Today's commentary on the spirit of the age comes with the news that the London Planetarium is to close in favour of a show about celebrity. Indeed: study of the stars up there beyond us is to be replaced by study of the stars down here and always with us.
Tussauds, the Planetarium's operators, say there's no longer the interest. Patrick Moore thinks more could be done to attract trade; one doubts it. The ethereal is currently not as attractive as the attainable. The Egyptians, the Maya and our own Stonehengers were intrigued and guided by the stars. We are more taken with our own powers, perhaps because we've been up there, and, to be honest, found it a bit dull.
Stargazers haven't always had the best press, either. Thales, the philosopher, fell into a well while he was walking along studying the heavens, and was told by the servant girl who pulled him out that it was no use knowing about things up there if you couldn't see what was right in front of you.
Quite. The temptation is to respond with Wilde's over-familiar observation that we're all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars; as it's winter, though, let's be more gloomy, and go for Auden's bleak view that we should look only to ourselves: "The stars are dead ... we are left alone with our day."
Still, it's a bit odd that the Planetarium had its glory days when the wonders of the night sky were available outside the back door, and yet there's less interest now when the only light you can see through the sodium haze is the 22.50 from Tenerife. But that's us, isn't it?Reuse content