Matthias Jarosz (my nephew) gives a review of our recent visit to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich:
The Royal Observatory Greenwich is home to London’s only planetarium, with the UK’s largest refracting telescope and the world famous Greenwich Mean Time all conveniently crammed into one building complex. The observatory itself is similar to most scientific museums with projector displays and fingerprint-smudged activity screens that detail the science of the stars in a basic ‘for dummies’ style that caters for your ‘standard’ family experience, where a trip to the toilets is the main attraction. The museum initially describes basic science, like the distance of stars from the earth and their respective magnitudes. It does this without confusing the viewer too much, but yet giving a basic grasp on the subject before delving into the more complex phenomenon. For instance the ‘red shift’ and the ‘Doppler Effect’, which I felt (as a GCSE physics student currently studying them) was both efficient and informative, telling me what it was without leaving me patronised or lost by the explanation, and was helped by an extensive visual display.
The ‘star’ of the show however (cliché indeed), was the Planetarium, which whilst not free, I would seriously recommend. The sheer visual impact of the display and an element of tiredness resulting from walking up the hill to the museum, made the leather recliner chairs all the more appealing. Stunning graphics, as well as general technological advancement, made the experience memorable and fulfilling, as the solar system was laid out in breathtaking detail, with star constellations and signs of the zodiac and their correlation to both our own universe and the North Star. However, credit is largely due to the astronomer Greg who presented the show, making what was a fulfilling but ultimately ‘anorak’ tailored event into something accessible for the wider audience, without detracting from the experience. His style was casual yet informative, throwing in jokes and issues that we could all relate to and thus preventing the viewers from being alienated, but more so, fascinated by the science he explained. It was clear he actually enjoyed his job. His approach was fresh and energetic and it was easy to see that this was a subject he was passionate about rather than something he felt forced to do, to pay off his student loans and a series of mortgages.
Finally, a visit to the world-famous Greenwich Mean Time line completed the experience, although the numerous clock exhibits seemed a little unnecessary in describing what was essentially a simple decision. Likewise, queuing for a photo on the actual line, which could be avoided by standing two metres away from the assigned view and thus saving twenty minutes. Overall, it was an informative experience which anyone with any scientific interest could access and enjoy, as well as being value for money. However, I’ll remain sceptical on the necessity of the endless walls of clocks. Thanks to Visit Greenwich for providing us with tickets to the Observatory and Planetarium.