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... blasted open at long last!

 

When alighting at the top of our globe escalator in the Red Zone's Earth hall, from now on visitors will be greeted by an explosion of colour and dramatic installations as they enter the new Volcanoes and Earthquake gallery.

 

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Volcanoes and Earthquakes, our new permanent gallery, blasts open today, 31 January.

 

Alex Fairhead, interpretation manager for the new gallery, gives us an introduction:

 

''The earthquakes are back. Eleven months after our older The Power Within gallery was closed for refurbishment and, after two years in the planning, today sees the opening of Volcanoes and Earthquakes - a new, free permanent gallery in the Museum. In the exhibition we showcase about 120 specimens and objects. With these we explore the origins, geology, scientific understanding and human impact of our planet's most powerful natural forces.

 

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The new gallery has three themed zones: volcanoes, plate tectonics and earthquakes.

 

'For the gallery's design, we took inspiration from the structure of rock strata and continental plates and you can see that in the jutting, layered walls. The exhibition leads visitors through three themed areas: volcanoes, plate tectonics and earthquakes. The final encounter is inside the Museum’s renowned earthquake simulator, a re-creation of the supermarket scene during Japan's 1996 Kobe earthquake.

 

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A heat suit worn by volcanologists towers tall in the centre of the gallery. It can withstand temperatures of up to to 1,000˚C.

 

'There are a few surprises for visitors as they make their way through the gallery. The pink flamingo's feathers hide a volcanic secret, a 4,000 year old copper dagger holds the key to Cyprus’ underwater origins, and a giant catfish that was once thought to be the cause of earthquakes looms large.

 

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In Japanese mythology, the giant catfish was considered to be the cause of earthquakes.

 

'It's a gallery that was always popular with families and schools and we've really enhanced the content for this audience in the transformation. There are interactive quizzes and games, CGI films, touch objects includng a meteorite and lava bomb, and an in-depth explanation of the science behind these epic natural phenomena that have literally rocked our world.'

 

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A shaky final encounter in the gallery's Kobe supermarket earthquake simulator.

 

The Volcanoes and Earthquake gallery is a free permanent gallery. To visit, the nearest Museum entrance is our Exhibition Road entrance.

 

Come and be blown away.

 

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Today was the first day of the festival on the beach at Lyme Regis, Otherwise known as primary school day! Through the day, hundreds of school children from twenty local primary schools filltered through the tent, enjoying all of the fabulous activities and sights! A popular activity was the shark sieving, with children searching through sediment from Abbey Wood to find and identify shark teeth and shells - which they got to keep at the end!

 

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The equipment for shark sieving and the sediment

 

The British Geological Survey were showing off their 3D scanning equipment and printer. This was rather amazing! I was also very impressed with the British Antarctic Survey's specimens, particularly one ammonite  that had incredible sutures.

 

Museum staff had a very busy day with all of their activities, with Mike Rumsey and Helena Toman especially busy with their gold panning. Jerry Hooker and Noel Morris dealt with many fossil identifications.

 

I was sucessful in identifying the meteorite in a task designed by Caroline Smith and Deb Cassey - it is often difficult to identify a true meteorite! The DNA activity got many children very excited, with lots going past our fossil stand waving their tubes and enthusiastically telling us that they had DNA.

 

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A girl hunting for 'gold' at the gold panning station.

 

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'Barry' our Baryonyx skull watching over us as we work.

 

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Many of the Museum stations and associated staff inside the tent (but not all of us!)

 

Emma and I were also intervied for Palaeocast, a podcast about palaeontology. Emma talked to them about fish and I discussed ammonites.

 

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Emma and me being interviewed for Palaeocast

 

Tomorrow the tent will be open to the public so we are expecting a busy couple of days ahead. If you are nearby do pop in and say hello!

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The Museum learning engagement team's first day at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival ended yesterday and it was an epic day!

