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Eight days to go and the Museum is starting to buzz with excitement about the biggest event of the year in our busy calendar. Stephen Roberts, lead co-ordinator, gives us a warm welcome and introduction to this year's fabulous Science Uncovered. Put 27 September 2013 in your diaries now.

 

'Every single day that the Museum is open there are usually scientists and researchers on hand to talk with our visitors and friends. But Science Uncovered will see an amazing 400 scientists joining in a Friday night opening with a difference.

 

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Above: Last year's Oceans Science Station was a jaw-dropping experience for many and beetlemania was rife at the Entomology Station. Both return for this year's Science Uncovered night on 27 September.  (With the beetles at the Forests Station this time.)

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'Our event is one of hundreds taking place in more than 35 countries on European Researchers' Night, all made free by the EU, and we are pulling out all the stops for this celebration of science.

 

As well as meeting the people behind ground-breaking discoveries at this unique event, you'll see masses of amazing specimens from our collections, normally carefully stored behind the scenes. Some live creatures too.

 

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The lower jaw of the first-ever T. rex skull discovered makes a rare appearance at Paul Barrett's Dinosaur Extinction talk at 17.00 (this talk is also BSL-interpreted.)

 

'Highlights not to be missed include the Dinosaur Extinction studio event revealng extremely rare T. rex remains that have never been on display anywhere in Europe before, and a piece of Mars from our collections that you can explore its insides at the Space Station, just as our researchers do.

 

These are two among hundreds of other amazing objects that could help answer big questions about life and indeed the solar system.

 

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Cave art and live creatures: among the many tactile experiences coming your way on the night.

 

'From creating your own cave art to linking-live with NASA scientists, or presenting your own weather forecast, touring our rare books library or trying our science-inspired cocktail - check out what's on at Science Uncovered on or website and download the map showing you where everything is happening.

 

'Or just come along and see what takes your fancy on the night. Have a think about the questions or puzzles you've always wanted to quizz a scientist about. There are even Science Fess Up tell-all sessions going on in the Central Hall if you're game enough. And you can tweet your photos and comments using #SU2013.

 

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Cool vibes and candid confessions at the Science Bar and Science Fess Up sessions...

 

'This exclusive interaction with our science and scientists is at the heart of Science Uncovered, but we also want you to have a great evening out in one of the most famous and historic venues in London.

 

'We've got a choice of 6 bars and the Restaurant open across the Museum's galleries offering delicious food and drink. As activities wind down from 22.00 you can chill out in the Science Bar which stays open with a DJ until midnight.

 

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Nocturnal Creatures at the Natural History Museum in Tring, Hertfordshire will be part of their festivities

 

'Our sister Museum at Tring in Hertfordshire is also joining in the Science Uncovered festivities and will showcase its latest bird research, with a chance to catch the Nocturnal Creatures exhibition open after hours too (above).

 

'About 1,000,000 people across Europe are expected to join in on the night. We'd be delighted if for you to come and be one of those million yourself!'

 

Keep up to date with Science Uncovered on the website

Download the map and activity details

Read blogs by our scientists

Find out about booking for BSL activities

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In the last few days you may have been lucky enough to see a shooting star as one of the year's biggest meteor showers was displayed in the skies over Britain. But does a meteor ever become a meteorite? And how do you know if you have found one? Well in this blog I will tell you a little more about meteors and meteorites,  what to do if you think you have found one, and how to find out more at Meteorites Day 2012, a special event at the Museum on 2 September.

 

Over the weekend from the 11 to 15 August the UK was treated to the height of a meteor shower recognised as one of the best and most reliable meteor showers in the northern hemisphere. The Perseid meteor shower happens every year between late July and mid August and at its peak can produce tens of meteors an hour.

 

Originating from the debris stream left by the comet Swift-Tuttle as it orbits the sun, the Perseids are so called because they often appear to come from the constellation Perseus - but as the number of meteors increases they can be seen all across the night sky.

