Henry Draper and early astronomical uses of photography

In the mid 1800's, the discovery of photographic techniques was quickly adapted and combined with astronomy to yield the biggest technological advance since the discovery of the telescope. By 1900, new emulsions and improved cameras allowed astronomers to capture images of celestial objects which were thousands of times fainter than could be observed through the same telescope with the some person's eye as the detector. However, this has not always been the main benefit of photography. Before 1880 the available techniques and materials did not allow those pioneering photographers to capture images any fainter than the eye could see; yet even those crude, early photographs provide permanent (mostly permanent?) records of celestial objects that do not rely on how well the observer at the time could draw and/or describe the appearance.

As early as 1863, Henry Draper (1837-1882), an American physician and amateur scientist, experimented with photographs of the Moon and, in August 1872, was the first person to photograph the spectrum of a star (Vega). Draper died at the height of his career, after taking ill during an observing expedition in the Rocky Mountains. His family established a memorial fund to support photographic research in astronomy, which was used to support a massive project carried out at Harvard Observatory to obtain and analyze spectra from stars throughout our Galaxy. Between 1886 and 1897, the Henry Draper Memorial Survey at Harvard carried out a systematic photographic study of stellar spectra over the entire sky.