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Science Museum Blog

This BBC News story landed in my inbox the other day, thanks to Peter at our Wiltshire site, near Swindon. It’s about government plans to designate the M4 motorway, between Wales and London via Swindon, as a ‘hydrogen highway’. Putting aside my mental image of an explosive Dick Turpin, I find it’s all about refuelling. Alternatives to petrol and diesel vehicles are being developed, but each needs a different type of energy source, and the infrastructure isn’t there to provide […]

Eighty years ago today, a young American astronomer discovered tiny Pluto. Clyde Tombaugh was searching for a predicted ‘Planet X’ that might explain oddities in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. Tombaugh spent months painstakingly photographing the same sections of sky and studying the images with a blink comparator. On 18 Feburary 1930, he noticed that on photographs taken a few nights apart that January, one ‘star’ had moved, indicating that it was actually a nearby object moving against the fixed […]

A few months ago, I showed you two ship models on show in our maritime galleries, both called Savannah. The 1818 version was the first steamship to cross an ocean (even though she did so mostly under sail power)… …while her 1959 namesake was the world’s first nuclear-powered merchant ship. The first nuclear ship was a naval submarine, USS Nautilus, launched in 1954, with British equivalents following a few years later, such as HMS Resolution. The latest British nuclear boat, HMS Astute, […]

It’s a real privilege to get right up close to an object; being able to read an inscription; noticing the wear and tear; discovering an unexpected little detail. A few years ago I examined the Museum’s Beta 1 – a late 1940s rocket engine – and spotted the letters ‘T STOFF INLET’ inlet stamped on one of the valves. This British engine was a precursor to those used on the Black Arrow space rocket and I knew of its German ancestry […]

Last week, I showed you our 1930s mobile library from Erith. This got me thinking about libraries and the wonders they contain. Our own library has the most extraordinary collection of literature. If you like anything at all, you’ll find riches beyond compare at the Science Museum Library – and it’s all free to see. Our Ingenious website is great for finding highlights. For instance, here’s Agostino Ramelli, a sixteenth-century Italian engineer: Ramelli wrote a highly influential book called (in translation) […]

This is Rory Cook. He’s the Science Museum’s Corporate Information and Enquiries Officer: If you contact the Science Museum looking for information about our business or collections, it’s quite likely Rory will deal with your request. He’s also the chap who keeps grateful staff like me me provided with historic files when we’re doing our research. Rory was delighted to discover this lovely old vehicle in our transport collections: Nice old van, but not just any old van. It’s the […]

A big hello from SFTS to astronaut  Dr. Nicholas Patrick, who’s aboard the current Shuttle mission to the International Space Station. He’ll be carrying out three spacewalks during the mission, helping to fit new modules including the station’s snazzy new observation dome. Nick officially opened our revamped Space gallery a few years ago – here he is with our replica of the Apollo 11 lunar module. Astronauts are allowed to take some personal items with them. Nick has chosen some memorabilia of Captain Cook, […]

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 […]

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