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Laura Free­man gets more sound than light but is warmed by The Sun: Liv­ing with Our Star at the Science Mu­seum

The Sunday Telegraph - - News -

It is quar­ter to seven as I write, and the sky, which was dark 10 min­utes ago, is now bright­ened by a lick of pink on the hori­zon. In the East, the Greek god He­lios is check­ing the axles of his char­iot. Or per­haps it’s the Egyp­tian Ra punt­ing his boat to­wards dawn, or the In­dia Surya bridling her seven horses.

Or maybe it’s a less ro­man­tic, but no less ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pla­na­tion: that 92.96mil­lion miles from Earth, atoms of he­lium and atoms of hy­dro­gen are fus­ing to­gether at tem­per­a­tures of 15mil­lion de­grees Cel­sius, re­leas­ing huge amounts of en­ergy. Oh, yes, here comes the sun.

This hot ball of glow­ing gases is now the blaz­ingly beau­ti­ful sub­ject of a new ex­hi­bi­tion at the Science Mu­seum in Lon­don, The Sun: Liv­ing with Our Star. The first ex­hibit is a live-feed of the Sun filmed from Nasa’s So­lar Dy­nam­ics Ob­ser­va­tory in space. What an al­to­gether more fear­some star she is than the smi­ley-faced suns of chil­dren’s car­toons: more Eye of Sau­ron than The Sun Has Got His Hat On.

Cu­rated by par­ti­cle physi­cist Dr Harry Cliff, with in­tel­li­gent at­ten­tion to both cu­ri­ous chil­dren and sun-wor­ship­ping adults, the ex­hi­bi­tion takes us from the Stone Age to our own age. The dis­play is the­matic – mea­sur­ing time; sun­shine and health; power from the sun; ob­serv­ing the sun – rather than chrono­log­i­cal. This is stim­u­lat­ing, but you start to feel a bit Doc­tor Who as you lurch from An­cient Baby­lon to Galileo, Stone­henge to sun cream, Mayan pyra­mids to pro­to­type nu­clear fu­sion re­ac­tor.

The ear­li­est ob­jects in the ex­hi­bi­tion come from Bronze Age Scan­di­navia (c1400-1100BC). A replica model of the Trund­holm sun horse pulls a great disc of bronze across the sky. A bronze belt plate is tooled with sun sym­bols.

Then, in a mighty leap in time and un­der­stand­ing, we come to an armil­lary sphere (a spher­i­cal frame­work of rings demon­strat­ing the re­la­tion­ship of ce­les­tial bod­ies) of the 1500s and an or­rery (a clock­work model of the so­lar sys­tem) of 1712. Then back­wards to Ni­co­laus Coper­ni­cus, who in On the Revo­lu­tions of the Heav­enly Spheres (1543) made the ar­gu­ment that the sun, not the Earth, was at the cen­tre of the uni­verse. Back again to Saxon sun­di­als (c1055) and for­ward to Is­lamic as­tro­labes (c1650). Each ex­hibit and ac­com­pa­ny­ing la­bel is in­di­vid­u­ally en­light­en­ing, but the jump­ing time­line frus­trates.

The Sun and Health room is il­lu­mi­nat­ing: breezy and light­hearted, but with a se­ri­ous mes­sage about the dan­gers of both too lit­tle sun and too much. In the Thir­ties, sun cures were pro­moted to cure all man­ner of mal­adies, from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis to ner­vous dis­or­ders. A pho­to­graph from 1944 shows chil­dren ski­ing in the Alps wear­ing only white pants and cot­ton sun hats.

A Fifties pho­to­graph cap­tures in­fant quadru­plets re­ceiv­ing “sun treat­ment”. The mid-20th cen­tury was the age of swim­suits, sun­tans and cheap trains to Scar­bor­ough beach. An omi­nous note is sounded by an Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety poster of a bikini babe un­der the head­line: “Fry now, pay later”. The Inu­its have worn slit­ted wooden sun gog­gles to pro­tect against snow blind­ness for 3,000 years.

The rooms ded­i­cated to har­ness­ing and ob­serv­ing the sun de­mand most con­cen­tra­tion. It’s a shame that the at­mo­spheric sound­scapes and ex­plana­tory videos are so in­tru­sive. Why no head­phones? If you’re try­ing to get to grips with pho­to­voltaics and spec­tro­graphs, or gaze in won­der at El­iz­a­beth Beck­ley’s eerie sunspot pho­tos, it is dif­fi­cult to do so un­der an au­ral on­slaught. Vis­i­tors ought to leave blinded by our daz­zling sun, not deaf­ened

by the sound­track. Un­til May 6 2019. Tick­ets: 0333 241 4000; sci sci­ence­mu­seum.org

Star at­trac­tion: stun­ning im­agery ex­plores our his­toric and cur­rent re­la­tion­ship with Earth’s clos­est star

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