Assalamu ‘alaikum. Please note that I wrote this particular article when I was 14. My views, as I have come closer to my Deen, acquiring more Islamic knowledge (Alhamdulillah) have changed a lot since then. [In this article, I should have said ‘Subhan Allah’ way more. The wonders of the universe are only so because Allah has made them this way.]
The Royal Observatory in London is paradise for every astronomer aficionado in or around London. Located in Greenwich (near three other prominent museums) the Royal Observatory is home to an exceptional astrodome, numerous fascinating artefacts and exhibits, and the renowned Meridian Line.
Since ancient times, human beings have been observing the skies for religious, navigational and timekeeping purposes. Through substantial technological advancements, we have discovered thousands of unprecedented and extraordinary secrets, regarding our creation, existence and place in the universe.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are”
We now know that our Earth is awe-inspiringly unique, as it is the only known habitable planet that nurtures life, and so many different variations of life. Human beings, elephants, whales and even the tiniest ant- nothing of the sort appears to exist anywhere else in our observable universe. But our observable universe (the vast portion of sky that may be seen through powerful telescopes) is only an infinitesimal fragment of our universe, which by the way, is rapidly expanding. Some believe that our universe is infinite, but this is one speculation that cannot be proven for sure.
“The important thing is to never stop questioning”- Albert Einstein
My trip to the Royal Observatory was extremely informative and stimulating; even my cousin Shahara (who generally detests sci-fi, stars and all things technical) thought the planetarium was, and I quote: “sick”, which (contextually) is a colloquial term meaning “remarkable”. There were exhibits regarding dark matter, spectroscopy and the evolution of telescopes, which had been absolutely integral to knowing what we do today. Essentially, telescopes are time machines, as they look back in time: it takes millions of light years for the light of even proximal stars to reach us.
After viewing and handling a few artefacts (including a 4.5 billion-year-old clump from a meteorite, which we were informed would be the oldest physical thing we’d ever handle) we proceeded to the picnic area to enjoy the contents of my aunt’s hefty picnic bag.
We then made our way (through a complex maze of padlocked gates, no-go areas and a very stern security guard, who insisted that we must walk at a leisurely pace) to the astrodome, in order to view a showing of ‘Dark Universe’, narrated by American astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. To express my thoughts about the atmosphere, the factual explanations and the show itself in a concise manner, it was absolutely epic, though the duration was far too compendious for my liking. Given the chance, I’d be more than willing to spend at least three hours in the astrodome.
Amongst the many spectacles the Royal Observatory has on offer, the Prime Meridian (the exact geographical line that divides the East and West hemispheres- longitude 0° of the world) could be the most popular. This line is so bewilderingly popular that masses of people are willing to pay a dear little fee merely to stand upon it (and post corresponding pictures online), so that one foot is on the literal east side of the world, the other on the west.
I found it witty that they sell pairs of socks in the gift shop, consisting of an East one and a West one.
Directly adjacent to the Prime Meridian line is an elevated hill that overlooks an outstanding view: the O2 Arena in the far right corner, the cluster of bank headquarters and media organisations that make up Canary Wharf, hundreds of houses stretching beyond the horizon, all clashing with the tranquility of the surrounding green space.
We enjoyed a spot of footy, took several snapshots of the scenery (as you do) and climbed a tree.
The tree was broad and sturdy, one of hundreds of neighbours. I’m no dendrochronologist, but this tree had to be at least 120 years of age. After climbing the tree with a surprising amount of confidence, I dithered as I looked down. Nervously outstretching my foot to find an orifice in which to rest my foot, I must have taken five minutes to find a route back down.
A nearby young girl, with her arms folded, a look of complacency and impatience across her face, remarked: “I could get up and down by the time you come down.” Her arrogance was met with a simple, “I don’t care” by me.
After this tree debacle, which left me flustered and abashed, we visited the gift shop. There was a wide variety of aesthetically intriguing (especially for an astronomy fanatic like myself) products for relatively pleasant prices. I purchased a postcard for 75p (for my collection, of course) a ruler for £2 (which depicts the planets in our solar system, and a few congruent facts about them) and a NASA pin badge for 75p. I was very satisfied with my purchases.
After the show, my three-year-old cousin Isa (who, much to my astonishment, did not fall asleep or fidget once) exclaimed enthusiastically, dynamically gesticulating with his hands: “I loved seeing the planets and shooting stars! When they exploded, they looked like fireworks! It was so cool!”
In retrospect, the Royal Observatory is highly recommended for a great family day out, and for an insight into the mysterious universe around our home planet.
Peering into darkness, we stand on the threshold of great discovery.