National Moon Day: Discrepancy Over Who Took First Picture of Our Lunar Neighbor

GettyImages-984677962
The moon is seen from Tours, France, on June 26. Multiple people are credited with taking original, groundbreaking early photographs of the moon. GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP

July 20 has been declared National Moon Day to commemorate American astronaut Neil Armstrong taking "one small step for man" and "one giant leap for mankind." However, a century before Armstrong took that fateful step, multiple people photographed the moon, leading to a bit of a discrepancy of who actually took the first picture.

French painter and printmaker Louis Daguerre, along with Nicéphore Niépce, invented the daguerreotype in 1839 and used it to capture an image of the moon.

Classified by the Encyclopedia Britannica as the "first successful form of photography," a permanent image was created by exposing a copper plate coated with silver iodide to light, fuming it with mercury vapor and then finishing it with a solution of common salt.

Daguerre secured a patent for his invention, which he regarded as having both artistic and scientific value, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among his daguerreotypes were images of sculptures, shell arrangements and fossils. One of his most noted works, was also the first photograph of the crescent moon, according to Time.

His images astonished both the science and art world, and the Met wrote that astronomer François Arago, then-director of the Observatoire de Paris, was even surprised by the image of the moon. Unfortunately, in March of the same year that he took the daguerreotype of the moon, his laboratory burned to the grown, turning his written records and the bulk of his work into ash.

GettyImages-141940043
The waxing crescent moon is seen in the night sky above the San Gabriel Valley in California, on March 26, 2012. When it comes to moon photos, there’s enough room for multiple people to be dubbed the “first,” albeit in various different ways. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

While it may seem like the case is closed on who first photographed the moon, American scientist and photographer John William Draper's 1840 image yields a different story. A year after Daguerre took the photo, Draper took his own, but this time, it was of a full moon, according to Time. Multiple sources, including Encyclopedia.com, credit him with being the first to photograph the moon.

His son, Henry, followed in his father's footsteps, and Encyclopedia Britannica wrote that Henry was the first to take a photograph of the spectrum of the star Vega in 1872.

However, the story of early photographs of the moon doesn't end with Draper, and in 1850, John Adams Whipple solidified his own place in history by taking the oldest surviving photograph of the lunar body, according to the Association for Psychological Science.

Working with George Bond, the son of the head of the Harvard Observatory, the Middlebury College Museum of Art explained that the two were able to produce the first detailed daguerreotypes of the moon, which was used to map the moon. In 1851, the images wowed the European scientific community when it was shown at the Crystal Palace exhibition in London.

It seems, when it comes to moon photos, there's enough room for multiple people to be dubbed the "first," albeit in various different ways.