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Measuring the History of Time
The Royal Observatory (Greenwich)
Member Name: flyingsparks
The Royal Observatory (Greenwich)
Advantages: Free entry to one of the best museums that I know.
Disadvantages: The gift shop is very overpriced.
It was an 1884 conference in Washington that finally settled on Greenwich as the prime meridian. That is longitude 0. The point on earth from which time is measured.
The story of Greenwich actually starts much earlier than that. It was in 1675 that Sir John Flamsteed was appointed the first Astronomer Royal, and it was also in that year that Christopher Wren began work on the Royal Observatory building at Greenwich, the first purpose built scientific research facility in the country.
The primary purpose of the observatory was to improve the navigation of ships by helping them to determine their exact location while at sea.
The Royal Observatory moved out of Greenwich in the 1950's due to increased light pollution from London. Today the observatory site forms a part of the National Maritime museum and houses a fascinating collection of clocks and navigational instruments.
I visited the site with my wife recently and this is what we found:
On first entering the observatory site you cannot miss the famous meridian line with an almost constant stream of visitors queuing up to stand with one foot in each hemisphere. We joined the queue and got some photographs taken with one of us in the east, and the other in the west.
Before starting on the main tour of the observatory we headed for the camera obscura which is housed in Flamsteed house. This is the only public camera obscura in London and is well worth the visit on on its own. When you first enter the room you can see almost nothing, but once your eyes start to get accustomed to the gloom you discover that there is a table in the centre of the room and onto that is projected an image of everything that the camera can see in the outside world.
In the main galleries of the observatory a real effort has been to be interactive, and to engage with visitors. Generous use has been made of touch screen technology, and there are plenty of moving parts, and exhibits to keep the attention younger visitors. The galleries tell the history of time measurement, which includes everything from John Harrisons famous clocks, to the the precision clocks of today.
The one area of the observatory that I was disappointed with was the gift shop. This was ridiculously overpriced, and I would suggest any future visitors would do well to give it a miss.
The observatory itself is free to enter and look around, as indeed is to entire National Maritime museum of which it forms a part.
One important point to mention is that the site is presently undergoing a major redevelopment which will see improved display, and educational facilities, but most interestingly there will also be a new planetarium, something that has been seriously lacking in London since the closure of the one associated with Madame Tussards.
Summary: Fascinating journey through time measurement. This is how to make museums fun and interactive.
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