An excerpt from the 2014 GDIF Programme
Dr Marek Kukula
Royal Observatory Greenwich
2014 is the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act, reminding us that Greenwich has been at the heart of human efforts to know our place in the universe for a very long time. Here, mariners were trained and voyages set out to explore the oceans while, up on their hill, the astronomers of the Royal Observatory studied the sky through their telescopes.
New discoveries can help us to make sense of our world but they can also turn cherished ideas upside down. The great telescopes of the Royal Observatory were used to precisely map the heavens, producing reliable tables for navigators and anchoring our concepts of position and timekeeping in the reassuring forms of the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time. And yet the Observatory also houses James Bradley’s zenith telescope, used by the third Astronomer Royal to prove that the Earth, far from being the serenely immovable centre of the universe, is hurtling through space and wobbling on its axis as it goes.
Both art and science have always had the power to transform the way we see the world and our place within it, and here in Greenwich they have been doing just that for centuries.