The Royal Observatory and Planetarium

Royal Observatory and Planetarium Greenwich

Part of My City My Town London Series

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The Royal Observatory and the Planetarium sits on Greenwich Hill overlooking Greenwich Park in Greenwich. When one thinks of the town Greenwich, one can immediately relate the town to GMT, the Greenwich Mean Time, the Prime Meridian of the world, where zero- degree longitude is marked – Yes! it is the home where time begins and ends, where east meets west!

Royal Observatory and Planetarium
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Why is Greenwich important to me

Greenwich is important to me because of the simple memories I have treasured during my visits there with my children.

Where better a place is there than Greenwich itself for a day visit to discover the practicalities of accurate time and time distribution in everyday life with my young children many years ago. Thus, a visit in the present to the Royal Observatory brings me back to my early ‘Mum’ days when I took my little ones to teach them about Time and where it all began!

Time, the most precious commodity in life, is the Only commodity that we own according to Baltasar Gracian who once said:

“All that really belong to us is time; even he who has nothing else has that.”

As you already know, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich Park is the Home of Astronomy and the Greenwich Mean Time, and it sits on a hill overlooking the Thames River. At the gates of the Royal Observatory, you will find the famous clock, Shepherd Clock.

1 | Shepherd Clock at the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium

Although the concept of time and time-scale was conceived throughout many centuries, the practicality and technical ability to distribute accurate time into everyday life did not become possible until 1847 when this famous clock, became the first clock to ever to show GMT to the public.

The Shepherd Clock at Greenwich. Royal Observatory and Planetarium
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The Shepherd Clock at Greenwich

The unique feature of this famous Shepherd Clock is in the original slave dial. You will note that while the minute and seconds hand are conventional, the hour hand goes around the dial once in 24-hours, so at midday, the minute hand points to the top but the hour hand points to the bottom! Have I confused you yet? 😊

2 | Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium

Besides the Shepherd Clock, the Prime Meridian of the World passes through here, marking the divide between the Eastern and the Western hemisphere. You can find this in the Meridian Courtyard.

The Meridian Line is one of my kids favourite. I have watched their little theatrics as they competed in trying to find the locations of Cities and discover how far exactly in distance they stood! They have stood astride the Prime Meridian, as if playing hopscotch, with one foot in the eastern hemisphere and the other foot in the western hemisphere. It was fun watching them 😊

The Prime Meridian at the Meridian Courtyard in Greenwich - shows the exact distance to a destination. Royal Observatory and Planetarium
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The Prime Meridian at the Meridian Courtyard in Greenwich – shows the exact distance to a destination.

3 | Flamsteed House at the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium

More importantly, of course, the Royal Observatory was created in the 1670s spurred on by King Charles II who wanted better navigation system for seamen and traders. He asked Sir Christopher Wren, who was also an architect, to design the building which is called Flamsteed House.

4 | Time and Longitude Galleries at the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium

It is here, at Flamsteed House, that you will find the Royal Observatory’s Time and Longitude galleries, home to the celebrated John Harrison’s “sea clocks”, H4. This is an interesting gallery especially for those with a scientific mind who wish to explore the history behind the various solutions developed by mathematicians and clockmakers in the 18th century. Also, on display here is the GPS receiver which Sir Robin Knox used on his round-the-world record breaking voyage in 1994.

Flamsteed House in Greenwich - Why time and longitude? Royal Observatory and Planetarium
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Flamsteed House in Greenwich – Why time and longitude?

5 | Red Time Ball at the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium

Another attraction in Flamsteed House which, I think, you should simply witness at least once in your lifetime is the “function” of the bright red Time Ball which sits on top of Flamsteed House.

The Red Time Ball sits on top of Flamsteed House, Greenwich
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The Red Time Ball sits on top of Flamsteed House, Greenwich

Historically, this red ball distributed time to ships on the Thames River and many Londoners. What does it exactly do? And how does it do it?

Well, since 1833 till today, each day at 12:55, the time ball rises half-way up its mast. At 12:58 exactly, the ball is raised all the way to the top. Then, at 13:00 exactly, the ball falls, thus providing a signal to anyone who is looking. When it was first used in 1833, the ship’s chronometer was accurately set before it set sail.

The Time Ball at 1 p.m Note the time displayed on the Shepherd Clock, Greenwich
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The Time Ball at 1 p.m Note the time displayed on the Shepherd Clock, Greenwich
The Royal Observatory and Planetarium, Greenwich The Time Ball being dropped at 1 p.m.
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The Royal Observatory, Greenwich. The Time Ball being dropped at 1 p.m.

6 | Planetarium at the Royal Observatory and the Planetarium

While here, you could also take a journey through space by visiting the Planetarium. A Royal Observatory astronomer presents you with a journey to explore the night sky by flying to the heart of the Sun, takes you to the distant galaxies and see the birth of a star or land on Mars. This is an exciting ‘adventure’ for both young and old and definitely worth the experience. It is a ticketed event and it costs £8.00

The Planetarium at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich
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The Planetarium at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich

7 | The View

From the top of Greenwich Park at the Royal Observatory, you will have stunning views across the Royal Park towards the Queens House.

Stunning views of the Queen's House, River Thames and London's Skyline from the top of the hill at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.
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Stunning views of the Queen’s House, River Thames and London’s Skyline from the top of the hill at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

8 | Stroll across Greenwich Park

It is a pleasant stroll downhill, across the Park to the Queen’s House. When strolling through the park, be sure to keep a look out for the Royal Deer! Yeap! Deer – they are said to be the direct descendants of King Henry VIII’s hunting stock.

Summary of 8 Experiences at the Royal Observatory and The Planetarium

  • The Shepherd’s Clock
  • Greenwich Meridian Line
  • Flamsteed House
  • Time & Longitude Galleries
  • The Red Time Ball
  • The Planetarium
  • The View – stunning views of the Queen’s House, River Thames and London’s Skyline
  • The Park – the chance to see the Royal Deer! 🙂

Travel tips and Useful Information on Royal Observatory and Planetarium

Opening hours: 10:00 – 17:30

Admission:        Adult: £15.00     Child: £6.50     Day Explorer: Adult – £24.25 / Child – £11.50

Facilities:
Toilets and baby-change facilities are located:

  • on the Lower Ground floor;
  • after exiting the Admission area;
  • on the right-hand side after exiting the Admissions area;
  • at the base of the external staircases in front of Flamsteed House.

The Official website for the Royal Museum Greenwich: https://www.rmg.co.uk

To conclude, I have a question for you – Is this post valuable to you to aid your travel plans to Greenwich? If so, let me know in comments or via Contact Form. I would love to hear from you.

Happy adventures!

Georgina

January 2020, Update

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Royal Observatory and Planetarium
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Explore the experiences that will blow you away into space and take a step into history with the magic of the Red Ball. A detail guide to exploring and discovering the Royal Observatory and Planetarium, home to Time, the Greenwich Meridian. via @GGeorgina_mytimelessfootsteps/
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8 Responses

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  7. Georgina
    |

    Many thanks, Estelle. It is fun. Hope you will visit soon. 🙂

  8. Estelle Anderson
    |

    What a fabulous read Georgina. I’d love to visit The Royal Observatory & Planetarium . And I’d be like your kids – one foot on Meridan Line & checking out how far it is to certain cities.

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