Astrophotography: The Glass Plate Collection / by Lia Halloran

My research trip out to Harvard to source the history and visuals for 'Your Body is A Space That Sees'  landed me in one of the most unique archives one could imagine, the Stellar Glass Plate Collection. The unique collection founded by Edward Pickering in 1880 is the largest of its kind on earth with over half a million glass plates cataloging the night sky. Housed in endless rows of metal cabinets resides the plates, most of which are 8x11 inches, and 11x14 inches, each protected by a paper jacket with notations from various astronomers, including the group of women known as the Harvard Computers. Pickering was eager to use astrophotography to capture images of the entire night sky so that spectra, galaxies, stars and nebula could be studied more carefully and to eliminate hand drawn mages previously made by astronomers. One of the most incredible assets to the collection is a daguerreotype of the moon from 1848, the very first photographic image of the night sky which I was lucky enough to view when carefully unwrapped by the curator Alison Doane.

The project DASCH is slowly digitizing the collection which you can viewed here

The digitization of the Harvard Astronomical Plate Collection will provide the capability for systematic study of the sky on 100 year time scales.

11x14 inch Plate of the Magellanic Clouds

11x14 inch Plate of the Magellanic Clouds

Alison Doane, Curator of Astronomical Photographs

Alison Doane, Curator of Astronomical Photographs

Linday Smith, Curatorial and Research Support

Linday Smith, Curatorial and Research Support

notations on the non-emulsion side of the plates

notations on the non-emulsion side of the plates

Alison Doane with an early lunar daguerreotype

Alison Doane with an early lunar daguerreotype

Rows and rows of cabinets housing the 500,000+ astro plates

Rows and rows of cabinets housing the 500,000+ astro plates