Royal Observatory, Greenwich

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The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (formerly the Royal Greenwich Observatory or RGO), in London, England 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, overlooking the River Thames.

The observatory was commissioned in 1675 by King Charles II, with the foundation stone being laid on 10 August.[1] At this time the king also created the position of Astronomer Royal (initially filled by John Flamsteed), to serve as the director of the observatory and to "apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying of the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting of the art of navigation." The building was completed in the summer of 1676.[2] The building was often given the title "Flamsteed House".

The scientific work of the observatory was relocated elsewhere in stages in the first half of the 20th century, and the Greenwich site is now maintained as a tourist attraction.



There had been significant buildings on this land since the reign of Edward I.[3] Greenwich Palace, next to the site of the present-day Observatory was the birthplace of Henry VIII and the Tudors used Greenwich Castle, which was built on the land that the Observatory now stands on. Greenwich Castle was apparently a favourite place for Henry VIII to house his mistresses, so that he could easily travel from the Palace to see them.[4]

The establishment of a Royal Observatory was proposed in 1674 by Sir Jonas Moore who, in his role as Surveyor General at the Ordnance Office, persuaded King Charles II that the Observatory might be built with Flamsteed employed in it.[5] The Ordnance Office was given responsibility for building the Observatory, with Moore providing the key instruments and equipment for the observatory at his own personal cost. Flamsteed House, the original part of the Observatory, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren probably with the assistance of Robert Hooke and was the first purpose-built scientific research facility in Britain. It was built for a cost of £520 (£20 over budget) out of largely recycled materials on the foundations of Duke Humphrey's Tower, which resulted in the alignment being 13 degrees away from true North, somewhat to Flamsteed's chagrin.

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