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Special Exhibition Label: 'Atmospheres: Investigating the Weather from Aristotle to Ozone' (19/10/2012 - 07/04/2013)

Rain and Clouds

The spectroscope was a new and powerful instrument of the 19th century, which suddenly gave astronomers unprecedented access to the chemical composition of stars. Less dramatic, but highly popular, was the small direct-vision spectroscope (centre). It revealed a dark band in the solar spectrum when water vapour was present in the atmosphere, thus indicating the probability of rain. This example by John Browning, London dates from about 1885 and is engraved Â?Rain-band SpectroscopeÂ?.

The instrument on the right uses clouds to measure wind direction. This pocket 'nephoscope' is probably English and likely dates from the early 20th-century. It has black and silvered mirrors on which images of moving clouds can be seen against the grid of 16 points of the compass.

The pink brick on the left suggests how far modern meteorological measurement can move from its generally serious and scientific origins. This is an unashamed consumer gadget which uses electronic sensors to display humidity and temperature.

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