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"There was a time when one old eccentric guy with a notebook could do something important to science. Now even the resources of a major university are often not enough."
- Jerry Pournelle

Photoelectric Telescope (Photoelectric Eyes)  
  An astronomical telescope that uses the photoelectric effect to gather light, and then to present the finished image on a screen.  

The first electrical detection of starlight was made by William Monck in Dublin in 1892, using a photovoltaic cell. However, the photoelectric potassium hydride cells made by Julius Elster and Hans Geitel in Germany marks the beginning of stellar photoelectric photometry in 1912.

"Perhaps it's a comet." Still frowning, Bob Star swung back toward the observatory. "It looked like one - it was a short streak of that queer, misty green, instead of the point a star would show..."

Inside the chilly gloom of the observatory, Bob sat down at the telescope. Its mechanisms whirred softly, in swift response to his touch. The great barrel swung to search space with its photoelectric eyes, and the pale beam of the projector flashed across to the concave screen.

...He stepped up the electronic magnification. Vindemiatrix and the fainter stars slipped out of the field. The comet hung alone, and swiftly grew. Its shape was puzzling - a strangely perfect ellipsoid. A greenish football, he thought, kicked at the System out of the night of space - by what?

...Using ray filters and spectroscope, with the full power of the circuits, he strove to pierce that dull green veil, and failed."

From The Cometeers, by Jack Williamson.
Published by Street and Smith in 1936
Additional resources -

The idea of projecting the light from a telescope onto a screen is a commonplace way to conduct solar observations; however, this is an actual projection from the optical components of the telescope. The telescope described here is projecting an actual picture (in color!) of the distant objects based on photoelectric data. When were usable pictures created electronically? I'm thinking that this didn't happen until the development of CCD (charged couple device) image sensors, which started in the early 1960's.

So, I still think Williamson was one step ahead of the day's astronomers. Anyone?

Thanks to an anonymous reader who put me on the right track with star meridian transit devices. Also, take a look at Photoelectric Photometry.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Cometeers
  More Ideas and Technology by Jack Williamson
  Tech news articles related to The Cometeers
  Tech news articles related to works by Jack Williamson

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