Timeline: 1861-1900

A History of Astrophotography - the Condensed Version: 1861-1900

Extracts from the 'Catchers of the Light' - a History of Astrophotography.

Part 1: 1800-1860

1861; James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879); demonstrates a colour photography system involving three black and white photographs, each taken through a red, green and blue filter. This process is the same used today by modern astrophotographers but now with specialised CCD cameras with electronic filter wheels containing LRGB filters.

1863; Henry Draper (1837-1882) 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.

1863; William Huggins & William Allem Miller attempted unsuccessfully to photograph the spectrum of the star Sirius.

1864; Lewis Morris Rutherfurd succeeded in creating an 11.25-inch objective lens for his existing telescope suitable designed specifically for photographic use. It was the very first Astrograph.

1864; the Collodio-Bromide process was published by William Blanchard Bolton (1848-1899) and Benjamin Jones Sayce (1837-1895). In their ‘dry collodion’ process a ready-made emulsion of Collodion and Silver Bromide was poured directly onto the glass plate (no sensitization step is necessary). The prepared plates can be kept for some time before deterioration sets. It was unfortunately less light sensitive than the wet collodion process.

1864; William Huggins records 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.

1865; Lewis Morris Rutherfurd in the period 1865 to 1877 takes several hundred collodion images of stars and clusters, including the famous Praesepe, Pleiades and Perseus Double Clusters.

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

1869; During the total eclipse of the sun which took place on the 12th of August 1869 at Shelbyville, Kentucky, USA, John Adams Whipple took the finest photographs to date of the solar corona.

1869; Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen (1824-1907) proposes the idea of a Spectroheliograph to take photographs of the sun at a single wavelength, but it was not perfected until the 1890s by George Ellery Hale and Henri Alexandre Deslandres, when images of the solar prominences could be seen without the need for a total eclipse of the Sun.

1871; Richard Leach Maddox (1816-1902), proposes the use of an emulsion of gelatin and silver bromide on a glass plate, the so called ‘dry plate’ process. The dry plate gradually replaced the collodion process as the preferred photographic method, particularly after the introduction of mass produced gelatin glass plates, during the late 1870s and early 1880s.

1871; Henry Davis, the photographic assistant of Lord (James Ludovic) Lindsay (1847–1913) photographs the total eclipse of the Sun on the 12th December, at Baikul, South Canara, India. A 4-inch Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear Lens of 33-inch focal length was used, exposures varied from 5 to 40 seconds.

1872; Benjamin Apthorp Gould (1824-1896) takes a series of collodion images of many well known southern hemisphere Open Clusters from Cordoba, Argentina during a ten year period from 1872 to 1882.

1872; Henry Draper photographs for the first time the spectrum of a star – Vega (Alpha Lyrae), using a 28-inch (72 cm) reflector and a quartz prism.

1873; Warren De La Rue's Kew Photoheliograph is moved to the Greenwich Observatory, taking its first photograph in the April of the following year. It remained in use until 1882.

1874; Five Photoheliographs constructed by John Henry Dallmeyer were used by five British expeditions to image the transit of Venus. Station A: Luxor; Station B: Honolulu; Station C: Rodriguez, Mauritius; Station D; Burnham, Christchurch, NZ; Station E: Kerguelen (Indian Ocean).

1874; 'Photographic Revolvers' constructed by John Henry Dallmeyer were used by the five British expeditions to photograph the transit of Venus. Each of the parties were equipped with a Dallmeyer photoheliographs to which were attached the ‘Revolvers’.

1874; two Janssen 'Photographic Revolvers' modified by Warren De La Rue were used by photograph the transit of Venus. The larger of two ‘Revolvers’ were attached to a Dallmeyer photoheliograph and used by James Tennant at Roorkee, India. The smaller ‘Revolver’ was intended to be used at Melbourne.

1876; Jules Janssen presents his first solar photographs obtained at the Meudon Astrophysical Observatory to the French Academy of Sciences (10 to 70 cm diameter). These wet collodion images were obtained using a 140 mm refractor with exposures from 1/500 to 1/6000 of a second.

1876; Henry Draper obtain first photographic spectrum of the planet Venus in the October of 1876, using both a 12-inch refractor and a 28-inch reflector.

