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Science Museum Blog

All this talk recently about coastal navigation aids got me hunting through our pictorial collection, and I thought you might like to see this railway poster I found: Tsk tsk. I can’t imagine what Trinity House would have said about that. The woman’s clearly obscuring part of that buoy. Think of the risk to shipping! It’s an accident waiting to happen… Deal, on the Kent coast, was an important port, a strategic site for shipping, and an ideal spot to […]

Following my recent post about the Souter Point lighthouse in South Shields, Jack Kirby at Thinktank (the Birmingham science museum) mentioned the lighthouse optic they’ve got in their collection, from Longstone Lighthouse, off the Northumberland coast. It’s by Chance Brothers, a Birmingham firm that specialised in precision optical technology such as lighthouse lenses, as well as being responsible for glazing the Crystal Palace, the Houses of Parliament and the dials of Big Ben. As Jack pointed out, we’ve got a superb Chance […]

Having talked about navigation at sea quite a bit recently, let’s turn to the tricky bit: the final approach to port. By now, the chronometer had done its job, your lunar-distance efforts had delivered you safely to within sight of land. From then on, you were on your own. From the earliest days of mass sailing, coastal authorities such as Trinity House provided navigation aids, and one of the most iconic is the lighthouse. Their bright beams spell out danger, or guide ships […]

With President Obama’s new NASA budget proposals to slash the Constellation programme, it might be a while longer before someone adds their footprints to the last left on the lunar surface by Gene Cernan in 1972. But in the meantime, here’s a virtual journey to the Moon, via our collections. One of the reasons given for cancelling Constellation was lack of design innovation. Perhaps NASA’s engineers should take inspiration from this ingenious method of transport from 1648: However and whenever they get there, […]

On Monday, I was part of the Science Museum’s Dana Centre event ‘Time and the Moon’, hosted by the BBC’s science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh. We had a full capacity crowd, which was terrific – thanks to everyone who came along. Hope you enjoyed it. I spoke about how the Moon was used to navigate at sea, following pioneering work at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. From the late-eighteenth century, scenes like this one were played out on the decks of ships […]

Last week I showed you the Rolex wristwatch that went seven miles down to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, in the Pacific Ocean, in 1960. Let’s stay with the nautical theme with this marine chronometer: Chronometers, as I’ve said before, were the timekeeping devices carried on board every ship from about 1810 to the 1980s to help navigate. The Royal Observatory Greenwich is the place to go for the whole chronometer story, but we too have some rather nice ones […]

Stories From The Stores is six months old this week. Woo-hoo! I’ve been looking over some of my posts. What strikes me most (apart from the appalling puns and gratuitous puppies) is that I’ve failed to say anything about transport beneath the sea. This is all the more remiss given that one of my best friends is a retired nuclear submariner. Let me make amends. Fifty years ago, on 23 January 1960, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh dived to the bottom of the […]

With last week’s opening of 1001 Inventions, we’ve been celebrating cross-cultural collaboration, and astronomy has plenty of examples. At the entrance to the exhibition you can see a display of objects from our collections, including this astrolabe made by Jamal al-Din in Lahore in 1666. The astrolabe is a two-dimensional model of the universe that can be held in your hand. It is also a beautiful demonstration of the way knowledge is shared between cultures. The first astrolabes were probably developed by […]

Just a quick one adding to my last post on human-powered transport. I found this great pic in our image archive of a sail-assisted wheelbarrow from China. It makes perfect sense, so long as the wind tends to blow in one direction most of the time. Until the nineteenth century, all freight not transported by muscle was sent on its way by wind, but since the development of steam power, we’ve tended to turn our back on this free resource. Now, in […]

This is a sedan chair. Cute, no? These human-powered contraptions were all the rage in eighteenth-century Britain, part of a class of vehicle used worldwide. A pair of porters carried the chair by the poles, as the passenger inside looked on, wishing, I suspect, that she could have afforded a carriage. It can’t have been a comfortable ride, surely. I suppose it was the polite version of a piggyback. But I’ve never travelled by sedan chair. Perhaps somebody can put […]

It’s 125 years since bicycles took the form that we know today. Then, cycling meant mobility in a world before mass motoring. Now, eyes are turning to cycling as part of a solution to urban congestion. Transport for London is planning a turn-up-and-ride cycle hire scheme for the capital, going live this summer. One problem might be theft of the bikes. TfL’s response? “The bicycles will stand out as Cycle Hire bicycles. That way we hope people will think twice about stealing […]

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 has now been officially ‘closed’ at a ceremony in Padova (timed to celebrate Galileo’s observations of Jupiter’s moons, which you can read about in a previous blog). It’s been a really successful global project, with 148 countries signing up and thousands of people around the world taking part in events ranging from backyard observing to major international collaborations. The participants of IYA2009 produced a huge amount of promotional and outreach material – posters, stamps, coins, calendars, T-shirts, badges, books, […]

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