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The Observatory Science Centre
Herstmonceux
Hailsham
East Sussex
BN27 1RN
Tel: 01323 832731
Fax: 01323 832741

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Domes of Discovery Exhibition

Introduction

The Domes of Discovery exhibition tells the story of Britain's Royal Observatory - one of the most famous scientific institutions in the world for more than 300 years. Four sections of the exhibition cover The Greenwich Years, The Herstmonceux Years, Research and Discoveries and The Telescopes.

The magnificent centrepiece of this exhibition is the impressive 38-inch Congo Schmidt telescope which was never used in earnest for astronomical research. See the section about the telescopes to find out more about the Congo Schmidt

The exhibition is accessible to wheelchair users.
Photograph by Martin Saban-Smith

Historic Lenses and Albert Einstein

Historic glassware on show includes telescope mirrors and a lens used in one of the 20th century's pivotal scientific events - the successful testing of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, during a total eclipse of the Sun on May 19, 1919.

Einstein's bizarre prediction was that space becomes curved when there is matter in it. The Astronomer Royal at the time, Frank Dyson, predicted it would be possible to test the theory by seeing if starlight was bent when it passed near the Sun during a total eclipse. Four stars in the vicinity of the Sun were marked on a photograph, taken of the 1919 solar eclipse in Sobral in the Brazilian jungle through the lens of the 13-inch refractor, now in Dome D at Herstmonceux. When this photograph was later compared to a photograph of the same patch of sky taken when the Sun was elsewhere, the images of the stars were found to have moved. The movement was tiny - less than 1/100 of a millimetre - but agreed with Einstein's prediction, light had been deflected by the Sun's gravity. The results took the world by storm, history was made and Einstein vindicated, becoming an overnight celebrity. The exhibition shows the historic photograph and a contemporary explanation which appeared in the press at the time.

A second lens which is on display in the exhibition was also used to photograph the 1919 eclipse on the West African coast. The Brazilian expedition and the African expedition were one and the same led by Sir Arthur Eddington. The group split into two when they reached the island of Madeira. Eddington boarded another vessel while HMS Anselm carried on to Brazil. It was thought that two teams at different locations would be useful giving a better chance of success if weather conditions were not good at one site. This proved to be a wise decision. Only one of the 16 photographs taken on the Island of Principe by Eddington was of scientific significance. All the rest were obscured by cloud. The Sobral team were more successful and the storms they experienced had subsided before the eclipse began leaving them with ideal viewing conditions. The results from Brazil corroborated the one from Principe and they were officially announced on the 6th November 1919.

Exhibits and Special Exhibitions

The Dome also includes six interactive astronomy related exhibits and three related to time. There is also a fantastic, huge orrery suspended above your head and an exhibition, funded by STFC telling you all about the electromagnetic spectrum.

Astronomy Exhibits

Types of Telescope showing light paths through refracting and reflecting telescopes
The Spectrum of Stars showing how white light is split into a spectrum
Newton’s Prism Experiment a variation of the classic experiment showing the splitting and recombination of white light.
Lens and Mirror showing how lenses and mirrors focus an object.
How far to the Stars showing how parallax is used in astronomy
Telescope Control showing how an equatorial mount works.
Orrery A giant model of the solar system 

Time Exhibits

Radio Controlled Clocks two clocks controlled by radio signals are accurate to the second
Brain Time estimate when 10 seconds have passed. 
Sand Glasses measure different time intervals

Elecrtromagnetic Spectrum

Among the panels explaining the history of the Royal Greenwich Observatory there are some colourful panels explaing what the electromagnetic spectrum is and how it is used in everyday life and in astronomy. Funding was received from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) for this exhibition to celebrate International Year of Light 2015.

In addition to the fascinating displays and interactive exhibits there are videos of former Royal Greenwich Observatory employees who explain what it was like to work in a world famous establishment in the middle of the East Sussex countryside.