 

We were up at 6.30 to start at 8 yesterday at Thomas Hardye School, where five schools from the Dorset area participated in earth science related activities throughout the day. The team have been helping students investigate a dinosaur dig and identify what they uncover.


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Jade assists a willing group of fossil hunters

 

Other activities included creating meteor impact craters and extracting copper from malachite using electricity!

 

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Extracting copper from the mineral malachite

 

Scientists from the Museum brought lots of amazing specimens for the 450 students, including tektites, formed from sand rapidly heated by meteorite impacts and ejected to form these beautiful tear drops shapes.

 

photo 2.JPGA tektite (on the left) formed when sand is rapidly heated by a meteorite impact, with a pound coin for scale.

 

Other highlights included the biodiversity team's activity, where students identified bugs and other arthropods, contributing to important citizen science data. There was also a great stand featuring Thomas Hardye's very own Fossil Club, who were busy inspiring fellow students to get into fossils.

 

We finished packing up, headed to Lyme Regis to set up for the festival on the water front and today's primary school day, (and finished off with some well earned fish and chips!)

 

The festival runs from today until Sunday 5 May so if you're in the area come and join us and many other exhibitors for more earth science fun!

 

Posted on behalf of Emily, Ben and Jade from the Museum's learning team.

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Wild Stardust in Science News

Posted by John Jackson Dec 23, 2011

Samples returned from comet 81P/Wild 2 by the Stardust mission provided an unequalled opportunity to compare previously available extraterrestrial samples against those from a known comet. Iron sulphides are a major constituent of cometary grains commonly identified within cometary interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) and Wild 2 samples.  NHM scientists Sara Russell and Anton Kearsley, and Scientific Associate Phil Bland, are key collaborators on a new examination of this unique material.

 

Chemical analyses show that Wild 2 sulphides are fundamentally different from those in IDPs. However, as Wild 2 dust was collected via impact into capture media at approximately 6.1 km s-1, it is unclear whether this is due to original variations in these materials or is due to heating and alteration during collection. The results obtained are consistent with estimated peak pressures and temperatures experienced (approximately 85 GPa, approximately 2600 K) and some may be used to predict original chemistry and estimate mineralogy - the work continues....


Wozniakiewicz P J, Ishii H A, KEARSLEY A T, Burchell M J, BLAND P A, Bradley J P, Dai Z R,   Teslich N, Collins G S, Cole M J & RUSSELL S S 2011. Investigation of iron sulfide impact crater residues: A combined analysis by scanning and transmission electron microscopy. Meteoritics and Planetary Science 46: 1007-1024.

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Samples from the Moon come either from lunar landing missions - the US Apollo or Soviet Luna sample return missions - or from lunar meteorites.  The Moon's craters show a history of impacts by smaller space bodies that, when they have collided with the Moon, have flung Moon rock into space. 

Some of this material has eventually fallen to the surface of the Earth as lunar meteorites, although these have only been recognised as such since 1982 when some unusual meteorites were compared with rocks retrieved by lunar missions. Over 130 meteorites have now been recognised as of lunar origin.

Scientists from the Museum's meteorite research group, Professor Sara Russell and Anton Kearsley, have collaborated with partners from London University's UCL and Birkbeck College to study four lunar regolith breccia meteorites that provide sampling of the lunar surface from regions of the Moon that were not visited by the US and Soviet missions. They used equipment in the Museum's analytical laboratories to show that these meteorites represent impact melts formed from rocks of compositions distinct from those sampled by the Apollo missions - there is considerable variability in rock types across the surface of the moon.

JOY K H, Crawford I A, RUSSELL S S & KEARSLEY A T (2010) Lunar meteorite regolith breccias: An in situ study of impact melt composition using LA-ICP-MS with implications for the composition of the lunar crust. Meteoritics and Planetary Science 45: 917-946. DOI: 10.1111/j.1945-5100.2010.01067.

