Who hasn’t looked up at the night’s sky in awed wonder? Since the beginnings of civilisation, mankind has been fascinated by the stars and, with NASA’s recent discovery of a set of ‘new’ planets that may be capable of sustaining life, this fascination shows little sign of abating. In which case, on your next trip to London, why not get an impression of how the astronomer boffins made their discovery by visiting the fantastic Royal Observatory one evening?
Part preservation of London’s maritime and time-setting heritage, part celebration of all things astronomical, the Observatory’s an intriguing attraction set atop the hill in the glorious green of Greenwich Park. And, as with other of the UK capital’s most tourist-friendly venues, for several nights of the year it stays open late (check for dates and availability) for a somewhat different, maybe calmer and more peaceful appreciation of its unique delights.
The Royal Observatory then is home to the Prime Meridian Line, the centimetres-wide marker that holds the longitudinal co-ordinates 0° 0’ 0” – meaning that literally everywhere else on the planet is measured (or at least its east or west co-ordinates on the globe) from this very line. And, since the late Victorian era, the venue’s served as the exact point of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), ensuring all time is either officially set ahead or behind this line – indeed, following a visit here, you may find yourself wondering just how far ahead or behind the line is your London accommodation (say, The Marble Arch by Montcalm London), given that England’s most westerly county, Cornwall, is actually 15 minutes behind it!
Fittingly then, one of the Observatory’s rooms is dedicated to showcasing the Georgian era timepieces that enabled British sailors to successfully navigate ships and, thus, rule the waves, as the saying goes. These include the revolutionary first quartet of watches created by John Harrison, in addition to early, influential examples of quartz clocks, atomic clocks and grandfather clocks.
But what of the venue’s astronomical appeal? Well, an evening spent at the Observatory gives you the chance to take a look through its 18-tonne telescope – a hugely impressive viewing encounter, especially when you consider the giant device dates all the way back to Victorian times. However, that’s far from all because arguably the biggest draw is the planetarium.
With its extraordinary 360-degree, wraparound screen and comfortable reclining seats, it’s a truly immersive experience that sees you stare up and all around you at the domed interior, enabling you to seemingly first-hand experience a cornucopia of constellations as you hurtle past the Moon and Mars, zoom through the rings of Saturn and on past Pluto to discover the wonders of the extraordinary, eye-popping universe beyond. It’s an experience then that’s, yes, out of this world!