Reading Nature, Observing Science: Examining Material Practices in the Lick Observatory Archives and Kenneth S. Norris Papers

Case 3: Illustrating and Photographing the Cosmos

Illustrating the Cosmos

Click the above link to read more about this topic. The top shelf of case 3 displays a selection of astronomical illustrations from the Lick Observatory archives. Notably, the archives contain sketches and correspondence from famous astronomical illustrator Étienne Trouvelot, as well as illustrations created by astronomers at the Lick. Additionally, astronomers kept personal scrapbooks and copybooks, in which they recorded their observations both numerically and pictorially, using sketches, light distribution charts, and even vividly descriptive notes alongside measurement logs. Charles D. Perrine's copybook and Edward Holden's scrapbook are displayed in Case 1: In Relation to Nature

Did the ideas and images offered by artists like Trouvelot have an impact on the way astronomers at the Lick perceived the cosmos? Can astronomical illustrations count as factual data? Can objective observation be disentangled from aesthetic experience?  

Photographing the Cosmos 

Click the above link to read more about this topic. The middle and bottom shelves of case 3 display documents, images, and objects related to the early astrophotographic work of the Lick Observatory. While astronomers at the Lick spent much of their time studying bodies in the solar system, discovering many planetary satellites in the process, they focused on using their telescopes to photograph objects that are not visible to the naked eye, like nebulae and galaxies. In fact, several of these structures were not visible even through the telescope; many structures were discovered when their light was detected through the long exposures of the telescope's camera. N.B.: At the time, any distant, large grouping of stars was referred to as a "nebula"; many of these structure are now identified as galaxies.

Is it possible to obtain "objective" representations of distant celestial objects? How was the ideal of producing purely objective data filtered through the aesthetic concern to produce visually stunning photographs? How is our idea of what is real and what is not real in the cosmos--then, as now--a matter of aesthetic expectations, standards, and conventions of representation? 

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