Royal Observatory: of stars and wars

This year has given us a new Star Wars film and renewed our (well, mine) longing for the galaxy far, far away. And, of all London sites, none are better suited for this situation, than Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Each year, it hosts a (free-entry) exhibition of Astronomy Photographers of the Year. There, you can see (as I’ve seen) infinite galaxies, blazing aurorae and impressive, if slightly menacing, shots of the Moon that look distinctively Death Star-y.  There are also frozen skyscapes, that made me personally think about unwelcoming planes of Hoth.

Hoth... I mean, Eclipse Totality over Sassendalen.

Hoth… I mean, Eclipse Totality over Sassendalen.

For some additional experience, there are also breathtaking Planetarium shows and an opportunity to see one of the biggest telescopes in this galaxy (there is also an opportunity to look into it on select winter days). As I am not getting my own Millennium Falcon any time soon, this was really the next best thing.

Sumo Waggle Adventrure by Arild Heitmann

Sumo Waggle Adventrure by Arild Heitmann

This futuristic flair is not accidental. The Royal Observatory was founded at the time, where the whole Europe buzzed with excitement at the perspective of exploring new worlds (and the New World). And, although Britannia didn’t really rule the waves back then, it didn’t want to be left behind. Long-term voyages of exploration were quite as perilous and uncertain, as the space missions are today, are navigation relied chiefly on celestial bodies. Therefore, in 1675 the Royal Observatory was founded under the patronage of Charles II (yes, the one with Nell Gwynn). The Observatory became the first state-funded scientific institution in Britain – before that, scientific societies tended to be self-funded grassroots groups of enthusiasts.

Royal Observatory now.

Royal Observatory now.

There’re plenty of expositions in Royal Observatory now, as well as in other Greenwich museums. They show, how the knowledge of distant stars influenced the life on Earth in myriad ways. We meet a rather diverse cast of characters: Muslim traders, European travellers, Christian missionaries, war heroes and Victorian scientists.

If your thirst for exploration is still unquenched, you can visit Cutty Sark, docked by Greenwich Pier. This well-preserved Victorian clipper has quite an extraordinary biography, which includes voyages to China, mutinies and a world war. If you are travelling with family, going to see Cutty Sark would be especially recommended – it has plenty of activities for kids aboard.

You can go to Greenwich via the DLR (Docklands Light Railway), by train from London Bridge station or, if you want to get in the mood, by boat from Tower Pier, London Bridge Pier or London Eye Pier.

Liza Picard, Restoration London: Everyday Life in the 1660s (US edition)



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