The Father of Milky Way photography, Edward Emerson Barnard systematically photographed the Milky Way on what was the yet to be developed Mount Wilson in 1905. The images taken that year were to be published in A Photographic Atlas of Selected Regions of The Milky Way. This seminal work was a reference for decades and still provides inspiration to wide-field astrophotographers today.
Barnard recalls how the project got started.
made it possible to transport the Bruce telescope to Mount Wilson, where it was installed from
February until September, 1905, in a temporary wooden structure, from which the roof could be slid
off, giving an unbroken view of the sky. The altitude of the station was about 5,900 feet, above the
sea, and its latitude 34°13 . The main object of this expedition to Mount Wilson wasto secure
the best possible photographs of the Milky Way as far south as the latitude would permit."
|The Bruce Observatory with roll-off roof featuring the 10" Photographic Telescope in 1905.|
University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [ apf6-01621r], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
|Barnard at the helm of the Bruce instrument.|
Plate 27- The Great Sagittarius Star CloudJuly 6.815 1905
3 Hour 58 Minute exposure
My admiration of Barnard's work hearkens back to my younger days when I was starting out in astrophotography. Those then famous black and white images of the Milky Way were the stuff of dreams to a young astronomer wanting to explore the night sky. It seemed any photographic reference to the Milky Way's structure turned to Barnard's work as they were still the standard reference on the subject, in spite of other surveys such as POSS and POSS-II being more recent but much narrower photographic fields.
Guiding analog cameras under a dark sky and monitoring the guide star in a double cross-hair reticle eyepiece, making small corrections in the clock drive and for atmospherics reflects similarly what Barnard used for techniques. Manual guiding is something that adds to the experience as the pioneers such as Barnard used this laborious technique to get the job done. Making these images is so much more than shooting film to replicate the historical work, but the experiences under the night using very basic technology.
Further testing in 2012 revealed remarkable image capability of medium format film and camera system.
|Messier 8 Region @ 200mm|
|Southern Ophiuchus @ 200mm|
|The Scutum Star Cloud @ 200mm|
The 400mm f/4 medium format lens produces a similar field size (8x10 degrees) to Mount Wilson's Bruce Photographic Telescope. I was not to use glass plates 14x18 inches like the Bruce instrument used, but a relatively small piece of photographic film 2.25 x 2.75 inches in size.
|The 400mm f/4 "Mini-Bruce" Astrograph rides atop my classic 8" Meade|
I built a personal observatory, much like Barnard's 1905 Mount Wilson setup in 2003. It has good exposure to the southern sky, despite my 44.5 degree north Latitude. This gives me access to most of the sky Barnard had. Flanders Pond Observatory has been a useful photo-visual laboratory. Its showing its age and will be needing maintenance of replacement soon. If I can get just a few more years out of it!
Inside the roll off roof, the "Mini-Bruce" ready for action on a clear dark night.