Telescopes from the Ground Up

Telescope technology joins forces with photography

It was 1843, and a dazzling new comet was blazing through the sky. In Cambridge, Mass., the public turned to Harvard University for information. But Harvard didn’t have a telescope. Citizens and Harvard officials, now well aware of what they were missing, pooled their resources, bought some land, and hired two experts to build them a great telescope. Though the comet had come and gone, they were sure to be prepared for future cosmic events.

Get to the root of it

In 1847, they ended up with an excellent achromatic refractor with a 15-inch lens, which quickly began accumulating discoveries. It would be the largest telescope in America for 20 years.

Tick tock

Observatory Director William Cranch Bond, a watchmaker, brought his facility one of its greatest triumphs. Using clockwork to keep the telescope steadily focused on the Moon as it crossed the sky, he cast the Moon’s image on a photographic plate. After several seconds ticked by, he had the first picture of the Moon taken by a telescope.

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Great Refractors
Illustration of the Harvard 15 inch refractor.Enlarge picture
The Harvard
15-inch Refractor
Year completed: 1847
Telescope type: Refractor
Light collector: Glass lenses
Lens diameter: 15 inches
(38 cm)
Light observed: Visible
Discovery Highlights:
  • First telescope to make photographic images of the Moon and the bright star, Vega.