A Place Called Space
Day 17

Supported by Wellcome Trust

Space in the archives

A space-themed delve into the archives of the Royal Institution.

  • An illustration of the moon from Chart der Gebirge Des Mondes, 1878.

This isn't the first time the Royal Institution has been caught up in a swell of excitement about space. For over 200 years we've been gazing at the stars, and some of the first lectures at the Ri in 1801 were on astronomy. As a result our archives are overflowing with space-related gems; here are a few of our favourites.

Magic lantern slides

Long before the days of digital projectors, magic lanterns were a crucial part of astronomy presentations at the Ri. This collection of hand painted slides comes from around 1850, and were used by pioneer of astronomical photography Warren De la Rue and others. Scroll through the images below.

  • Magic lantern slide showing size

    The size of the sun in the sky from the different planets of our solar system.

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Magic lantern slide

    The solar system

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Close-up of the moon

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Comets and meteorites

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • The moon

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Ursa Major

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • The geometry of space

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • The geometry of space

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • The geometry of space

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • Bodies of the cosmos

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • The size of the planets

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • The geometry of space

    Credit: Royal Institution

A few of the lantern slides include moving parts, designed to bring a presentation to life. Here, 'the Earth's annual motion round the sun, showing the parallelism of its axis, thereby producing the seasons':

And 'a diagram illustrating the cause of spring and neap tides, shewing the moon's phases during its revolution':

Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes

Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes is an 1878 publication in our collection. At about 1 metre wide and tall, it includes 25 hugely detailed illustrations of the moon, which combine to make one beautiful complete image.

  • A section from one of the illustrations in Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes.

    A section from one of the illustrations in Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes.

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • A section from one of the illustrations in Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes.

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • A section from one of the illustrations in Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes.

    A section from one of the illustrations in Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes.

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • A section from one of the illustrations in Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes.

    A section from one of the illustrations in Charte der Gebirge Des Mondes.

    Credit: Royal Institution

The stars: A gnomonic projection

This publication was produced by astronomer Richard A Proctor in 1866 and includes these foldable star charts. Download the Northern and Southern star charts and the Northern and Southern hemisphere constellations and try assembling them for yourself.

  • A gnomonic projection of the Northern stars

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • A gnomonic projection of the Southern stars

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • A gnomonic projection of the stars

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • A gnomonic projection of the stars

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • An explanation of how to assemble the projections

    Credit: Royal Institution

The photography of Warren De la Rue

  • Photograph of Mars

    This is one of the first ever photographs of Mars, 'as seen with a Newtonian equatoreal of thirteen inches aperture', April 20 1856.

    Credit: Royal Institution

  • W De la Rue's photograph of the 1861 eclipse of the sun

    Credit: Royal Institution

An ever-growing collection

Remember to watch this year's CHRISTMAS LECTURES with Kevin Fong on BBC Four on 28, 29 and 30 of December, or on the Ri Channel in early 2016 to witness cutting edge space science of today. And of course, the highlights from Kevin's lectures will be preserved and add another layer to our archive for future generations to enjoy.

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