Title graphic for the exhibit: From Eyeballs to Electrons page title:

galaxy M51 Detail of Keeler's 1899 photograph of the "spiral nebula" M51.

James E. Keeler was another member of the original Lick staff who, like Barnard, made important contributions as both a visual and photographic observer. In his first years at Lick, he did groundbreaking work using a visual spectroscope of his own design on the 36-inch refractor to analyse the light of unusual stars and glowing nebulae.

Keeler left Lick in 1891 to become director of the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, returning seven years later as Lick's second director. While at Allegheny he had taught himself photography, and on his return to Mount Hamilton began making exposures with the observatory's newly acquired 36-inch Crossley reflector.

Keeler was drawn to the spiral nebulae, as they were then called, and the Crossley was well suited to recording them photographically. To bring out their faint features he took many long exposures of these then poorly understood objects. To Keeler's surprise, his plates revealed many fainter and presumably more distant spirals in the background. This was an enormously important discovery, showing that what we now know to be galaxies—vast, remote star systems like our Milky Way—are numerous and a major constituent of the universe. Keeler had pushed deeper into space than ever before. A more convincing demonstration of photography's power for astronomy could hardly be imagined. Sadly, Keeler's highly promising career was cut short in 1900 by his untimely death at the age of forty-two.

Click on the thumbnails below for more on the work of James E. Keeler. James E. Keeler James E. Keeler Keeler plate Photographic plate NGC 891 NGC 891, 1899