Exploring the Solar System from a crypt in London

Below a church in Bethnal Green doesn’t feel like the obvious place to find a solar system.

St John's Church in Bethnal Green, London

And yet, heading down a set of steps and into a crypt so low you have to stoop in places, there is, in fact, a row of planets. Mounted on plinths, the planets glow, orb-like, radiating soft light reflected from the ceiling spotlights. There’s the textures of Mars, the angry red Venus, and the slow, pulsating yellow sun at the end of the crypt, all designed and created by artist Lucy Hardcastle.

There were also… many smells.

The Scent of Other Worlds

The Scent of Other Worlds, an event held in conjunction with Bompas and Parr and Virgin to celebrate the Live Life Better content series on Virgin.com, brought the universe to E2. The series was about embracing our senses and Bompas and Parr harnessed this beautifully at the event. Hundreds thronged into St Johns church to discover what Saturn’s noxious gasses really smelled like, while the fragrant aroma (yes, fragrant) of Uranus made many people lean in rather than gag.

Data collected from NASA visits to the surface of Mars and Venus helped to provide accurate measurements of the swirling atmospheric clouds and scents encircling some of the planets.

An eerie soundtrack designed by John Hooper and Louise Beer reverberated around the stone crypt, evoking the emptiness of space. The soundtrack didn’t dominate the glass-blown planets, but enhanced them. Guests pumped the pedals on the floor in front of the sculptures and breathed in the (completely harmless) gases, transporting themselves from trendy Shoreditch to the solar system just for 10 seconds.

Even better, visitors could pick up their very own vacuum-packed cocktails mixed by Zero Gravity, which included pearlescent powder and UV light food colouring to provide some dramatic space vibe on the night. Nothing says solar system like a stiff Whitley Neill gin mixed with Square Root soda tonic.

An attendee experiences the scent of other worlds

Below the surface the crypt thrummed with a crowd celebrating what most of us will never see. A world beyond our world.

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