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Biggest exhibition about the Sun ever staged to open at the Science Museum this autumn

  • The Sun: Living With Our Star to open on 6 October 2018. Tickets are now on sale.
  • Spectacular interactive experiences and unique artefacts will explore our relationship with the Sun.
  • Major survey reveals lack of public awareness of the dangers of space weather as citizen science project is launched to improve solar storm predictions.

6 October 2018 – 6 May 2019
Tickets from £15, concessions available
Tickets: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/the-sun-living-with-our-star
Major Sponsor: Airbus


The awesome power, beauty and dark side of the Sun will be revealed in a major new exhibition opening at the Science Museum on 6 October 2018. Spectacular interactive experiences, unique artefacts and stunning imagery will shed fresh light on our evolving relationship with our closest star.

Visitors can book tickets to The Sun: Living With Our Star, the most comprehensive exhibition of its kind ever staged, from today.

On display in the exhibition

From beautiful early Nordic Bronze Age artefacts that reveal ancient beliefs of how the Sun was transported across the sky, to details of upcoming NASA and ESA solar missions, this exhibition will chart humankind’s dependence upon and everchanging understanding of our star.

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum, said, “Since people first looked up at the sky the Sun has been a source of fascination, awe and inspiration and I am sure that this exhibition will delight, inspire and amaze visitors of all ages when it opens in October. The Sun: Living With Our Star will take people on a richly visual and action-packed adventure filled with remarkable stories, people and artefacts. I would like to thank our sponsor and all our partners for making this exhibition possible.”

Dr Harry Cliff, Lead Curator of the exhibition, said “The fact that the Sun has had such a profound influence on the way we live makes it an incredibly rich subject for an exhibition, crossing huge expanses of time and place. It’s also a subject that is increasingly relevant for the way we live now, from the threat of solar storms to the upcoming space missions that will allow humankind to touch the Sun for the first time.”

Animations, archive recordings and film will bring to life a unique collection of scientific instruments, technological innovations and historic artefacts. Highlights from the Science Museum collection will include the original orrery, made for the Earl of Orrery in 1712 to demonstrate the motions of the Earth and Moon around the Sun, and an astronomical spectroscope made for Norman Lockyer, founder of the Science Museum, who used it to identify the element helium in 1868 (5). The exhibition in October will coincide with the 150th anniversary of Lockyer’s discovery, the first of an "extra-terrestrial" element, as helium had not yet been found on Earth.

The exhibition will also include significant loans, including a yang-sui from China, a rare bronze concave mirror designed to use sunlight for lighting fires, dating from between 202 BCE and 9 CE. At the other end of the solar power spectrum, the exhibition will look at the ongoing work to recreate the nuclear reactions that power the Sun here on Earth. Visitors will get up close to an ST25-HTS tokamak, the first prototype fusion reactor to use high temperature superconducting magnets, and which successfully sustained a plasma for a record-breaking 29 hours in 2015.

As the days become shorter this autumn, exhibition visitors will literally be able to bask in the sun while sitting in deck chairs under palm trees, with sand at their feet. This is one of several unique interactive experiences designed for visitors to experience and explore the power of the Sun, including a huge illuminated wall display that allows visitors to see the sun rise in different seasons and different locations around the world, and a digital mirror that lets visitors virtually try on a range of sunglasses from the Science Museum collection.

Over many centuries people have worked to unlock the secrets of the Sun, and this exhibition will explore the great advances made since the discovery of the telescope in the early 1600s. Detailed and beautiful sketches, prints, paintings and photographs of the Sun reveal the important observations recorded by artists and astronomers between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s, including the sunspot paintings of James Nasmyth and photographs by Elizabeth Beckley, one of the first female employees of an astronomical observatory.

On 1 September 1859 a massive eruption from the Sun hit the Earth, creating the most powerful magnetic ‘solar storm’ on record. Now known as the ‘Carrington Solar Storm’, because it was observed by astronomer Richard Carrington, it demonstrated for the first time that the Sun’s activity could have a potentially damaging impact here on Earth.

