40 years since Apollo 11? It’s just the tip of the comet for space-based celebration in 2009. This is International Year of Astronomy, and anywhere with the slightest moonbeam of a connection to the stars is putting on a show. The Science Museum, of course, already holds an abundance of extra-planetary wonders with a whole gallery devoted to space exploration, and the Apollo 10 capsule and a V2 rocket next door in the Making of the Modern Age gallery. This week, the museum opened a further space dedicated to…space: the Cosmos and Culture gallery.
It’s tiny, but it tackles something very big: how astronomy has changed the way we see our universe – and ourselves. The room is split into three cabinets of cosmological curiosity within which not a single item is labelled. Instead, you use a touch-screen representation of the display to select the item you wish to know more about. It works brilliantly, until other people want a go. With only two consoles for each collection of 20 or so objects, this isn’t a gallery to visit during busy periods.
If not jaw-dropping, the inventory is varied and thought-provoking. One of the ‘cosmos’ highlights is the mirror from the Rosse telescope. Built in Ireland in 1845 this monster of a machine was the largest telescope in the world for the remainder of the century. Through its eyepiece, William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse became the first to observe spiral galaxies. Also on show is a full-scale replica of one of the LISA satellites, set for launch at the end of next decade to detect gravity waves. On the ‘cultural’ side, you’ll see items such as a 1999 solar eclipse tea towel and ancient carvings inspired by the heavens.
A small but perfectly formed addition to the museum’s cosmological exhibits.
Cosmos and Culture runs till the end of 2010 and can be found on the 1st floor of the Science Museum, just beyond the Plastic Fantastic exhibition.