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

Creating the Images

The biggest challenge to producing images of the cosmos with the Great Lick Refractor and the Crossley telescope was the mechanics of guiding these very large telescopes. In his copybook, Charles Perrine wrote an early reflection on the merits of astrophotography, one page of which is displayed in the gallery above. He discusses the difficulty of capturing the light of nebulae, noting that the action of guiding the telescope often resulted in the loss of structural detail. To see the full article, click here. Barnard also discusses the difficulty of capturing light and the labor of the photographic process in his 1913 book Photographs of the Milky Way and of Comets.

Most of the images produced at the Lick were recorded as negatives on glass plates coated with photosensitive chemicals. After working through the night, astronomers often continued to work into the morning, developing the negatives they had created. They often found that the images were overexposed, underexposed, or blurry. Part of the drive toward objectivity at the Lick involved mechanization in order to reduce contact between the human and the telescope; astronomers quickly developed new technologies to automate the telescope's movement throughout the night.

We have in this archive only a few of the thousands of images created by Lick astronomers, as many were rejected. Many of the original glass negatives created with the telescopes are still housed on the grounds of the Lick Observatory.


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