Henri Chretien

by catcher Monday, July 23, 2012 10:50 PM

'The Man from the Oscars'

Born: 1st February 1879, Paris France
Died: 6th February 1956, Washington DC, USA

The French optician and astronomer, Henri Chretien holds the unique honour of being the only scientist to have been awarded a Hollywood 'Oscar' from the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science.  It was his  collaboration with the American astronomer, George Willis Ritchey, that led to the optical design which now bears their name and which is the basis of almost all of today’s new breed of ‘super telescopes’.

In 1910 in collaboration with George Willis Ritchey (18864-1945), an astronomer at the Mount Wilson Observatory,  they designed the now famous Ritchey-Chretien optical system affectionately known as the RC. However it would be a further seventeen years before even a small prototype of their design was completed - not in America, but in Paris, France. It was a modest affair with a primary mirror of only 19.9-inch (50cm) aperture and a ‘fast’ focal ratio of f6.8.

Testing of the first RC resulted in a mediocre performance due to an unstable mount and the poor 'seeing' of the Parisian suburbs. The quality of the images obtained were disappointing, which was not surprising given that an RC optical design only performs best when used with an accurate motor driven mount under a clear and transparent sky.

In 1954 Henri Chretien received a ‘Merit’ Oscar along with Earl Sponable, Sol Halperin, Lorin Grignon, Herbert Gragg, Carlton and W. Faulkner - all names now long forgotten: ‘For creating, developing and engineering the equipment, processes and techniques known as [20th Century Fox's] CinemaScope.’ The award was also shared with Fred Waller: ‘For designing and developing the multiple photographic and projection systems which culminated in Cinerama.’ 

He was the only astronomer ever to have received such an award.

To read more on his life and work read the eBook chapter on Henri Chretien or buy the eBook 'Catchers of the Light'. 

The First 'Ritchey-Chretien' Telescope, 19.9-inch aperture, c1930: Photograph courtesy of the Henri Chretien Archives

Buy the complete 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.