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Moon Shadows

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January 2, 1839: First Photo of the Moon

On this day in 1839 French photographer Louis Daguerre made early daguerreotypes of the crescent moon, none of which survive today L  They were blurry and had no detail 😦  It was not long after that English scientist, chemist and historian John William Draper made the first detailed photograph of the full moon in 1840.

One of the first ever pictures of the moon taken by Dr J W Draper in 1840

One of the first ever pictures of the moon taken by Dr J W Draper in 1840

As Greenwich Village History relates, John W. Draper, a colleague of innovator Samuel F. B. Morse at NYU, used the newly arrived daguerreotype process to capture the first known existing photographs of the moon from a rooftop observatory in Greenwich Village.

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In the winter of 1839-1840 Draper captured the photographs of the moon, launching the age of astronomical photography. For his first effort, Draper made moon’s rays pass by the reflection of a heliostat through a lens four inches in diameter and fifteen feet in focus. His allotted exposure time of 30 minutes, however, proved too long, resulting in a partially blackened, overexposed plate. Draper succeeded in capturing another image of a seventeen-day-old moon by using two lenses and exposing the plate for 45 minutes, resulting in a more distinct, detailed daguerreotype of the moon’s surface.

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Even though Daguerre made early daguerreotypes of the moon, Draper’s photos are considered the first astrophotography. In 1843 he made daguerreotypes which showed new features on the moon in the visible spectrum. In 1850 he was making photo-micrographs and engaged his then teenage son, Henry, into their production.

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