1877; The photographic supply and manufacturing company Wratten & Wainwright begin the commercial production of ‘dry’ photographic plates from their offices at No. 38 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, London.

1877; Jules Janssen obtains a number of solar photographs which show the granulation of the solar photosphere for the first time.

1879; Andrew Ainslie Common (1841-1903) photographs Jupiter using his 36-inch (91 cm) reflector of 17.4 feet (5.30 m) focal length, using exposures of 1 second. The images were only 1 mm wide.

1879; Benjamin Apthorp Gould took some photographs of the ‘Red’ planet Mars from Cordoba in 1879, but were considered by him to be of little scientific importance.

1880; Henry Draper obtains the first photograph of the Orion nebula (M 42) on the 30th of September, 1880 with a 51 minute exposure. Draper used an 11-inch (28cm) Alvan Clark refractor supported by an equatorial mount also built by Clark. Draper obtains two other photographs of M42 in the March of 1881 and the 14th of March 1882 with longer exposure times of 104 minutes and 137 minutes respectively. He made use of the ‘faster’ dry Gelatino-Bromide plates.

1881; It used to be thought that Janssen (1824-1907) was the first person to obtain a successful image of a comet, when he photographed the comet Tebbutt 1881 III, the 1st of July 1881. Janssen used a dry plate and an exposure of 30 minutes with a 50 cm f/3 instrument. However it is now known that this honour goes to William Usherwood.

1882; David Gill (1843-1914) obtains excellent photographs of Comet 1882 II at the Cape Observatory, South Africa during the October and November of 1882, using a portrait lens of 2½ -inch aperture.

1882; Edward Charles Pickering (1846-1919) starts a programme of photographic astronomical spectroscopy at the Harvard observatory using objective prisms. This setup enabled Pickering to obtain up to 200 stellar spectra on a single photographic plate.

1882; William Huggins photographs of the spectrum of a nebula, the ‘Great Orion Nebula’ (M42) for the first time, with a 45 minute exposure on the 7th March 1882.

1883; Andrew Ainslie Common photographs the Orion nebula using his 91 cm reflector on the 30th of January. The 37 minute exposure reveals stars that were not detected visually, for the first time. On the 28th of February that year, Common obtains a ‘deeper’ image with an exposure of 60 minutes.

1885; Edward Charles, Pickering the Director of the Harvard College Observatory obtained $2000 from a grant provided by the Bache Fund of the American National Academy of Sciences to purchase an 8-inch Photographic Refractor;

1885; Isaac Roberts (1829-1904) obtains a long series of photographs from 1885 to 1897 and publishes two volumes of them, the first in 1893 and the second in 1899, both with the same title ‘Photographs of Stars, Star Clusters and Nebulae’.

1885; David Gill and Jacobus Cornelius Kapetyn begin work on the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung (CPD), whose aim is to obtain a sky survey of southern hemisphere stars down to about magnitude 10 for declinations -18 S to -90 S. On its completion it would prove be the first sky survey to be successfully undertaken using photographic means. Gill was responsible for taking the photographs from the Cape of Good Hope Observatory and Kapetyn undertook the task of measuring the photographic plates.

1885; During the period 1885 to 1886 the Henry Brothers: Pierre Paul Henry (1848-1905) and Mathieu Prosper Henry (1849-1903), photograph the major planets Jupiter and Saturn using the Paris observatory’s 33 cm refractor (3.43 m focal length). These were the first truly successful Planetary images.

1885; On the 27th of November 1885, Ladislaus Weinek (1848-1913) takes the first photograph of a meteor from the Klementium Observatory in Prague.

1886; Eugen Van Gothard (1857-1909) photographs the Ring Nebula (M57) in Lyra for the first on the 1st of September 1886, and detects its central star, using a 10-inch reflector.

1886; In about 1886, the Henry Brothers: Pierre Paul Henry and Mathieu Prosper Henry obtain a photograph of the planet Neptune.

1886; On the 30th of December 1886 from his observatory at Maghull, Lancashire, England, Isaac Roberts photographs an asteroid (No. 80 Sappho) for the first time.

1887; William Edward Wilson (1851-1908); over a twelve year long period, from 1887 to 1899 takes photographs of well known Deep Space Objects from his Observatory at Daramona, Streete, Westmeath, Ireland. His photographs are practically unknown today.

