This Astrophysics photography pioneer that opened up our understanding of stellar space was born today in 1837. Now WE know em


Henry Draper was born March 7, 1837 in Prince Edward County, Virginia.

His father, John William Draper, was a chemistry professor at New York University.

In the winter of 1839, Henry’s father became the first person to photograph the moon through a telescope.

1863 Draper photo

1863 Draper photo

Henry’s maternal grandfather was the personal physician the the Emperor of Brazil.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Henry graduated from New York University School of Medicine at the age of 20.

Henry became a physician at Bellevue Hospital, later joining his father as a professor.

In 1867, he married wealthy socialite Anna Mary Palmer.



Henry shared his fathers passion for photographing the stars, becoming a pioneer in the use of astrophotography.


In 1872, Henry experimented with the stellar spectrum revealing absorption lines.

He learned that a spectral absorption line was a dark or bright line in an otherwise uniform and continuous spectrum, resulting from the deficiency or excess of photons in a narrow frequency range, compared with the nearby frequencies.

Henry became so engrossed in his research that he resigned as dean of medicine at NYU in 1873, in order to spend more time with astrophotography.

Henry directed an expedition to photograph the transit of Venus in 1874.

Henry Draper’s photograph of the Orion Nebula

Henry Draper’s photograph of the Orion Nebula

Then on September 30, 1880, Henry became the first to photograph the Orion Nebula with a 50 minute exposure. Later that year, he also photographed the spectrum of Jupiter.

Henry received numerous awards, including honorary law degrees from NYU and the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1882, a Congressional medal for directing the U.S. expedition to photograph the 1874 transit of Venus, and election to both the National Academy of Sciences and the Astronomische Gesellschaft.

In addition, Henry held memberships in the American Photographic Society, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

After his untimely death November 20, 1882 from double pleurisy, his widow Anna funded the Henry Draper Medal for outstanding contributions to astrophysics and a telescope, which was used to prepare the Henry Draper Catalog of stellar spectra.

Henry Draper Medal

Henry Draper Medal


“The American nation might lose many a so called statesman and yet be unconscious of having experienced a serious loss, yet the death of one such a man as Professor Henry Draper creates a vacancy that is lamented by the lovers of genius and knowledge throughout the world.”           

                                                                                                                                                                                      Brooklyn Daily Eagle


Interior of Draper’s Observatory

Interior of Draper’s Observatory

Henry Draper’s observatory, where he took his much-admired photographs, was located in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, and today the building functions as the Hastings-on-Hudson Historical Society.

Henry Draper’s historical telescope is now on display at the Toruń Centre for Astronomy (Nicolaus Copernicus University) at Piwnice in Poland.

The small crater Draper on the Moon is named in his honor.

Now WE know em












Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s