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
- Public astronomy evenings at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh
- Kielder Observatory (dark sky site in Northumberland)
What’s in the sky?
- Heavens above – forecasts for aurorae, satellites and interesting events
- Space weather – forecasts for aurorae and sunspots, plus spectacular images
- Time and date – forecasts for sunrise, sunset, Moon phases and eclipses
- Sky and Telescope – astronomy news
- BBC Sky at Night – programme and magazine
Telescopes and sky surveys
- Palomar Schmidt Telescope
- UK Schmidt Telescope
- COSMOS and SuperCOSMOS plate scanning machines (now obsolete)
- Sloan Digital Sky Survey
- SuperWASP telescopes (8 wide-field cameras used in tandem to look for planets)
- Hubble Space Telescope
- VISTA Telescope (currently the word’s largest infrared camera)
- GAIA space observatory (with a billion pixel camera)
- James Webb Space Telescope
Where to find images
Astronomy data centres (where to find images of your favourite objects or areas of the sky)