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astronomy

The 29th of February, a Leap day, is coming up again. On this mysterious date 20- year- olds celebrate their fifth birthdays and so on. What has this got to do with this beautiful armilliary sphere , on display in The Science Museum, London?   Armiliary sphere by Sisson (credit: Science Museum) The sphere was made in 1731 for Prince Frederick , son of George II,  who died before his father, hence he never came to the throne. Both he and Princess Augusta were […]

Today, people around the world are celebrating Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday. Hopefully they’ll enjoy themselves more than Dickens himself did on a youthful birthday outing: ‘Slow torture’ … ‘it was awful’ … ‘very alarming’ … ‘I thought if this were a birthday it were better never to have been born’. Dickens looked back on this beleaguered birthday in an All the Year Round article of 1863. The subject of his ire was an astronomical lecture, a popular entertainment of the time. The young […]

Astronomers have announced that they can now track sunspots forming before the tell-tale dark spots reach the Sun’s surface. The spots are caused by magnetic activity inside the Sun, and are associated with solar storms, massive bursts of material coming from our star. NASA recently released these staggering observations of our little blue planet being swamped by a sunstorm. Better prediction of solar storms is vital to protect our communication, navigation and power systems. In 1859 the biggest solar storm on record zapped […]

We sometimes find that objects in our collections suddenly become newsworthy because of events beyond the Museum. This beautiful, but small and unassuming, object on display in Cosmos & Culture is now one of them. It’s a prototype gyroscope from the Gravity Probe B experiment, which has been testing predictions made by Einstein’s general theory of relativity: that a massive body such as the Earth should warp and twist the space-time around it. Four spheres like this one – among the most […]

A few weeks ago, Stewart talked about relics in our collections – often mundane objects that have gained mystique through association with famous historical characters. Recently, I got a close-up look at what’s possibly the ultimate scientific museum relic: Galileo’s body parts. The middle finger of Galileo’s right hand has been on display at Florence’s history of science museum for many years. The museum’s recently been refurbished and (in what’s possibly a cunning marketing tool to entice visitors from the […]

Today in 1839, John Herschel made the first photograph on glass. The plate, with the image now faded almost beyond recognition, is in the care of our colleagues at the National Media Museum. The image was of the 40ft telescope built by John’s father William, something of  a tourist attraction due to its size. By the time this photograph was taken only the telescope support frame remained, with the tube already removed – the structure had begun to rot after […]

Have you had any luck with the Perseid meteor shower? Some UK skywatchers were foiled by the weather, but many people here and around the world enjoyed stunning views. 1866 was also a good year for the Perseids. Alexander Herschel observed the shower from his family home at Collingwood in Kent. For several years, Herschel had been carrying out a regular programme of meteor observations, using a spectroscope to look for the characteristic signatures of different elements. As well as the Perseids, he observed the Leonids, Orionids […]

It’s that time of year again, when the annual Perseid meteor shower lights up the skies. This year’s display promises a good blaze, weather permitting, as there’s no interfering moonlight. The meteor shower occurs as the Earth passes through debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle and meteoroids burn up in our atmosphere. It gets its name because the radiant, the point in the sky the ‘shooting stars’ seem to come from, is in the constellation of Perseus. Look for this near the […]

In recent days, the aurora borealis, better known as the Northern Lights, have been visible at more southerly latitudes than usual thanks to solar storm activity. If you tried to have a look but were scuppered by the weather, or like us at the Science Museum you’re just too far south, enjoy these images of the aurora from our picture library instead. Of course, if you’re far south enough, you’ll be looking for the Southern Lights instead. The aurora australis […]

Monday marked 401 years since Thomas Harriot made the first recorded astronomical observation with a telescope – so one year since we opened our Cosmos & Culture exhibition celebrating Harriot and other astronomers. For the last year, we’ve been lucky enough to have some of Harriot’s drawings on display, but for their long-term preservation it’s time to remove them from the light. This weekend is your last chance to see the centuries-old originals before we return them to their owner’s care and replace them […]

Our car is still fitted with a cassette player. Albums from long ago (Steely Dan and Beatles are current favourites) provide regular entertainment on journeys and are also enjoyed by the younger members of the family. I suppose we should have moved over to a CD player or something more exotic still, but somehow it seems unnecessary while the cassettes hold out (now 25 years old plus and still working fine!) I suppose the same can now be said of […]