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‘Stars should henceforth register themselves’: astrophotography at the early Lick Observatory


According to articles and books published at the end of the nineteenth century, the introduction of photography to astronomy was one of the most notable events in the discipline in a period chock full of important inventions and amazing discoveries. Edward Holden, director of the Lick Observatory in California, between 1887 and 1898, was rapturous about the promise of photography: it would simplify astronomical observation, increase the reliability of data and produce permanent records of the heavens untainted by distraction, ill discipline or bias. This would happen, he argued, because of the mechanical virtues of the camera:

It does not tire, as the eye does, and refuse to pay attention for more than a small fraction of a section, but it will faithfully record every ray of light that falls upon it even for hours and finally it will produce its automatic register [ctdot ] [that] can be measured, if necessary, again and again. The permanence of the records is of the greatest importance, and so far as we know it is complete [ctdot ] We can hand down to our successors a picture of the sky, locked in a box.

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Encyclopaedia Britannica, 310 South Michigan, Chicago, IL 60604, USA.
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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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