The two small observatories that sprout from the lawns of UCL’s quad are now defunct. One is used as an occasional gallery for the art students at the Slade, the other is a rather grand tool-shed for the gardeners. The copper domes can no longer turn and the slots in the roofing where the telescopes would have emerged to peer at the night sky have long ago corroded shut. The sodium glow of the growing city first forced the observatory to relocate to the outskirts of town at Mill Hill and then away from the city altogether. Time-slots for research are now bought from observatories on the top of volcanoes in Hawaii – 4,000 meters above the sea and clouds. Or from telescopes floating in space – far away from the burning lights that are creeping across the planet below. Now the only straining of the scientist’s eye is watching the packets of data arriving on their screens – beamed back from machines above the sky.

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