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Science Museum

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

  • Spectacular interactive experiences and unique artefacts will explore our relationship with the Sun.
  • Exhibition coincides with the 150th anniversary of the discovery of helium in the Sun
  • New citizen science project launched with scientists at the University of Reading to improve our ability to forecast solar storms. 

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 with additional support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

The Science Museum today opens its blockbuster exhibition, The Sun: Living With Our Star. Spectacular interactive experiences, unique artefacts, and stunning imagery will reveal the power, beauty, and dark side of the Sun and shed fresh light on our evolving relationship with our closest star.      

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.’ 

Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator said via a video link at the exhibition’s launch: “Since the beginning of civilisation humanity has been fascinated by the power and influence of our Sun. Over the last several decades NASA and researchers from around the world have harnessed space technologies to bring us closer to understanding our star than ever before. I am delighted that the UK’s Science Museum’s new exhibition, The Sun: Living With Our Star, will tell these stories and engage many more people in the amazing science of our Sun.”

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 an astronomical spectroscope made for Norman Lockyer – who campaigned for the founding of the Science Museum – who used it to identify the element helium in the Sun’s atmosphere in 1868. 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. Also on display will be the original orrery, a mechanical model of the Solar System, made for the Earl of Orrery in 1712 to demonstrate the motions of the Earth and Moon around the Sun. 

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 a Tokamak ST25-HTS, a prototype nuclear fusion reactor which successfully created and sustained 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. 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 them 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 invention 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. 

Alongside this exhibition the Science Museum and a team of scientists at Reading University have launched a new citizen science project to research patterns in solar storm activity and ultimately try to improve space weather predications. This project has seen thousands of images of solar storms analysed and the early results are already looking promising. Further details of the findings will be announced shortly. 

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.

To coincide with this exhibition our catering partner Benugo have created a range of products to provide a boost in vitamin D and serotonin levels that can deplete due to lack of sunlight. The range includes The Sun cupcakes, solar power balls, beetroot latte, a turmeric, yuzu and black pepper boost, and sunblush tomato and red pesto pasta.

The Sun: Living With Our Star opens 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 Robert James in the Science Museum Press Office on 020 7942 4401 or email robert.james@sciencemuseum.ac.uk  

Notes to Editors

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