About the Royal Observatory

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The Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory is one of London’s best known tourist attractions. Once the home of astronomy worldwide and a place where history was made, it now functions as a museum. Home to a variety of victorian astronomical instruments, the Prime Meridian of the world and even John Harrison’s famous choronometers, it is free to enter and attracts visitors from around the world.

The Prime Meridian
The Prime Meridian that divides the world into East and Left Hemispheres runs through the Greenwich observatory. Marked by a brass line on the ground, it is not surprising that a favourite tourist past-time is standing with one foot either side of the line.

John Harrison’s chronometers
In one of the darkened galleries, the museum displays John Harrison’s four famous chronometers. Submitted as his solution to the problem of determining Longitude at sea H1, H2 and H3 are brass and wood devices driven by pendulums. Intricate and self-lubricating, they are kept running even on display. The fourth, H4, appears to be a pocket watch about 5 inches across. It does not run, as running would slowly degrade the mechanism, but this is the device which solved the challenge and proved it was possible to find Longitude at sea.

Herschel’s telescope
The remains of the telescope by which Herschel discovered Uranus can be seen outside in the courtyard. After a tree fell on it, the main length of the telescope was destroyed, and only a short section towards the base remains. This is enough to note its huge diameter, and the difficulties that must have been inherent in using a manual telescope of that size.

Other Exhibits
The observatory houses a whole range of exhibits, too many to cover in one article, and covers the history of astronomy, navigation and a host of other sciences.

There are also a range of modern and interactive exhibits, although these were less impressive and designed more as an introduction to astronomy. They have little to offer an adult, particularly one who is already familiar with the subject. However they are a good way to keep children occupied and away from the interesting part of the museum.  

Sited on a hill behind the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory is now considered part of that organisation. The walk to the Observatory is steep and may require stops for breath, but the view from the top is worth it, allowing you to see the Queen’s House, the Maritine Museum, the Thames and then Docklands and the Dome beyond it. It is free to enter, although photography is prohibited inside to avoid damaging the exhibits.

A Day Out
Between the Observatory, the National Maritime Museum and Maritime Greenwich including the Cutty Sark, there is enough in Greenwich to keep a vistor busy for a full day out. However, visitors will need to bring walking shoes. A range of small Cafes in the museum and in Greenwich itself provide options for food, and for a more modern view of London, Docklands is only ten minutes down the line.

Parking can be difficult to find, but with the Jubilee line and a number of buses serving the area, there really is no need to bring a car. All the main Greenwich attractions are walking distance from the tube stop (appropriately called Cutty Sark) making them easy to get to.

A Visit to the Royal Observatory

Further Reading

http://www.squidoo.com/Longitude – The history of the Harrison watches

http://www.nmm.ac.uk/places/royal-observatory/ – the Royal Observatory


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