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Image  © NASA

Above: NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured images of ice deposits, which would be crucial for the terraforming of Mars.

 

 

Today’s Nature Live featured Dr. Matt Genge, a planetary scientist who works at Imperial College. The event was part of the Future for Nature  season, so Matt began by reminding us that the population of the Earth is 7 billion and rising. If this continues we will eventually need the resources of  another planet, but is this even possible?


 

If humans do end up having to move to another planet, the most likely candidate is Mars. It is within the ‘goldilocks’ zone, ie not too close and not too far away from  the sun, so that temperatures are ‘just right’. Actually Mars is still too chilly for me -  rising to only a few degrees above freezing at the equator, but it’s definitely preferable to Venus, where the temperature is about 400 degrees centigrade.


 

But before we start packing, moving to a new planet is no easy task, so where do we begin? A common theme in science fiction is terraforming – changing the atmospheres of planets to make them habitable for humans.


 

Matt outlined one plan, based in science fact, for terraforming Mars. It would involve diverting asteroids or comets so that they crash into the planet, thereby melting ice deposits under the surface. The water vapour produced by these impacts would thicken the atmosphere, which would mean that  more heat is retained, so that temperatures slowly rise. With a warmer, wetter  atmosphere, microorganisms such as algae could be seeded to convert CO2 to  oxygen, making the atmosphere breathable for humans. Sounds simple enough.


 

Alas, all this will take a while to get going so I'm not hoping to see it ready in my lifetime, but at least it's nice to know that there are people out there who are thinking about the long-term future of our species.


 

In order to benefit from the terraforming technology we just need to survive the next few hundred years in the face of drastic environmental changes and dwindling resources. If we can do that then it would seem that anything is possible. Energy-saving light bulb anyone?


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So last night we finished our special Attenborough Studio showcase events for the Royal Launch of the Darwin Centre - it was a real treat with no less that 6 scientists involved, live video links from the field as well as behind the scenes and some of the most amazing specimens we have ever seen in the studio. Topping it all off Sir David himself was in the audience.

 

Spider curator Jan kicked off with some tongue-in-cheek comparisons between spider and human courtship – just a few of the tricks used by the >40,000 different species of spiders to get all eight of their legs over. To honour the occasion we also saw spiders collected by Darwin himself.

 

We then went live to Adrian's deep sea observatory off the coast of Sweden and had a quite surreal conversation with Bjorn – who was diving next to a whale carcass at the time. We saw a new species of  bone eating snot flower worm (translation from the scientific name!) that Adrian has discovered that, as the name suggests lives on bones of dead whales and such like. You can watch the live stream from the whale bones  - I can't guarantee that Bjorn will be there - though you are quite likely to see the crabs and starfish.

 

From the deep sea we switched to deep time with Paul, just back from South Africa where he had been digging up early dinosaur fossils like this one we have on display. We saw another new species but we can't be sure until Scott, the Museum's fossil preparator, grinds, drills and picks all of the rock away. There were a few grimaces as his dentist's drill wirred away but it was cool to have a live demonstration in the studio and some of the kids even had a go.

 

Anyhow, the finale, if you like, was Al and Caroline from mineralogy. Al showed off some enourmous sparkly diamonds, the ultimate mineral from 200 km into the mantle - deep earth - and Caroline, who started in the basement collections area, showed us the meteorite Ivuna – the best example of the building blocks of the solar system and one of just 9 such meteorites (out of thousands) known to exist - from deep space. They wrapped up with a mineral face off – asking a visitor to hold a 460-carat dirty diamond - over 3 billion years old and formed deep within the earth – in one hand and a small piece of the planet Mars in the other. To Al's dismay Mars won - 7 times out of 8.

 

It sounds quite chaotic but was a huge team effort that all came together in less than 30 minutes and was all snippets taken from some of the great events happening in the studio over the next couple of weeks.Attenborough studio launch team photo.JPG