Scanning the Skies

One of the strangest yet wonderful things that has happened during the year of covid was a visit I made to the King’s Observatory in Old Deer Park, Richmond.  Because of the virus precautions, those of us who’d been able to book a place (available for only one month in the year) were required to tour the premises one (or a household couple) at a time!!  I was able to see King George III’s observatory in the loft as well as the grand rooms downstairs by myself!  Now that’s something rare.

I just find it fascinating that the monarch himself had an interest in science — in astronomy no less.  King George had the observatory built by Sir William Chambers.  It was completed in 1769 in time for the king’s observation of the transit of Venus which happened on the 3rd of June that year.  So I climbed the same steps that King George did on that day when “His Majesty the King who made his observation with a Shorts reflecting telescope, magnifying Diameters 170 Times, was the first to view the Penumbra of Venus touching the Edge of the Sun’s Disk.”  What really surprised me what just how modest this observatory actually is.  It’s very small, with creaky floorboards and no decorative embellishments whatsoever.  For the monarch of a country, I think that’s pretty cool.