Scientists around the world are developing ways to predict when the next solar storm might hit Earth. Alongside the exhibition, the Science Museum and a team at Reading University has launched a new citizen science project to research patterns in solar storm activity and ultimately try to improve space weather predictions. Although space weather is now officially recognised on the National Risk Register in the UK, an online UK-wide survey by the Science Museum and YouGov, to mark the exhibition launch, reveals that over 97% of the population know little, nothing or have not heard about space weather and over 4 in 5 (81%) are not worried about how a major space weather event might affect their community (6). 

Through this citizen science project, everyone has the chance to find out more about this threat and help protect our planet. Chris Scott, Professor of Space and Atmospheric Physics at the University of Reading is leading this research and explains more: “If a major solar storm hit the Earth, it could knock out electricity grids, satellite navigation and communication for days, weeks or even months. We need the help of as many volunteers as possible to help us analyse thousands of images of solar eruptions, to improve our understanding of solar storms and their potential impact on our planet.“

A new book, The Sun: One Thousand Years of Scientific Imagery, by Lead Curator Dr Harry Cliff and Curator of Art Collections Dr Katy Barrett will be available to accompany the exhibition. Published by Scala, this lavishly illustrated volume explores our fascination with the Sun through a rich selection of scientific imagery.

The Sun: Living With Our Star is sponsored by Airbus. The exhibition will open on Saturday 6 October 2018 and tickets are available now. For further information visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/the-sun-living-with-our-star.

Ends

For further information, interviews and images please contact Julia Murray in the Science Museum Press Office on 020 7942 4328 or email julia.murray@sciencemuseum.ac.uk

Notes to Editors

1. The original orrery, 1712, c. Science Museum Group Collection

2. Sunspot painting by James Nasmyth, 1860, c. Science Museum Group Collection

3. Child's spinal carriage, from infant clinic Bradford, 1890–1920, c. Science Museum Group Collection

4. Coronal mass ejection from the Sun, image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE and HMI science teams.

5. For further information about Norman Lockyer see page 5 of this summary about the history of the Science Museum.

6. Between 4 and 7 May 2018 the Science Museum commissioned YouGov to carry out a UK wide survey to identify levels of public awareness about space weather. This survey was carried out online with a representative sample of 2130 UK adults.

This survey follows previous reports from the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2013 and a jointly funded Science and Technology Facilities Council and Sciencewise public dialogue in 2015, to show that there continues to be a lack of public awareness about space weather.

A summary of the results of the survey are as follows:

A. 25 % of UK adults don’t know that the Sun is a star.
B. 69% of UK adults don’t know that the Sun can cause power cuts.
C. 67% of UK adults don’t think of space weather as a potential natural disaster that could occur in the UK.
D. Before taking this survey, 80% of respondents had not heard of the term ‘space weather’.
E. Of the 20% who had heard of the term ‘space weather’, 58% knew a little about space weather and 29% knew nothing.
F. After reading about space weather, 81% of UK adults are not worried that a space weather event might affect them or their community.

Source: YouGov plc 2018 © All rights reserved.

About the Science Museum

As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum’s world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement.

In the late 19th century, the Science Museum was home to the South Kensington Solar Physics Observatory, established under the leadership of Norman Lockyer to unlock the secrets of the Sun. Famous as the co-discoverer of helium in the Sun in 1868 and as the founding editor of the English science journal Nature, Lockyer was also a key player in the establishment of the Science Museum, assembling a wide range of scientific instruments that became a cornerstone of the Science Museum Group’s world-leading collections. For more information about the Science Museum visit sciencemuseum.org.uk.

About Airbus

Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2017 it generated revenues of € 59 billion restated for IFRS 15 and employed a workforce of around 129,000. Airbus offers the most comprehensive range of passenger airliners from 100 to more than 600 seats. Airbus is also a European leader providing tanker, combat, transport and mission aircraft, as well as one of the world’s leading space companies. In helicopters, Airbus provides the most efficient civil and military rotorcraft solutions worldwide. www.airbus.com

About Discover South Kensington

Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day. discoversouthken.com