Maurice Loewy & Pierre Henri Puiseux

by catcher Friday, July 20, 2012 3:36 AM

'The Celestial Mechanics'

Moritz (Maurice) Loewy
Born: 15th April 1833, Vienna, Austria
Died: 15th October 1907, Paris, France

Pierre Henri Puiseux
Born: 20th July 1855; Paris, France
Died: 28th September 1928; Paris, France

Moritz (Maurice) Loewy and Pierre Henri Puiseux both started their careers as Mathematicians; but ended up working together to do their finest work – the ‘Atlas Photographique de La Lune’. In its pages are some of the finest images of the Moon ever taken which were not surpassed until over half a century later, when in the 1960s the Lunar Orbiter Probes compiled a new photographic atlas of the Moon, known as LOPAM.

Moritz (Maurice) Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre Henri Puiseux (1855-1928) were brought up in two different worlds – one in Vienna, where Jews like Loewy and his family lived in perpetual fear; whilst Puiseux knew only of the peace of the mountains and the elegance of Mathematics. Yet these two men from these two very different backgrounds worked together at the Paris Observatory in the years from 1894 until 1910 to create one of the most wonderful Atlases ever produced.

The Atlas of Loewy and Puiseux, was not one of our Earth; yet it pictured a world that had seas, which you could not swim in; It had mountains too, but unlike the one’s Puiseux climbed, they had no snow; It saw no rain or clouds but had features called the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) and the Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds). Loewy and Puiseux took over 6000 photographs for their Atlas, choosing only the best 82 for the published version. Their Atlas also included text to accompany the photographs, which described in detail the most interesting of the features that were to be seen in its pages.

It was not an Atlas in the usual sense of the word, but a Photographic Atlas of the Moon – known as ‘L’Atlas Photographique de La Lune’, ‘Publie par L’Observatoire de Paris, Execute Par M.M. Loewy et M.P. Puiseux’.

Since its publication in its completed form in 1910, it remained for over fifty years the finest photographic atlas of the Moon. It was only in the 1960s with the launch of the USA’s Lunar Orbiter probes that an Atlas of the Moon was created that bettered it.

Sadly, the work of Loewy and Puiseux is all but forgotten, and copies of their great Atlas are to be found in only a handful of libraries and institutions across the world. Occasionally individual photographs come up for sale at auction and even rarer a complete edition.

To read more on their life and work read the eBook chapter on Maurice Loewy & Pierre Henri Puiseux or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.


'Rupes Recta' (Straight Wall) region of the Moon, Maurice Loewy & Pierre Henri Puiseux, 60cm refractor, 1898

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


Pioneers of Astrophotography

Marcel De Kerolyr

by catcher Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:26 PM

'The Greatest Astrophotographer' ?

Born 1873
Died 1969

We do not know for certain when Marcel De Kerolyr was born  According to Richardot, he died in 1969 in a nursing home on the Cote D’Azur, France, but of this we too cannot be certain. A search of the usual Genealogical sources reveals nothing of him or his family.

The International Genealogical Index does not have a single entry for the surname De Kerolyr or Kerolyr, nor do any of the large internet family history databases. Marcel De Kerolyr is a shadowy figure as ghostly and as difficult to capture as the nebulae he photographed. He does however, show himself through his work and his photographs. We unfortunately have to be content with this alone.

Today, Marcel De Kerolyr is almost forgotten, yet in the 1930s he was the most celebrated astronomical photographer of that time. His magnificent images adorned the pages of the leading astronomical journals and magazines during this period, including the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, L’Astronomie and the Astrophysical Journal.

It is a sad indictment on the Paris Observatory that it neither gave De Kerolyr an official position nor did it even bother to ensure that a fitting obituary was published given his outstanding contributions in the field of astronomical photography. He did not deserve such shabby treatment by those he had served so well.

He has a legitimate claim to the title of the 'Greatest Astrophotographer' who ever lived.

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on Marcel De Kerolyr or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.

'Horsehead' Nebula Region of Orion, Marcel De Kerolyr, 80cm Reflector, c1932

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Pioneers of Astrophotography

William Edward Wilson

by catcher Thursday, July 19, 2012 10:51 PM

'The Man from Daramona'

Born: 19th July 1851, Greenisland, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Died: 6th March 1908, Daramona House, Streete, County Westmeath, Ireland

William Edward Wilson was one of the greatest Deep Space Astrophotographers of his day; as well as a scientist who made valuable contributions in the field of Astrophysics. His ‘wide field’ photograph of the ‘Great Orion’ Nebula (M42) and the ‘Running Man’ Nebula NGC 1977 is still to this day one of the finest astronomical images ever taken.

