60 Years Ago You Couldn’t Stargaze in London. Now You Can. – Mother Jones

60 Years Ago You Couldn’t Stargaze in London. Now You Can. – Mother Jones

Nick Ansell/PA Wire by way of ZUMA Press

This story was initially revealed by Slate and seems right here as a part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The famed Royal Observatory in Greenwich, United Kingdom, is reopening greater than 60 years after London’s smog compelled its closure in 1957.

The Royal Observatory was founded in 1675 by King Charles II of England, with the purpose of bettering navigation at sea and decreasing shipwrecks by mapping the places of stars. The observatory at Greenwich is the positioning of the Prime Meridian, the road that divides the world’s jap and western hemispheres (in the identical means the Equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres). It can also be residence of the historic Greenwich Mean Time, which is the premise for the world’s time zone system.

By the 1940s and 1950s, London’s industrialization—which expanded the town’s railways and resulted in excessive mild air pollution—had begun to intervene with the urbanized Royal Observatory’s operations. Louise Devoy, the curator of Royal Observatory at Greenwich, said in a recent interview with the Telegraph, “The observatory really started to wind down in 1948 because … [the] Greenwich Power Station was belching out smoke so the telescopes were becoming useless.” She added that the vibrations from close by trains and alerts from iron-framed buildings made it difficult for the observatory’s delicate tools to take correct readings.

Moreover, the town’s air air pollution received so dangerous that astronomers might not do their work. During the mid-20th century, London was periodically suffering from thick blankets of yellow smog, which have been so extreme that they halted site visitors and even closed theaters as a result of audiences couldn’t see performers on stage via the haze. (The phenomenon confirmed up in a Season 1 episode of The Crown.) Seeing faraway stars via telescopes was practically inconceivable in such situations.

Because of the challenges and limitations of working an observatory in an city atmosphere, in 1948 the Royal Observatory started to switch its devices and capabilities to Sussex, which had darker, clearer skies than London. In 1957, the Royal Greenwich Observatory reopened on the Herstmonceux Castle, and the defunct observatory in London turned a museum and outreach middle to coach the general public about astronomy.

In 2017, the Royal Museums Greenwich launched a profitable marketing campaign to lift funds to revive the observatory at Greenwich and improve the constructing in which it was housed.

The revamped Royal Observatory has been outfitted with a brand new telescope named after Annie Maunder, who was one of many first feminine scientists to work on the observatory in Greenwich. Maunder was employed in 1891 to course of information as a “lady computer.” Her later analysis mapping sunspots and observing photo voltaic eclipses helped make clear the hyperlink between the solar’s exercise and Earth’s local weather.

The Royal Observatory’s Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope consists of 4 completely different telescopes that carry out completely different capabilities. The largest can produce magnified views of the moon and planets in our photo voltaic system. Another telescope will observe and file adjustments to the solar. The observatory will even be capable of take a look at nebulae and galaxies with a specialised digital digicam.

Many of the world’s observatories are situated in distant areas with little mild air pollution, such because the Very Large Telescope (sure, that’s actually its identify) in the center of Chile’s Atacama Desert. However, advances in expertise have made city astronomy extra possible. Astronomer Brendan Owens defined to the Telegraph, “We now have filters which completely block out the wavelengths of light from things like street lamps and instead just focus on the hydrogen, oxygen and sulphur dioxide that are coming from stars and planets.”

The astronomers on the reopened Royal Observatory are hoping to witness the “blood moon” lunar eclipse July 27, throughout which the Moon will flip a reddish coloration because it passes via Earth’s shadow.

“It should be quite spectacular,” Owens mentioned of the upcoming eclipse. “We can also use the red tinge to tell us about pollution in the air, as that changes the [Moon’s color] during an eclipse.” Luckily, though the London’s air is still quite polluted, the air high quality has visibly improved because the days of the Great Smog. 

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