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"The first thing that's wrong with being a science-fiction writer today is that the present has caught up with the future and surpassed it."
- Peter Watts

Photo-Electric Mosaic  
  A means of capturing astronomical images.  

James Weldon has succeeded, and succeeded amazingly. He has concentrated in his instrument the light-gathering properties of literally billions of infinitesimal photo-electric cells.

“He took a sheet of an electronegative alloy of his own contriving and, by a most ingenious process, deposited upon it ultramicroscopic globules of silver, each so tiny that its diameter is less than a single wave length of light. Silver is, of course, electropositive. Accordingly, when a beam of light falls upon this mosaic, a small electrical charge is built up on each of the countless little globules of deposited silver. Condensers store up these charges, which are directly proportional to the intensity of the original light beam, and the silver globule pattern thus formed represents an electrical image of the source of illumination.

“An electronic scanning beam, so narrow it covers only a single one of the ultramicroscopic silver beads at a time, sweeps at tremendous speed over the mosaic. This has the effect of discharging the silver-alloy photo-electric cells one by one, and releasing, simultaneously, the condenser charges. A current passes from the condenser, is stepped up and amplified enormously in like fashion, as in radio communication, and a visual image is reproduced in the form of light waves by another electronic beam and fluorescent screen. This magnification alone had been set at ten thousand times.

“Think of it ! Add this increase to the original magnification of the powerful 300-inch mirror on which the light from the distant stars has fallen, and you have a total magnification which runs to an incredible figure.”

From Beyond Which Limits, by Nat Schachner.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1937
Additional resources -

The photoelectric mosaic idea was filed by Vladimir Zworykin in 1930 as a television camera element; the patent wasn't granted until 1941. Schachner can always be relied upon to multiply size and resolution to, well, astronomical proportions. Using it as a way to get astronomical images anticipates the use of CCDs, charge-coupled devices, which were not introduced until 1969.

Science fiction authors were quick to pounce on the photoelectric devices that started appearing in the 1930's; take a look at the Photoelectric Telescope (Photoelectric Eyes) from The Cometeers (1936) by Jack Williamson and the Photoelectric Course Warning from Out Around Rigel (1931) by Robert H. Wilson.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Beyond Which Limits
  More Ideas and Technology by Nat Schachner
  Tech news articles related to Beyond Which Limits
  Tech news articles related to works by Nat Schachner

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