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I can see the stars
The Royal Observatory (Greenwich)
Member Name: Whizz11
The Royal Observatory (Greenwich)
Advantages: Free museum, great things to see, beautiful location
A few weeks ago now I went to Greenwich for afternoon and wandered over to the Royal Observatory which I would recommend as it is well worth a visit. The Observatory is actually part of the National Maritime Museum which also encompasses the Maritime Galleries and the Queen's House.
The Royal Observatory was commissioned in 1675 by Charles II and is situated on a hill in Greenwich Park overlooking the River Thames. It is a really beautiful building and even if you are not interested in the outside it is worth a look just at the architectural beauty on the outside. The original part of the Observatory was designed by Sir Christopher Wren so you get an idea of how wonderful it is just from that. It was commissioned to house scientific instruments and was the first purpose built scientific research facility in Britain.
The Observatory is extremely easy to find and fairly easy to get to if you don't mind using public transport. You have to take the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) which is easily accessible from various tube stops and get off at the Cutty Sark stop. This probably takes about 20 minutes from Central London, so not very long. Once you get off the train there are very good signposts pointing you in various directions and the Observatory is prominently written on the signs to help you get there. You walk through the park and then make sure your leg muscles are working properly! As it is at the top of a very large hill you have to walk up a very steep path in order to reach the building, boy were the back of my calves stinging after that work but there is a railing you can hold onto to help you. Once you're up though it is well worth the walk, the views over London are beautiful. You can see the Thames, the city and the Gherkin one way and the 02 stadium the other.
The great thing about the Observatory is that entrance is free so you can spend 10 minutes in there if you want to without feeling like you should stay longer to get your money's worth. It is open from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Sundays. They do say that the busiest times are around lunchtime on Saturdays and Sundays so maybe avoid it at that time. We went on a Wednesday afternoon and it was pretty empty which was nice.
They have some amazing galleries at the Observatory. The Weller astronomy gallery is an interactive gallery where you can learn about stars, see how the universe was formed and even play at being an astronomer. This is such a brilliant museum for kids as there is so much for them to do and touch and learn by doing that I definitely recommend it if you have families. At the entrance to the Observatory they have a meteorite on display that you can touch and that they say is over 4.5 billion years old, really incredible stuff.
My favourite part of this museum though is the Planetarium. The Planetarium underwent redevelopment recently and was newly unveiled on May 25th 2007. It is called the Peter Harris Planetarium. This is now the only Planetarium in London. The outside of the building is absolutely stunning. It is covered in bronze and is one of the largest uses of bronze in the world. It looks like just one big chunk but it's actually made up of 250 sheets. It's actually a really interesting, intellectual piece of sculpture because it actually has meaning in its field. The actual shape of the cone relates to the stars and according to an article I read:
* The north side of the cone is aligned with the point in the sky perpendicular to the Greenwich local horizon (zenith)
* The sloping southern side points towards the north celestial pole (Pole star). The angle of the slope is 51º28'44", equal to the latitude of the Royal Observatory
* The top of the cone is sliced at an angle parallel to the celestial equator
* The planetarium is aligned with the local meridian (north-south line)
There are various different shows on at the Planetarium during the day and these you do actually have to pay for but it is well worth it. An adult ticket costs £6 and children are £4. They do offer a family ticket which is think is cheaper if there are four of you. The inside of the Planetarium has 120 seats which are extremely comfortable. Then angle you in such a way that you are looking up and it does not strain your neck (I was so comfortable that I actually nodded off for a few minutes during the show but that was not because it was boring, I was just very very tired). Up above you is the big dome which illuminates once the lights go off and turns into the sky. We saw the Sky Tonight Live show. An astronomer from the Observatory talks you through what you can see in the sky the actual night of the day you go, pointing out the famous constellations, stars, planets etc. The gentleman that gave our talk was extremely knowledgeable and made the presentation very interesting. I think it only lasted for about 15/20 minutes but was definitely a very good introduction if you have never really learnt about the stars etc. Other presentation they offer include a show about black holes, star gazing for beginners and Invaders from Mars. As each show is different you can go to the Planetarium a number of different times and see different things every time.
AS a day out I would 100% recommend the Royal Observatory as there are some many things to do and see which are fun and interesting.
Summary: The Royal Observatory, Greenwich
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