Exhibition looks at Whitby’s role in understanding universe

The Captain Cook monument with the starlit skies behind high on the West Cliff at Whitby. ''Picture: Tony Bartholomew
The Captain Cook monument with the starlit skies behind high on the West Cliff at Whitby. ''Picture: Tony Bartholomew

A major new exhibition will examine Whitby’s groundbreaking role in our understanding of the universe.

Whitby and the Cosmos: the Search for Dark Matter will open at Whitby Museum on Saturday 16 February and can be seen until Saturday 20 July. The exhibition celebrates the donation of the ZEPLIN-III Dark Matter Detector to the museum by Imperial College London and is supported by the Royal Society.

It will feature exhibits ranging from 18th-century scientific instruments used by Captain Cook’s research team during their exploration of the South Seas to cutting-edge equipment from Boulby Underground Laboratory, just north of Whitby, where 21st-century scientists are leading the search for Dark Matter.

The story begins with Captain Cook, whose 1768 voyage was commissioned by the Royal Society of London to map the transit of Venus. This marked a huge step forward in scientific knowledge by allowing astronomers to calculate the distance from the earth to the sun and to all the other planets.

The exhibition will also shine a light on the remarkable work underway at Boulby Underground Laboratory at the working polyhalite mine, ICL Boulby. Over a kilometre below the surface of the earth, it is the only deep underground science facility in the UK, where studies can be carried out almost entirely free of interference from natural background radiation.

Science projects at Boulby Underground Laboratory range from astrophysics (including the search for Dark Matter), to ultra-low background material screening, studies of geology/geophysics, climate, the environment, and life in extreme environments on earth and beyond.

The final part of the exhibition focuses on the ZEPLIN-III, until recently employed at Boulby and now installed as the museum’s newest acquisition. ZEPLIN-III contains a xenon chamber to detect WIMPS (Weakly Interactive Massive Particles), which are thought to constitute Dark Matter.

In between, visitors can learn how to get involved in astronomy through the annual Dark Skies Festival organised by the North York Moors National Park, and through local organisations like the Whitby and District Astronomical Society

Curator Roger Osborne says: “We are thrilled to have ZEPLIN-III as part of our museum. We aim to use ZEPLIN and the exhibition to tell visitors about the remarkable and internationally important work taking place at Boulby Underground Laboratory.

“It’s also a great opportunity to highlight Captain Cook’s role as an innovator in scientific exploration whose work contributed to our current understanding of the universe.”

There will be a talk on The Search for Dark Matter by Professor Henrique Araujo of Imperial College at the museum on Friday 15 February. The talk will start at 7pm (doors open 6.30pm) and will include a sneak preview of the exhibition.

Henrique Araujo, Professor of Physics at Imperial College, is one of the world’s leading experts on Dark Matter. He leads the UK team developing the next generation of LUX-Zeplin experiments, as well as developing radiation detection instruments for spacecraft. Professor Araujo arranged for the donation of the magnificent ZEPLIN-III to Whitby Museum.

Entry to the talk is free, but booking is essential. Booking is now open via the museum website: www.whitbymuseum.org

The exhibition runs from 16 February to 20 July. The museum is open from 9.30am to 4.30pm every day except Monday.

The opening weeks of Whitby and the Cosmos: the Search for Dark Matter are part of the North York Moors National Park’s Dark Skies Festival.

The exhibition is part of the Royal Society’s Places of Science scheme.

Whitby Museum is grateful for the support of Imperial College, London, Boulby Underground Laboratory and ICL, owners of Boulby Mine.