The name William Edward Wilson is largely unknown today, but in his day he was recognized as one of the greatest Astrophotographers of his age, as well as an amateur astronomer of some note.

Although he had no formal education he was still able to carry out scientific research of the highest quality.

He was one of the first to measure the temperature of the surface of our Sun; and his value of just over 6500oC compares reasonably well with today’s accepted figure of around 5505C.

On the 11th of April 1895 Wilson together with George Fitzgerald and George Minchin made the first photometric determination of the brightness of stars. They obtained results for four first magnitude stars - Deneb (Alpha Cygni), Arcturus (Alpha Bootis), Vega (Alpha Lyrae) and Regulus (Alpha Leonis).

His wide field photographs taken in the 1890s of well known Deep Space Objects (DSOs) such as the ‘Great Orion Nebula’ (M42) and the ‘Pinwheel’ Galaxy (M33) in the constellation of Triangulum, were the finest of the day. At the time, only the images taken by the professional astronomers, James Edward Keeler and Charles Dillon Perrine at the Lick Observatory could be compared to those of Wilson.

Today his photographs, although they were taken over a century ago are still amongst the finest images of astronomical objects ever captured, whether on plate, film or CCD.

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on William Edward Wilson or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.

 'Dry' Plate Photograph of the 'Great Orion Nebula' (M42) and the 'Running Man' Nebula (NGC 1977), 1897

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


Pioneers of Astrophotography

Richard Leach Maddox

by catcher Tuesday, June 5, 2012 10:34 PM

'The Medical Man'

Born: 4th August [or 4th May] 1816, Bath, Somerset, England
Died: 11th May 1902, Portswood, near Southampton, Hampshire, England

In 1871, Richard Leach Maddox first published the use of Gelatino-Bromide to the create Dry Photographic Plates. It was this process which began the next revolution in Astrophotography. Its increased sensitivity over that of the Collodion process meant that images of Deep Space Objects (DSOs) could be obtained for the very first time, by pioneers such as Henry Draper, Isaac Roberts, William Edward Wilson, James Edward Keeler and others. It was later found out that many of these objects lie at distances millions of light years beyond the boundaries of our own insignificant ‘Milky Way’ star system.

During the whole history of Astrophotography, only three chemically based photographic processes have ever been used to any degree – the Daguerreotype, the Wet Collodion and the Gelatino-Bromide. Each in turn has spurred the development of astronomical photography forward and enabled astronomers to image fainter and more distant objects in space. Of the three the Gelatino-Bromide process was by far the most important of them all. Only the invention in 1969 of the CCD (Charge Coupled Device) had a greater impact on the use of photography for astronomical research.

On the 30th of September 1880 the New York Doctor, Henry Draper using a Gelatino-Bromide ‘Dry Plate’ imaged the ‘Great Orion Nebula’ (M42). This was the first photograph of any Deep Space Object (DSO) ever taken. It marked one of the great milestones in Astrophotography.

The earliest published account of the use of gelatine and silver bromide in photography was a paper published in the 8th September 1871 Issue of the British Journal of Photography, by Dr. Richard Leach Maddox (1816-1902), the son of a Tea Dealer from Bath, Somerset, England.

He later wrote modestly of his invention in a letter to the photographer William Jerome Harrison (1845-1908):

"…The world has been benefited, and I have been honoured with a gold medal and diploma by the Jurors’ Committee of the Inventions Exhibition. Do not for one moment suppose I ignore the work of other hands perfecting the gelatino-bromide process, and thus giving it its worldwide value in all departments of photography, especially that far reaching one of its adaptation to astronomical research. I am only too thankful to feel that I have been merely the stepping-stone upon which others have safely put their feet…"

Do not be fooled by this modesty, we as Astrophotographers owe much to Richard Leach Maddox, of whom remarkably little is known. Let us now tell his story and that of the Gelatino-Bromide process.

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on Richard Leach Maddox or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.

