Monday, 5 August 2013

Visions of the Universe

Visions of the Universe is the latest exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (on now, until 15th September), dedicated to the memory of the wonderful Sir Patrick Moore and showcasing incredible images of the stars, planets and galaxies above us. You don't need to be an astronomy boffin either; photography fans are in for a particularly supermassive treat but anyone who has ventured outside of London's light pollution and just stared up at the night sky will be transported back to that feeling of sheer wonder.

The exhibition includes photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope and NASA, The Royal Observatory's Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition and ├╝ber-hip Turner Prizewinner Wolfgang Tillmans. Some images are coloured to show topographical detail (high and low ground) or the gases which make them up; this image of the moon clearly shows the craters, scars caused by billions of years' worth of asteroid bombardment. The largest crater on the moon, the South Pole-Aitken basin, is nearly 1500 miles across - that's roughly from here (London) to Moscow - and over five miles deep. No wonder asteroid collisions are the subject of disaster movies; and this is just one of the many instances of scale in this exhibition that are truly mind-boggling.

There are some beautiful and fascinating photographs of the sun, using ultraviolet images to show the seething surface and soaring arcs of gas flowing around the sunspots, and some awesome shots of nebulae from the Hubble Space Telescope. This one of the Eagle nebula looks like a illustration from a fantasy novel but the reality would be hard to beat; this is a photograph of stars being born.

I hadn't realised the extent of the information coming back from NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, which has been on the surface of the planet for a year now; apparently remnants of ancient stream beds show that, billions of years ago, conditions on Mars would have been favourable to life. There is also a cool 13-metre long panorama of the Martian landscape which gives you an idea of what it might be like to stand on Mars and look out over that barren red desert stretching away before you.

A potentially cautionary note to parents desperate to entertain their little cherubs over the summer holidays; I visited on a Sunday afternoon and the atmosphere was still quite grown-up, all subdued lighting and respectful hushed voices. This may or may not suit: I have an endearingly eccentric 11-year old godson who would absolutely love this exhibition, and he has an equally endearing eight-year old sister who would run riot through it. Having said that, the National Maritime Museum itself is kid heaven (even without the special family activities on over the summer) so you could always let them run themselves ragged first and earn yourself a few moments to just stand and stare.

Yours, in quiet amazement,

Girl About Town xx

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