Skip to content

astronomy

Picture the scene. Two men are lurking at a London station, waiting for the Glasgow train. The train arrives and a third man disembarks, wheeling a suitcase. The three exchange some quick words of identification, the Londoners give the man from Glasgow an envelope of papers and he hands over the suitcase. The Londoners jump into a taxi with the suitcase … which contains a 23kg sapphire. No, it’s not a scene from the latest Bond movie. The man on […]

It’s ten years this week since the XMM-Newton space observatory launched. The biggest scientific satellite ever built in Europe, it has studied black holes, tracked how chemical elements are scattered in supernova explosions, and revealed that Mars’s atmosphere is bigger than previously thought. XMM stands for X-ray Multi Mirror (the Newton bit is in honour of a certain Sir Isaac). X-rays can pass right through ordinary mirrors, so each of XMM’s three telescopes contains 58 cylindrical gold-plated mirrors nested together. […]

After over a year of delays, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has smashed its first particles together. The accelerator is due to commence full operation in the next few weeks (assuming it doesn’t get sabotaged from the future … or baffled by a baguette). Particles in the LHC travel at almost light speed, guided by superconducting magnets. They travel inside a beam screen, kept at a temperature of 5 degrees Kelvin (-268 Celsius), which shield the magnets from the intense particle […]

The Rosetta spacecraft has just swung by Earth, on its way to a 2014 rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (or Chewy-Gooey, as the project scientists like to call it). The ambitious mission aims to attach a lander to the comet with harpoons. On board the lander is an instrument called Ptolemy, which will analyse samples from Chewy-Gooey to help work out what it’s made of. Here’s a model of Ptolemy on display in our Exploring Space gallery: In our collections you’ll find many objects showing how comets […]

Museum objects are not always what they seem, as this intriguing embroidery – currently on display in our Cosmos & Culture exhibition  – shows. The label on the frame says that it shows an astrologer forecasting the birth of a child to King Charles I and his Queen, Henrietta Maria. It’s also been suggested that the face rising from the frames is a tad beardy for a newborn and that the scene may forecast Charles’s execution. The astrologer is surrounded […]

At first glance, a replica of Isaac Newton’s telescope might not have much in common with a dark matter detector. And what could the first astronomical instrument with built-in photography possibly have to do with a tea towel? Following the threads on the activity wall at the launch event for our Cosmic Collections competition, it all became clear. For the competition, we’re releasing data about more than 100 objects from our astronomy collection for people to incorporate into their own websites. We asked […]

Gaetan Lee is organising tomorrow’s launch event for Cosmic Collections, our website competition. Find out a little more about what to expect. What should people expect at the event tomorrow? Well they should expect to get a chance to meet some great people and really get a chance to contribute – to a certain extent its going to be a user-generated event. By coming along they will be able to hear the story of eighteenth century astronomer Caroline Herschel from […]

This Saturday (24 October), we’re launching our Cosmic Collections website ‘mash-up’ competition. Just in case anyone else is as baffled as me, I asked our Lead Web Developer, Mia Ridge, a few questions about the competition. For the non-geeks out there, what’s a mash-up? A mashup is a website or application that combines separate data sources and/or visualisation tools into a single integrated interface. A really useful example is moveflat – you can search for housing by bus route or on a […]

Ali Boyle is the Curator of Astronomy at the Science Museum. She oversaw Cosmos & Culture, one of our newest exhibitions so I asked her a few questions about putting the exhibition together and the Cosmic Collections website competition that we’re just about to launch… What’s the Cosmos & Culture exhibition about, and how did you select and organise the objects? Cosmos & Culture looks at how people all around the world have interacted with the skies throughout history. It uses the […]