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The Royal Observatory in London played a major role in the history of astronomy and navigation, and is best known as the location of the prime meridian. It is situated on a hill in Greenwich Park.
The observatory was commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II. The building was completed in 1676. The building was often given the title "Flamsteed House", in reference to its first occupant, John Flamsteed the first Astronomer Royal. You can still visit this building designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675.
John Flamsteed was asked to draw up a map of the heavens with enough accuracy to be reliable for navigation. Since Flamsteed there have been 14 Astronomers Royal, including Edmond Halley and Nevil Maskelyne, each of whom have contributed to the world’s understanding of the stars, time and space. Take a fascinating glimpse into the apartments where the Astronomers Royal and their families lived and worked.
There is the beautiful Octagon Room to admire, designed to observe celestial events including eclipses, comets and planetary movements. However, the positioning of Flamsteed House meant that the original purpose of the Observatory could not be fulfilled from the Octagon Room. With big windows, the room was perfect for watching the sky, but not ideal for positional observations, because none of the walls were aligned with a meridian. Most important positional observations were actually made in a small 'shed' in the Observatory gardens, though King Charles II remained blissfully unaware of this.
The Octagon Room is open to the public and now houses a selection of timepieces and astronomical instruments.
On top of Flamsteed House is one of the world's earliest public time signals, the bright red Time Ball. Outside you can stand on the world-famous Greenwich Meridian Line, which represents the Prime Meridian of the World – Longitude 0º.
The observatory also possesses the Astronomy centre where you will find all the answers you ever had concerning the sky. If you have ever wondered how stars and planets are born, what astronomers do during the daytime or even about our place in the universe, the interactive Weller Astronomy Galleries will help you unravel the mysteries of the cosmos.