon with the appearance of his: ‘The Moon –
A summary of the Existing Knowledge of our Satellite with a Complete Photographic Atlas’. His photographs were taken in an eight month period from 31st December 1900 to 31st August 1901 from Mandeville, Jamaica using a horizontal refractor of 12-inch aperture and 135 feet focal length. Pickering divided his atlas into sixteen areas, with a photographs taken of each area but under five differing illuminations.

Although the photographs he obtained were not of the highest, the fact that the same features were imaged during differing lunar phases was a very useful feature of the atlas. It is well known that lunar feature under differing illumination ‘take on’ very differing aspects and are often difficult to identify without photographic help.

Lewis Morris Ruthefurd, 'First Quarter' Moon, 1865

First 'True' Photographic Atlas

However the first true photographic atlas of the Moon was the work of Moritz Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre Henri Puiseux (1855-1928) of the Paris Observatory. In 1894 they took the first photograph of the Moon using the Observatory’s 23.6-inch Equatorial Coude Refractor that would be included in their monumental L’Atlas Photographique De La Lune published in 1910.

Their work was published in twelve parts from 1896 to 1910. Each part relates to a specific area of the moon, and contains high quality photographs of the region, as well as a description of the major lunar features, craters, mare, mountain ranges etc present. A general index of features was also published as the thirteenth part of the atlas.

Mare Imbrium, Maurice Loewy & Pierre Henri Puiseux, 1902


The photographs of Loewy and Puiseux were to remain unsurpassed in quality for the next fifty years until those taken by the Lunar Orbiter Probes in the 1960s, although Francis Gladheim Pease came very close with his images of 1919, taken with the 100-inch Hooker Telescope at Mount Wilson. In 1964, the Lunar Orbiter program was initiated, as a series of five unmanned lunar orbiter missions launched by the United States from 1966 through 1967. All five of the Lunar Orbiter missions were successful, and 99 percent of the Moon was mapped from photographs taken with a resolution of 60 metres or better.

The first three missions were dedicated to imaging 20 potential manned lunar landing sites, selected based on Earth-based observations. These were flown at low inclination orbits. The fourth and fifth missions were devoted to broader scientific objectives and were flown in high-altitude polar orbits. Lunar Orbiter 4 photographed the entire nearside and 9 percent% of the far side, and Lunar Orbiter 5 completed the far side coverage and acquired medium (20 m) and high (2 m) resolution images of 36 pre-selected areas.

In 1971 the images obtained from the Lunar Orbiters were used to create LOPAM – the Lunar Orbiter Photographic Atlas of the Moon compiled by David Bowker and J. Kenrick Hughes. This work is now considered to be the definitive reference manual on the global photographic coverage of the Moon.

LOPAM Image of the crater Clavius


“As the image of the Moon photographed with telescopes of the dimensions usually found in the hands of amateurs is small, even if amplifying lenses are used, the chief desideratum is to get a negative of extreme sharpness, which will admit of considerable subsequent enlargement.”

Henry Hayden Waters (1880-1939), from Astronomical Photography for Amateurs, 1921.

To read more go to the eBook on the Lunar Astrophotography or buy the complete eBook 'Catchers of the Light' - A History of Astrophotography.

Buy the eBook or Printed Book at the 'Catchers of the Light' shop.


History of Astrophotography

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Stefan Hughes began his career as a professional astronomer, gaining a 1st Class Honours degree in Astronomy from the University of Leicester in 1974 and his PhD four years later on the 'Resonance Orbits of Artificial Satellites due to Lunisolar Perturbations', which was published as a series of papers in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. After graduating he became a Research fellow in Astronomy, followed by a spell as a lecturer in Applied Mathematics at Queen Mary College, London. Then came a ten year long career as an IT Consultant. In 'mid life' he spent several years retraining as a Genealogist, Record Agent and Architectural Historian, which he practiced for a number of years before moving to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where for the past ten years he has been imaging the heavens, as well as researching and writing the 'Catchers of the Light' - A History of Astrophotography.