'Dry' Plate Photograph of the Spiral Galaxy M81 in Ursa Major, James E. Keeler, 1898

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


Pioneers of Astrophotography

Frederick Scott Archer

by catcher Tuesday, June 5, 2012 8:58 PM

'The Chemist'

Born: 30th August 1814; Hertford, Hertfordshire, England
Died: 1st May 1857; Bloomsbury, London, England

Frederick Scott Archer (FSA) was without doubt one of the great pioneers of early photography, whose name should without doubt stand near to, if not alongside the likes of Joseph Nicephore, Niepce, Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot.

The publication of his discovery in 1851 of the so called wet collodion process revolutionized photography, making it easier to obtain images with exposures of a few seconds only, and which also enabled multiple positive copies to be quickly made from the same glass negative plate; unlike the Daguerreotype process which produced a one off positive image on a silvered copper plate which could not be readily replicated. The Wet Collodion Plate was the preferred photographic process from its introduction in the early 1850s until the advent of the mass produced Dry Gelatin Plate in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

The importance of Archer’s work to Photography was recognized by Lady Margaret Huggins, when in her 1889 obituary of the great pioneering Astrophotographer Warren De La Rue she wrote of the Collodion Process:

"In 1851 Scott Archer and Dr. Diamond introduced the collodion process in practical form, and this finally prepared the way for such a worker as Mr. De La Rue; for the introduction of the collodion process was an event in photography second only in importance to the discovery by Daguerre in 1839."

Yet at the time of his death in 1857, although well respected by his photographic colleagues, he was largely unrecognised by the rest of the public at large; certainly unrewarded and definitely in impoverished circumstances. Even today he is not as well known as the other early photographic pioneers. The 150th Anniversary of his death in 2007 came and went largely unnoticed by the world, despite ample opportunity in the years since his death for historians to reassess his contribution to the development of photography.

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on Frederick Scott Archer, or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.

Frederick Scott Archer's Grave, Kensal Green Cemetery, London, Photograph Courtesy of Sean MacKenna

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


Pioneers of Astrophotography

Henry Draper

by catcher Tuesday, June 5, 2012 4:25 AM

'The Nebula Man'


Born: 7th March 1837, Prince Edward County, Virginia, USA.
Died: 20th November 1882; New York, USA

On the 30th of September 1880, the New York Doctor, Henry Draper used a Gelatino-Bromide Dry Photographic Plate and his 11-inch Alvan Clark Refractor to take his iconic image of the Great Orion Nebula (M42). It is now one of the most famous and important photographs of all time. In doing so he became the first person to successfully image a Nebula. At this moment Deep Space Astrophotography was truly born.

Henry Draper was destined from an early age to become a Medical Doctor like his father had before him. However, his father John William Draper had been no ordinary man. In 1840 when Henry was just three years old his father took a photograph which had astounded the world – it was of the Moon and the first ever permanent image of an astronomical body [1].

It was inevitable that one of his children at least should follow their father into the Astrophotography ‘Hall of Fame’. Henry Draper was such a child.

Henry Draper began like every other ‘newbie’ Astrophotographer - by taking images of the Moon. His photographs of the Moon were a little bit different – they were at the time amongst the finest ever taken; and brought him in 1864 to the attention of George Phillips Bond, the then Director of the Harvard Observatory and America’s leading authority on Astrophotography.

In a letter dated the 15th of November 1864, G. P. Bond gave the young Henry Draper great encouragement to continue with his promising efforts:

"Through the kindness of Mr. Folsom, I have received, in perfect condition, the magnificent photograph of the moon, with the accompanying memoir, which you have presented to the observatory. Please accept my best thanks for this fine specimen of your successful labors in celestial photography. You seem to have surrounded yourself with advantages quite unrivaled. Chief among them, I should reckon that of joining to your own knowledge of the theory of the chemical process involved, the fruit of your father’s long experience and profound researches…"

Henry Draper did just that - with a photograph, that like his father’s forty years earlier was of such importance that it astounded the world; and which subsequently became one of the most famous photographs ever taken.

In the early morning of the 30th September 1880, the New York Doctor, Henry Draper MD from his observatory at Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, took a photograph of the ‘Great Orion Nebula’ (M42), an object whose light had taken over 1300 years to reach him [3]. The light which formed the image on Draper’s photographic plate had started its journey, when the Prophet Mohammed was spreading the word of Islam and Ancient Rome was no longer ruled by Emperors, but by Barbarian tribes. It was an event that marked one of the greatest milestones in the history of Astrophotography.

