|Royal Astronomical Society library
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
During the Saturn After Cassini symposium that I attended a few weeks ago, we were allowed a visit to the Royal Astronomical Society's library, with a 2.5 hour (!) guided tour. This kind, if garrulous and tipsy, gentleman also permitted us to peruse and handle the pieces of the collection that he'd laid out in our honour. I was the first one to be permitted to hold a book. It turned out to be a £750,000+ copy of the Principia Mathematica. It made me, shall we say, a little flushed. We slowly became accustomed to the liberty, although we continued to be wowed by the collection itself.
I didn't bring a camera because I didn't think we were going to be allowed to take photos, let alone handle the books. But one chap in our group, a very nice German postdoc named Daniel Heisselmann, brought his Nikon dSLR and kindly sent me the pick of his shots when I requested them.
Early 1600s illustrations of Saturn (with ears!)
First floor of the library
Not pictured: spiral staircase in the opposite corner for accessing the balcony running round the upper shelves. ♥ ♥ ♥
First floor of the library 2
The gentleman to my write was our esteemed guide, the head librarian.
Oh, this old thing?
It's only a first edition of the Principia Mathematica.
And this is just a very old optics text
He told us he didn't believe in using white gloves to handle the books because they make a person more clumsy and prone to tearing the pages.
Painstakingly elaborate astronomical chart
All I could think was, "This is worth at least a quarter of a million pounds. Mustn't. Drop."
First illustration of the surface of the Sun
Powered by millions of coal plants!
A chunk of Sir Isaac Newton's famed apple tree
To wind down the tour, he took us to the top floor of the library, gave us wine and showed us early photographic plates of the surface of the moon and solar eclipses. I don't think it really made us any less giddy, although after two solid hours of non-stop historical tuition, I think we were all quite tired. But it was certainly fantastic and a tremendous honour. I won't forget it.