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A Clockwork Universe

A brass wall clock
A large steel and brass steampunk wall clock sitting on a grey wall

A sculpture by Tim Wetherell explores early theories of astronomy.

How it works

Closely study the sculpture's movement and the animation of the Moon.

Things to try or ask around the exhibit

  • Watch how the shadow line (terminator) moves across the Moon.
  • Can you see any shapes ‘popping up’ in the darkness?
  • When you watched the animation, did you notice how the line of light and shadow (the terminator) passed over the Moon’s surface?
  • Did you also notice craters and mountains ‘popping up’ in the darkness as the sunlight strikes their peaks?

Background

Sculptor Tim Wetherell: ‘Conceptually, Clockwork Universe explores early scientific theories of astronomy, which saw the universe as a gigantic deterministic machine in which measurements made with sufficient precision could in theory, predict future outcomes. This is in contrast to the quantum mechanical and relativistic view of modern science. The speed adjuster alludes to the small but annoying inconsistencies that frequently existed between measurement and theory and which ultimately proved Einstein’s theories correct. Thanks to Antony Williams for his help in creating the 3D Moon animation.’

Finding the science in your world

Galileo (believed to be the first astronomer to use a telescope), studied the Moon in 1609 and measured the distance between a sunlit mountain peak and the moving terminator. Galileo also knew how big and curved the Moon was and he calculated that one mountain was about 5 kilometres tall. When Galileo published his work in 1610, everyone was surprised, because they believed that astronomical bodies like the Moon and planets were perfectly round and smooth like giant marbles.