Let us now tell the story of Henry Draper: Doctor, Civil War Surgeon, Astronomer and Photographer – one of the truly great pioneers of Astrophotography. We begin our narrative not in New York or the township of Hastings-on-Hudson, but in Prince Edward County, Virginia, where Henry Draper was born.

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on Henry Draper: or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.

'Great Orion Nebula' (M42), Henry Draper, 11.25-inch refractor, 30th of September 1880



Pioneers of Astrophotography

Warren De La Rue

by catcher Tuesday, June 5, 2012 4:04 AM

'The Stationery Man'

Born: 18th January 1815, St. Peters Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands
Died: 19th April 1889, Portland Place, London, England.

.The Channel Islander, Warren De La Rue was the ‘Foremost Celestial Photographer’ of his adopted country, England; who did his finest work in the years before the likes of Henry Draper, Isaac Roberts, Andrew Ainslie Common and Edward Emerson Barnard made their own great contributions. In 1857 he produced the design for the Kew Photoheliograph, the first telescope specifically built to photograph the Sun. In 1860 it was taken by De La Rue, to Northern Spain to successfully photograph the Solar Corona during the total eclipse which took place on the 18th of July that year.

Warren De La Rue was England’s first Astrophotographer. In 1851 during the ‘Great Exhibition’ held at the Crystal Palace in London, he saw Daguerreotypes of the Moon by the Boston Daguerreotypist, John Adams Whipple (1822-1891). The sight of these images of our nearest celestial neighbour was a turning point in his life, so much so that they inspired him to devote all his energies to replicate and improve upon them.

One year later he had done just that, as Lady Margaret Huggins later wrote:

"In 1852 Mr. De La Rue, working in his little garden at Canonbury with a 13-inch reflector and availing himself of the Collodion process, succeeded in obtaining a really excellent picture of the Moon; and to him therefore belongs the credit of first employing the Collodion process in celestial photography, as well as that of obtaining the first very valuable success in lunar photography."

In the years which followed he was to do even better, ultimately becoming England’s ‘Foremost Celestial Photographer’. All of this was made possible by the wealth gained from the family’s Stationery business, which gave De La Rue both the means and the time to achieve the great goal he had set.

It was however his work on the construction and subsequent use of the ‘Kew Photoheliograph’ – the first telescope built specifically to image the Sun - where his greatest legacy is to be found. 

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on Warren De La Rue: or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'.

Warren De La Rue's Kew Photoheliograph of 1857: Photography courtesy of the Science Museum Kensington, London

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


Pioneers of Astrophotography

John William Draper

by catcher Tuesday, June 5, 2012 3:44 AM

'The First Astrophotographer'

Born: 5th May 1811, St. Helens, Merseyside, Lancashire, England.
Died: 4th January 1882, Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester, New York, USA.

John William Draper is generally recognized as the father of photographic portraiture as well as being the ‘First Astrophotographer’. In 1840, he was the first person to successfully image an astronomical body, when he obtained a Dageuerreotype photograph of the Moon.

John William Draper knew from a very early age that he wanted to become a scientist; yet he became much more than he could ever have imagined. Not only did he realize his ambition of a career in Science, but he also became one of the great pioneers of the new Art of Photography and the very ‘First Astrophotographer’.

In early 1840 John William Draper obtained a clear Daguerreotype image of the Moon. It was the first time anybody had ever successfully obtained a photograph of any astronomical object. It was the beginning of Astrophotography and the first evidence that photography could be of great value as a serious tool for scientific study.

To understand how John William Draper, the son of an itinerant English preacher grew up to become an American citizen and one of the ‘Photographic Greats’; we must start as always at the beginning - not in New York State where he spent most of his life but in the town of St. Helens, Lancashire, England, in the early years of the nineteenth Century when its King was mad, its Regent was little better and a new world across the Atlantic Ocean was beckoning to many.

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on John William Draper: or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.

The Moon by John William Draper, 1840

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


Pioneers of Astrophotography

Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming

by catcher Tuesday, June 5, 2012 12:18 AM

'The Astronomer's Maid'


Born: 15th May 1857, Dundee, Angus (Forfarshire), Scotland.
Died: 21st May 1911, Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, USA

Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming will always be remembered by Astrophotographers for her discovery in 1888 of the ‘Horsehead’ Nebula, probably the most famous and iconic of all astronomical objects in the heavens. A remarkable achievement, considering that she had begun her astronomical career as the housekeeper of Edward Charles Pickering, the then Director of the Harvard College Observatory.

Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming never took a photograph of an astronomical object; indeed there is no evidence to suggest that she took a photograph of anything. Yet her place in the history of astrophotography is assured - because of a discovery she made – one for which modern Astrophotographers should both revere and revile her, for in almost equal measure.

For in 1888 she found on a photographic plate an object which is without doubt the most iconic and beautiful of all astronomical objects ever to be seen by human eyes – the famous ‘Horsehead’ Nebula. Let us now tell her story, which is one any author of fiction would be proud to write - of how a housemaid with no scientific training or qualifications became one of the world’s a greatest astronomers.

Her life begins not in the hallowed halls of Harvard College where she worked or amongst the stars of Orion where her ‘Horsehead’ lies, but in the streets of the ancient Scottish city of Dundee.

To read more on her life and work read the eBook chapter on Williamina Fleming: or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.

'Horsehead' Nebula, 8-inch Bache Astrograph, Harvard College Observatory, 6th of February 1888

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


Pioneers of Astrophotography

Isaac Roberts

by catcher Monday, June 4, 2012 10:42 PM

'The Welshman'

Born: 21st of January 1829, Groes, Denbighshire, Wales.
Died: 17th of July 1904, Crowborough, Sussex, England

Isaac Roberts was one of the great pioneers of Deep Space Astrophotography. His images of objects such as the Great Andromeda Spiral and the Pinwheel Galaxy in Triangulum are even to this day masterpieces, which many a modern imager would be proud to have taken. It was Roberts who showed for the very first time what many of these objects truly looked liked. He took at least 2485 photographic plates during the years 1883 to 1904.

Isaac Roberts was a Welshman all his life even though he spent the majority of it in England. He both spoke and wrote the language of his birth fluently. His family were also Welsh through and through, They had farmed the land around Denbigh for as long as anyone could remember. Yet Isaac Roberts was destined not to be a farmer like his father and his father before him. Instead he was to become one of the greatest pioneers of Astrophotography, whose images of the heavens astounded the world.

On the 30th of September 1880, the New York Doctor, Henry Draper (1837-1882) obtained a photograph of the ‘Great Orion’ Nebula (M42) and in doing so became the first person to successfully image a Deep Space Object (DSO). However despite the magnificence of this great achievement the nature of these ‘nebulae’ remained elusive and even their true appearance was in many cases unknown, appearing as mere smudges in the eyepieces of every telescope irrespective of its size.

From 1883 onwards until his death in 1904, Isaac Roberts began taking photographs of almost every well known Deep Space Object visible from his observing locations. In many cases he was the first person to image a particular object and as such it was his eyes which saw the fainter and more elusive of them as they truly are, ahead of any other person who had ever lived. His list of ‘firsts’ is truly impressive and includes such famous objects as - ‘Great Andromeda Spiral’ (M31), ‘Dumbbell Nebula’ (M27), ‘Great Hercules Cluster’ (M13), ‘Bodes Galaxy’ (M81) and ‘Sombrero Hat Galaxy’ (M104).

On the monument erected to his memory by his widow, Dorothea Klumpke (1861-1942) in Flaybrick Cemetery, Merseyside, England can be seen engravings of two of his favourite DSOs - the ‘California’ nebula (NGC 1499) and the ‘Great Andromeda Spiral’ (M31). At the time of his death in 1904, Roberts was aware that certain nebulae like NGC 1499 were made up of glowing gas whilst spiral nebulae such as M31 were composed of stars

However, what he did not know was that many of the ‘nebulae’ he captured were in fact separate ‘Island Universes’ lying millions of light years beyond the boundaries of our own Milky Way star system. It was Robert’s images of DSOs that were to be of great assistance in the long process which would ultimately lead to the understanding of their nature. This was Isaac Roberts’ legacy to Astronomy and was left to those who followed him, most notable of which would include the great Edwin Powell Hubble (1889-1953).

Let us now tell the story of his life which began amid the sheep, choirs and sermons of the Vale of Clwyd, Northern Wales in the years just before Queen Victoria ascended the throne...

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on Isaac Roberts: or buy the Book 'Catchers of the Light'.

The 'Great Andromeda Spiral' (M31) taken by Isaac Roberts in 1888, 20-inch reflector

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


Pioneers 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.