A path to the stars from deep below Whitby

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Towering above Whitby harbour, the statue of the port’s most famous son is a lasting reminder of its contribution to our understanding of the stars.

But a new exhibition in the town is concerned as much with science below ground as with what Captain James Cook discovered.

The Captain Cook monument with the starlit skies behind high on the West Cliff at Whitby. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

The Captain Cook monument with the starlit skies behind high on the West Cliff at Whitby. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

His voyage of 1768 was commissioned by the Royal Society of London to map the transit of Venus – an expedition which allowed astronomers to calculate for the first time the distance from the earth to the sun and the other planets.

It will be celebrated at Whitby Museum from next month by an event which also chronicles the continuing search for the universe’s dark matter that has been going on deep within the nearby Boulby potash mine.

More than half a mile below the earth’s surface, it is the only facility in the UK in which studies can be carried out almost entirely free of interference from natural background radiation.

The ZEPLIN III dark matter detector, which operated there until 2011, has been loaned to the museum by Imperial College London for the five-month exhibition.

Its curator, Roger Osborne, said: “We aim to use ZEPLIN and the exhibition to tell visitors about the remarkable and internationally important work taking place at Boulby Underground Laboratory.

“It’s also a great opportunity to highlight Captain Cook’s role as an innovator in scientific exploration whose work contributed to our current understanding of the universe.”

Meanwhile, amateur astronomers hoping to follow in Cook’s footsteps by tracking the annual Quadrantids meteor shower