Club Meeting 5 January 2017 (Photographic Technology in Astronomy)

This evening I gave a presentation on the history of photography and its relationship to astronomy, showing that the two subjects evolved very closely together. No sooner had photography been invented in the 19th century, astronomers began to capture images of the night sky. The Sun and Moon were the first subjects captured, but by the end of the 19th century we were able to capture images of faint stars and galaxies. The era of drawing what you saw through a telescope, which famously resulted in Giovanni Schiaparelli’s description of canals on Mars, was replaced by a more objective photographs of the sky. I showed how the Schmidt telescopes of the 20th century mapped the sky with dozens of thin, photographic plates. These gave way to digital sensors towards the end of the 20th century.

I showed how astronomical instruments are designed and built at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre of the Royal Observatory Edinburgh in a similar manner to the way manufacturers design and build photographic lenses. If you are buying an expensive lens from a manufacturer, ask to see the spot diagram!

Here are some sites where you can find out more information or obtain some of the latest and most spectacular images of the night sky:

Places to visit

What’s in the sky?

Telescopes and sky surveys

Where to find images

Astronomy data centres (where to find images of your favourite objects or areas of the sky)