Lying somewhere on the border between science exhibit and art show, it brings together hundreds of pictures of the universe, gives a brief explanation of what you’re looking at, and then steps smartly back to watch your jaw hit the floor.
I’ve been to see amazing things at the National Maritime Museum before: most notably, a talk by an actual space pilot – Brent Buffington from NASA who “pilots” the Cassini probe around Saturn (seriously – that’s his job!)
So Visions of the Universe was up against stiff competition, but didn’t disappoint.
You’re probably already familiar with many of the pictures on display: from the internet or books, and they’re all spell-bindingly beautiful. They’re more amazing for being real, and for all being remarkable achievements in themselves; almost none are the result of lucky amateurs pointing a camera and pressing a button; they’re at the limits of the technologically possible.
Are we amazed though? No, we become accustomed to breaking the limits of the possible; these astonishing images become the everyday wallpaper of our life. But if you were to show the least impressive of these to an astronomer from just 50 years ago they would be astonished.
In particular, the huge HD panorama of the Martian surface would amaze them – 50 years ago the surface of Mars was a mystery. Hell, the even basic geography of Mars was barely known!
Today, there are robots on Mars giving us HD colour 3D images of the landscape; we can practically smell and taste Mars, it seems that near.
Where Visions of the Universe excelled for me was in restoring some much needed wonder to all these images. Displaying them in a dark, almost church-like space changes the mood – it demands reverence, it demands awe; but best of all, it pushes your eyes open wide and makes you smile like a child at the beauty of the universe – and the cleverness of humanity in capturing just a little of it.
Visions of the Universe is on from 7th June till 15th September and costs £8 for adults, £2.50 for children.