This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Wish…Upon a Star

20080501KitheronasVega

July 17, 1850:  First Photograph of a Star

The first photograph of a star is taken at the Harvard Observatory. The star photographed was Vega in the Lyra constellation, the 2nd brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere.

Vega is the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, the fifth brightest star in the night sky and the second brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, after Arcturus. It is a relatively close star at only 25 light-years from Earth, and, together with Arcturus and Sirius, one of the most luminous stars in the Sun’s neighborhood.

Arcturus

Arcturus

Sirus

Sirus

Size comparison of Vega (left) to the Sun (right)

Size comparison of Vega (left) to the Sun (right)

lca1010

Click for larger view

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Between 1847 and 1852 Cranch Bond and pioneer photographer John Adams Whipple used the Great Refractor telescope at Harvard Observatory, to produce images of the moon that are remarkable in their clarity of detail and aesthetic power. This was the largest telescope in North America at that time, and their images of the moon took the prize for technical excellence in photography at the 1851 Great Exhibition at The Crystal Palace in London.

800px-Harvard-Observatory-1899

Harvard Observatory – 1899

Great Refractor at Harvard Observatory

Great Refractor at Harvard Observatory

On the night of July 16–17, 1850, Whipple and Bond made the first daguerreotype of a star (Vega).  No known copies exist today.

Earliest known surviving photograph of the Moon, a daguerreotype taken in 1851 by John Adams Whipple

Earliest known surviving photograph of the Moon, a daguerreotype taken in 1851 by John Adams Whipple

"View of the Moon," daguerreotype by John Adams Whipple. Image courtesy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Harvard College Observatory, Plate Stacks.

“View of the Moon,” daguerreotype by John Adams Whipple. Image courtesy of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Harvard College Observatory, Plate Stacks.

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JA WhippleJohn Adams Whipple (September 10, 1822 – April 10, 1891)was an American inventor and early photographer. He was the first in the United States to manufacture the chemicals used for daguerreotypes; he pioneered astronomical and night photography; he was a prize-winner for his extraordinary early photographs of the moon; and he was the first to produce images of stars other than the sun;  the star Vega and the Mizar-Alcor stellar sextuple system (which was thought to be a double star until 2009).

1857 wet collodion photographs of the double star Mizar and its fourth magnitude companion Alcor using the 15-inch (38 cm) ‘Great Harvard’ Refractor. This was the first successful attempt at photographing a double star and more importantly its fainter companion.

1857 wet collodion photographs of the double star Mizar and its fourth magnitude companion Alcor using the 15-inch (38 cm) ‘Great Harvard’ Refractor. This was the first successful attempt at photographing a double star and more importantly its fainter companion.

While a boy he was an ardent student of chemistry, and on the introduction of the daguerreotype process into the United States (1839–1840) he was the first to manufacture the necessary chemicals.

His health having become impaired through this work, he devoted his attention to photography. He made his first daguerreotype in the winter of 1840, “using a sun-glass for a lens, a candle box for a camera, and the handle of a silver spoon as a substitute for a plate.”

Over time he became a prominent daguerreotype portraitist in Boston. In addition to making portraits for the Whipple and Black studio, Whipple photographed important buildings in and around Boston, including the house occupied by General George Washington in 1775 and 1776 (photographed circa 1855, now in the Smithsonian).

J A Whipple Images

George Washington’s house taken by Whipple in 1855

George Washington’s house taken by Whipple in 1855

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Daniel Webster

Daniel Webster

Nathaniel Hawthorn

Nathaniel Hawthorn

Unknown - Behind the image is written "18 years old"

Unknown – Behind the image is written “18 years old”

 

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