Review: Visions of the Universe at the National Maritime Museum

By Emily Beeson | 14 June 2013

Exhibition review: Visions of the Universe, National Maritime Museum, London, until September 15 2013

A photo of a golden moon
Venus© NASA
We are all philosophers, by virtue of our urge to discover, to cast off shadows and to see things for what they are. Our desire to marvel at the true beauty of reality is the compelling point of this showcase.

The exhibition’s solid, black walls mimic the limitless void into which humans have edged for hundreds of years, illustrating the cosmos. Images of the heavens, peppered with the lights of chemical reactions, are made marvellously palpable by the power of technology.

Eerie chimes, radio static and the loaded humming of machines in transition contribute to the sense of space exploration. Ours is a fascination with what lies beyond the surface of our own planet and the mystique of astrology.

Dazzling images are captured by the Hubble telescope. Magnificent celestial bodies such as the Pillars of Creation of the Eagle Nebulae pale our solar system into near insignificance. Experts and amateur photographers, including Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmanns, have made these remarkable images which act as windows into the cosmos.

Light filters and advances in telescopic and recording technology allow colours, atmospheres, textures and scale not normally detectable by human eyesight to be seen.

A 13-metre wide panorama of the surface of Mars is a highlight, not least for the show's directors. It stretches across the dark space, exhibiting the true colours of the planet’s surface, giving the impression of standing on the sands of the red planet, looking to an alien sky.

Stunning animations digitally comprised of the faint lights of thousands of photographs of the earth are projected onto the stygian walls, mirrored by Venus and the Moon, each turning to reveal their surfaces.

Prolific figures in astrological discovery are also recalled, including Sir Henry Moore, who the show is dedicated to.

There is even a glimpse of the future through the European Extremely Large Telescope in Chile. Its potential for new discovery proffers the question: what other visions of the universe can the power of technology provide?

  • Open 10am-5pm (8pm Thursday). Admission £8/£7. Follow the museum on Twitter @NMMGreenwich.

More pictures:

A photo of swirling white lights in the solar night sky above trees
Star Trails Blue Mountains© Ted Dobosz
A photo of an astronaut on the moon
Edwin 'Buzz' Aldrin on the Moon© NASA. Photo: Neil Armstrong
A photo of the earth as seen from the surface of the moon
Earthrise© NASA Johnson Space Centre
A photo of a space shuttle in the galaxy
Astronauts repairing the Hubble Space Telescope© NASA
A photo of a pink circle in the solar system
Andromeda Galaxy© Aggelos Kechagias
Visit Emily Beeson's blog and follow her on Twitter.
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