Photography and astronomy have been inseparable ever since the Daguerre
process was presented by scientist Dominique François Jean Arago to the French
Academy, l'Académie Francaise, in 1839. It is difficult to take photographs in the dark
on insensitive plates, so the early results were poor. Daguerre had tried unsuccessfully to
make a daguerreotype of the moon in the year he announced the process. A little later, in
1840, John William Draper made daguerreotypes of the moon.
Galileo had observed sun spots, but only photography made it possible to record
sun's corona for a detailed study. Many astronomers at this time were "gentlemen
scientists". Warren De La Rue (1815-1889) was among those who helped make
photography one of astronomy's greatest tools. His father Thomas made money by
printing it (money). De La Rue became one of the largest financial printers in the world, printing
national currencies, travelers checks, stamps and passports. Warren De la Rue
photographed the moon using wet collodion plates with his 13-inch telescope during
1850s. A link had been observed between sun spots and geomagnetic activity, and he
started keeping a daily photographic record of the solar disk in 1858. He is remembered
above all for his photographs of the total solar eclipse of 1860 in Spain.
First wet plate
photographs of an eclipse were taken in 1860 by American astronomer Charles A.
Young. These confirmed the transient visual impressions of the solar corona: "that an
uninterrupted stratum of prominence-matter encompasses the sun on all sides, forming a
reservoir from which gigantic jets issue, and into which they subside". Arthur Eddington
observed the total solar eclipse of 29 May 1919 and "proved" that light is bent by the
force of gravity as predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.
Excerpt from the book "Images and Astronomy" by Kirit J. Sheth; used with permission