Tag Archives: space

Longitude in Stamps

The Royal Observatory is one of London’s most recognisable landmarks, and was designed by one of Britain’s greatest architects Sir Christopher Wren. The 10 August marks 340 years since the building’s foundation stone was laid. The Royal Observatory is now part of The Maritime Museum and as the home of The Prime Meridian it is the centre of world time.

European Architectural Heritage Year, Royal Observatory, Greenwich Stamp (1975)

European Architectural Heritage Year, Royal Observatory, Greenwich 8p Stamp (1975)

The building was commissioned by King Charles II to produce a reliable map of the sky in order to improve navigation at sea . Navigating a ship by the stars can be seen in the 37p Astronomy stamp from 1990.

Astronomy, Stonehenge, Gyroscope and Navigation by Stars 39p Stamp (1990)

Astronomy, Stonehenge, Gyroscope and Navigation by Stars 39p Stamp (1990)

Distance could also be measured in Longitude by using the time of two separate locations. Sailors calculated local time by the position of the sun, but to know the time back at home they needed to take a clock aboard the ship, the conditions of which caused the clocks to become inaccurate. In 1714 the Government passed an Act of Parliament offering £20,000 to whoever could solve the ‘Longitude Problem’ and produce a way of keeping time at sea.

Astronomy, Greenwich Old Observatory and Early Astronomical Equipment, 31p Stamp (1990)

Astronomy, Greenwich Old Observatory and Early Astronomical Equipment, 31p Stamp (1990)

The competition was won by John Harrison, a joiner from Yorkshire, whose expertise in clock making allowed him to produce a devise that could withstand the conditions and motions of a journey.The image on the right of the above stamp shows the first sea fairing clock ‘H1’, a chronometer that compensated for the movement of the ship with two swinging balances.

Marine Timekeepers 24p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 24p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 28p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 28p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 33p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 33p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 39p Stamp (1993)

Marine Timekeepers 39p Stamp (1993)

Harrison produced numerous attempts to construct a clock that would provide longitude within half a degree. His final and successful clock the ‘H4’ was produced by watch maker John Jeffery to his specification and resembled a pocket watch. The stamp issue Maritime Timekeepers from 1993 celebrated his final product. Captain Cook in fact took a copy of Harrison’s ‘H4’ with him on his second voyage and it proved instrumental when navigating the journey.

Millennium Series, The Travellers' Tale, Captain Cook and Maori 63p Stamp (1999)

Millennium Series, The Travellers’ Tale, Captain Cook and Maori 63p Stamp (1999)

Greenwich is also home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian. A meridian is a north south line very much like the equator which acts as Longitude 0°, where astronomical observations are measured from.  The 31p stamp below depicts Sir George Airey’s Transit Telescope which is the precise point longitude is measured from.

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Sir George Airey's Transit Telescope 31p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Sir George Airey’s Transit Telescope 31p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich Observatory 28p Stamp (1984)

Centenary of Greenwich Mean Time, Greenwich Observatory 28p Stamp (1984)

The Greenwich Meridian was chosen as the Prime Meridian for the world by an International Conference represented by 25 nations. At this time most sea charts were measured using the Greenwich Meridian, so it seemed logical to continue. The line passes through the observatory and is identified by the steel line on the ground and a green laser that shines across London.

Greenwich Prime Meridian Laser Across London

Greenwich Prime Meridian Laser Across London

As an island nation, sea travel has always been important in Britain. This is reflected in these beautiful stamp designs which celebrate not just sea travel but the innovations and achievements of those that made it possible. This theme of innovation and human endeavour is one that has always been important in the history of the postal service, as well as Britain as a whole, and as such will be prominent in the galleries of The Postal Museum when it opens in late 2016.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Philatelic Assistant

Space Science stamps

Royal Mail has today issued six new stamps which take a journey around our solar system, revealing the beauty and mystery of the other worlds that also orbit the Sun. The Space Science issue celebrates Britain’s role in the exploration of space and marks the 50th anniversary of Ariel 1, the first British satellite.

Space Science Presentation Pack.

Space Science Presentation Pack.

Two 1st class stamps show the Sun, our nearest star, and Venus, as seen from the Venus Express probe.

Space Science 1st class stamps.

Space Science 1st class stamps.

The two 77p stamps feature a shot of ice within an impact crater on the surface of Mars and the diamond-shaped asteroid Lutetia, captured by the Rosetta probe.

Space Science 77p stamps.

Space Science 77p stamps.

Perhaps one of the most exciting developments was the historic landing of the Huygens probe upon Saturn’s largest moon Titan, featured on one of the £1.28p stamps, revealing a landscape remarkably similar to that of Earth. The other £1.28p stamp features the beautiful icy rings of Saturn, lit up by the Sun behind, which were photographed by the Cassini probe.

Space Science £1.28 stamps.

Space Science £1.28 stamps.

All the extraordinary images captured for the Space Science issue were taken by the European Space Agency‘s (ESA) satellites and probes. As a member of the ESA, Britain’s scientists, universities and companies have made significant contributions to its missions, such as Mars Express and the Cassini-Huygens probe to Saturn.

In the Space Science Presentation Pack that accompanies this issue, astronomy journalist Dr Stuart Clark takes a look at our solar system and the recent European probes that have explored it.

Philip Parker, Royal Mail Stamps spokesperson, said:

In previous astronomy issues we had looked at the distant galaxies, so for this issue we decided to take a more ‘local’ approach and explore our home solar system.

We worked closely with the European Space Agency to determine the content of this issue, and the designers selected recent images gathered by ESA space observatories and probes to produce this fascinating set of stamps.

Two different pictorial ‘first day of issue postmarks’ are available to accompany this stamp issue.

Space Science first day of issue postmarks.

Space Science first day of issue postmarks.

Stamps and stamp products are available at most Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/spacescience and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.