1887; Ernest Barthelemy Amédée Mouchez (1821-1892) hosts the first meeting of the ‘Carte du Ciel’ Project at the Paris observatory. Eighteen observatories agreed to cooperate and to adopt, as standard, the design of a 13-inch (33 cm) photographic refractor, produced by the Henry brothers.

1888; The first known photograph of the iconic ‘Horsehead’ nebula (Barnard 33) was obtained by William Henry Pickering using the 8-inch Bache Astrograph of Harvard Observatory. The nebula was first noticed by Williamina Paton Stevens Fleming (1857-1911) when she examined Plate B2312 taken on the 6th February 1888 with a 90 minute exposure.

1888; William Henry Pickering (1858-1939) using Harvard’s 13-inch Boyden Refractor takes some of the earliest photographs of Mars from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

1888; William Huggins and Margaret Lindsay Murray obtain the first photographic spectrum of the Andromeda Nebula, M31.

1889; Albert Taylor (1865-1930), assistant to Andrew Ainslie Common, obtains photographs of the planet Uranus, with a 60-inch reflector at Ealing, Middlesex, which distinctly show a disc.

1890; In about 1890 George Ellery Hale invents the Spectroheliograph. It is an instrument used to obtain a photographic image of the Sun at a single wavelength of light - a monochromatic image. The wavelength is usually chosen to coincide with the spectral wavelength of one of the chemical elements present in the Sun. Light at the wavelength of the Hydrogen Alpha line is often used. Henri Alexandre Deslandres independently builds a Spectroheliograph shortly after Hale.

1890; William Henry Pickering using Harvard’s 13-inch Boyden Refractor takes a series of successful photographs of Mars from Mount Wilson, California.

1890; The Draper Catalogue of Photographic Stellar Spectra is published by Edward Charles Pickering. It contains the photographic spectra of 10,351 stars, nearly all of them north of 25° south declination.

1891; Maximilian Franz Joseph Cornelius Wolf (1863-1932) on the 22nd of December 1891, discovered asteroid No. 323 ‘Brucia’ from his observatory at Heidelberg, Germany. It was the first asteroid to be discovered photographically.

1892; The first successful photograph of an Aurora is obtained by Otto Rudolf Martin Brendel (1862-1939), on the 2nd January 1892 from Bossekop, Norway.

1892; Hermann Carl Vogel (1841-1907)publishes his photographic measurements of the radial velocities of 51 stars. The average line of sight velocity was found to be 16.5 km/s much smaller than previously thought.

1894; Maurice (Moritz) Loewy (1833-1907) and Pierre Henri Puiseux (1855-1928) takes their first image of the Moon using the 23.6-inch (60cm) ‘Grand Equatorial Coude’ of the Paris Observatory, which will be included in their ‘Atlas Photographique de la Lune’, published in 12 parts over the period 1896 to 1910.

1894; The first Isochromatic plate (sensitive to all wavelengths except deep red) was produced commercially in 1894 by the brothers Auguste Lumiere (1862-1954) and Louis Lumiere (1864-1948) at their factory in Lyon, France. Although they claimed it to be Panchromatic, i.e. sensitive to all colours of light, this was not the case, it was more akin to an Isochromatic plate.

1896; Between 1896 and 1900, David Gill and Jacobus Cornelius Kapetyn’s efforts resulted in the publication of the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung, which listed the positions and magnitudes for 454,875 stars down to about magnitude 10.2 in the Southern Hemisphere.

1898; James Edward Keeler (1857-1900) starts a photographic survey of nebulae at the Lick Observatory (Mount Hamilton, California). Keeler used Andrew Common’s 91cm reflector that was donated to the observatory by Edward Crossley (1841-1905) in 1895.

1899; The first photographic discovery of a natural satellite of another planet was made on the 17th of March 1899, when William Henry Pickering (1858-1939) finds Phoebe, Saturn’s ninth satellite.

1899; The German astronomer Julius Scheiner (1858-1913) photographs the spectrum of the spiral ‘Great Andromeda Spiral’ Galaxy (M31) with an exposure of over 7 hours, proving that it was composed of individual stars.

Part 3: 1901-1940 coming soon.

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About the author

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.