Catchers of the Light Books


"This book is truly a magnum opus, a labour of love, and a great work of scholarship. It is authoritative, detailed, thorough, superbly illustrated, well referenced, and all-encompassing. There is no nook or cranny of the history of astronomical photography or its proponents that has not been investigated, noted, and embellished with a relevant image. It is worth every single cent of its price. It is an essential addition to every astronomy library. Anyone with even a vague interest in the development of astrophysics will need to have this book to hand; it is a vital and reliable starting place for any historical research into the last two centuries of astronomical endeavour." Professor David W. Hughes, 'Observatory' magazine, February 2015. Read Full Review Here:

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Recent Blogs have included a piece on William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse and how his story is that of a Real 'Downton Abbey', the Story of God's astronomer - Father Pietro Angelo Secchi, Ten Famous Astronomical Photographs and the Leprechaun's Guide to Digital Photography - the true story of how the CCD camera was invented.

C.3 - Leviathan Lord of Birr Castle - eBook
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C.3 - Leviathan Lord of Birr Castle - eBook
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eBook C.3
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William Clere Leonard Brendan Parsons, the present Earl of Rosse and the 7th of his line, is like his Great-Great Grandfather, William Parsons - passionate about Astronomy and the important role that his ancestral home at Birr Castle has played in man’s quest to understand the nature of the Universe in which we all live. It was during his time as custodian of his ancestors’ estate that the Great 72-inch Reflector known as the ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’ was restored after many years of neglect. It was with this instrument that William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse (1800-1867) first saw in 1845, with his own eyes the true nature of the objects known as nebulae - revealing that many had a spiral structure. It was to be a further 78 years before Edwin Powell Hubble revealed that the ‘Spirals’ were in fact ‘Island Universes’ lying millions of Light Years behind the boundaries of our own Milky Way star system.

7th Earl of Rosse


William Parsons (1800-1867), the 3rd Earl of Rosse was the ‘Great Telescope’ Builder, whose 72-inch Reflector was for almost three quarters of a century the largest telescope in the world. He did something no one else had done before or since - created almost single handedly a telescope of such a size and use it to ‘afford us some insight into the construction of the material universe’. He made drawings of Deep Space Objects (DSOs) which showed for the very first time what many of them truly looked like. It was he who first discovered with his ‘Leviathan of Parsonstown’ the ‘Spiral’ nature of certain nebulae; an event which marked a milestone in mankind’s quest to understand the Universe in which our Earth is a mere speck in its vast expanse.


The 3rd Earl of Rosse was born into a time when the amateur could and did make invaluable contributions to science. As a man of learning, possessed of a considerable fortune and great estates in both England and Ireland, he was ideally placed to fulfil his raison d’etre - to build a series of telescopes each larger than the last, so that he might look at the night sky and try to understand what he saw.


In order to do so he had to overcome the many obstacles - technical, logistical and financial of which you will shortly learn. How to raise the great fortune needed to build them?; What type of telescope should he build, should he go with the convention of the day and use lenses, or go back to great mirrored instruments of Sir William Herschel, then considered out dated and impracticable?; How could he construct one of a size larger than any other?; And how would it perform in a country that is renowned for its bad weather. The Irish have a saying about their weather, they have four seasons just like anywhere else, only theirs are all wet!


Born of an ancient line, it was his duty and obligation to preserve it - firstly by providing a male heir and not least to obtain the not inconsiderable monies necessary to maintain, and if possible add to the family’s landed estates. This he achieved in the time honoured fashion of marrying a rich heiress; preferably one whose father was dead (or soon to be), and thus gaining immediate control of her wealth. The question of love did not in the vast majority of cases warrant even the slightest consideration.


We have now set the scene; and can now begin our true tale of adventure, adversity and triumph, set against a backdrop of a privileged aristocracy, great personal tragedy, famine, scientific breakthroughs and an eventual lingering death.


This is the story of William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse - the ‘Leviathan Lord of Birr Castle’.

An extract can be downloaded from here: Leviathan Lord Extract



No. Pages: 126;

No. Photographs/Illustrations: 119

No. Notes/References: 79

Comprehensive Index: 7 Pages

C.3 - Leviathan Lord of Birr Castle - eBook
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First Published Biography of the great telescope builder, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse and his wife, the photographer, Mary Field of Heaton Hall, Yorkshire.

Dr. 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.

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