Yesterday afternoon, after work, I took a trip to visit the new Visions of the Universe exhibition being hosted at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The exhibition covers four centuries of human observation of the skies from the invention of the telescope in the early 1600′s to the spectacular pictures currently being beamed back from Mars by the Curiosity rover.
At the start of the exhibition there is a note dedicating the event to the memory of Sir Patrick Moore, the BBC’s long-time Sky at Night presenter who passed away last year. Back in the early 90′s I rang a Sky at Night help number (I can’t recall what it was for – I think I may have wanted advice on where I should be looking in the sky for some comet or other) and was very surprised to say the least when Patrick Moore himself answered the phone. I still have the phone number which must have been his private home number. Anyway, I was very impressed by his personal commitment to help out novices like me.
The exhibition features some really breath-taking images of which I will single out a few of my favourites.
1. The Dark Side of the Moon
It is due to an odd quirk that we only ever see the same side of the moon from the Earth. It required humans to launch a space probe to send us this image of the dark side of the moon. Just look at all those craters and imagine the colossal impacts of all those asteroids over the years.
2. The Andromeda Galaxy
The Andromeda Galaxy is the nearest spiral galaxy to us, yet it is a mind-boggling 2.5 million light years away from us – meaning that what we are seeing is what it looked like 2.5 million years ago. And if someone from the Andromeda Galaxy was to point a suitably powerful telescope in our direction, they would see us not as we are at present, but what the Earth looked like 2.5 million years ago ie before human beings had even evolved.
3. Planet Neptune
The caption accompanying the photograph of the Planet Neptune made for particularly interesting reading. It said that scientists believe that the immense atmospheric pressure on Neptune may cause it to have rainfalls of tiny diamonds. Wow!
4. Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image
The image below was captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2004. Launched into orbit around the Earth in 1990 so that it could capture images unpolluted by the Earth’s atmosphere, the Hubble is surely one of the greatest achievements of humankind to date. The image shows thousands of galaxies captured in a tiny part of the sky – the Hubble telescope is literally allowing us to peer back in time to billions of years ago. Just awesome.
Now, although the images above are really glorious – they were not the highlight of the event. The most amazing part of the exhibition for me was the most recent (2012) pictures beamed back from Mars by the Curiosity rover. These pictures have been digitally combined and are displayed on a widescreen to provide an astounding panoramic view of Mount Sharp on Mars. It really helps create the illusion that you are standing on the surface of Mars. Another wonderful achievement.
Tickets for the Visions of the Universe exhibition cost £8.50 and you will need to allow approximately 75 - 90 minutes to look at all the images.