 

You may think that this event would lead to an increase in meteorite discoveries that are reported to the Identification Service here at the Museum, but meteors are formed from very small particles of matter ejected from the comet, that burn up completely in the atmosphere. This means that if you see a meteor you are unlikely to find a resultant meteorite.

 

2012-0402 Iron Meteorite Tanzania (UNK)1.jpgA meteorite discovery from Tanzania

 

But what if you do think you have found a meteorite - what can you do about it? Well before you jump to conclusions there are a few simple tests you can do on your possible meteorite.

 

STEP ONE: Test to see if your discovery is magnetic

 

All meteorites have some degree of magnetism; even the stony meteorites have flecks of iron and nickel mixture throughout the rock that distinguishes them from terrestrial rocks. You should be able to detect the magnetism with an ordinary fridge magnet, so if your object is not magnetic at all - then it is most likely not a meteorite.

 

P1070568.JPGTest your object with a fridge magnet

 

STEP TWO: Check the density of your discovery

 

Meteorites, especially iron meteorites, tend to be far more dense than some of the more commonly mistaken terrestrial rocks, so if your specimen is light in your hand when you pick it up, then again it is unlikely to be a meteorite.

 

P1070574.JPGYour object should be heavy for it's size

 

STEP THREE: Look at the surface of your discovery

 

Meteorites are characterised by something called a fusion crust - when the meteorite comes through the atmosphere the intense heat of entry causes the surface of the meteorite to melt. So if you can see cracks and bubbles or even other bits of rock or mineral stuck to the outside of your discovery, then once again, it is unlikely to be a meteorite.

 

P1070575.JPGThe surface of your object should be smooth with no bubbles (right)

 

So what do you do if you have done these three tests and all three suggest that you have found a meteorite? Then bring it in to the Museum! On Sunday the 2nd of September the Museum are holding a 'Meteorites Amnesty' with members of our Earth Sciences department on hand and some genuine meteorites you can touch and compare against your own discoveries.

 

There will also be talks and activities throughout the day all about meteorites. However, if you miss this event, don't worry. Just send us a photo at the Identification Service email (ias2@nhm.ac.uk) or bring your specimen in on another day and we will let you know if you have a meteorite or a meteor-wrong!

 

Find out more about the Meteorites Day special event at the Museum

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It's incredible to think that the giant-fist-sized meteoritic rock that you see below, which was blasted off Mars' surface into the solar system, travelling an average distance of 49 million miles to reach Morocco on Earth last year, is now nestling in the Museum's Vault gallery. Just think of what it may tell us when it gets examined closely by our meteorite experts.

 

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The Museum's new and most important Mars meteorite, the Tissint, is on display in The Vault gallery for another month. Select images to enlarge them.

 

You'll notice the Tissint Mars meteorite is exhibited in a curious-looking contraption. It's known as a desiccator and is essential to minimise contamination of the meteorite by keeping it dry and in a low-oxygen environment. The dessicant crystals underneath help to do this job.

 

At 1.1kg the Tissint is now the largest Martian meteorite in the Museum's collection. It is one of the biggest chunks from the shower of Martian stones that fell in the Moroccan village near Tissint, and is incredibly rare and important because it showed hardly any signs of contamination at all. Museum meteorite expert Dr Caroline Smith (below) described the Tissint as 'the most important meteorite to have fallen in 100 years.'

 

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What will this recently-acquired piece of the Red Planet reveal about the mysteries of Mars? Museum meteorite expert Dr Caroline Smith (left) and her team will research the Tissint when it comes off display in The Vault. Right, Mars surface digitally pieced together from photos taken on the late 1970s Viking spacecraft missions. Mars globe image courtesy of NHM, John  Bridges, October 2003.

 

The Tissint meteorite is on show in The Vault for another month at least, so catch it while you can. It is exhibited next to the Nakhla, another of our extremely rare Mars meterorites (below), which fell in Egypt in 1911. Clay minerals found in this meteorite proved that water once existed on Mars.

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When you get close to these Martian marvels and read about them in the gallery, you'll realise how valuable they are to planetary research and our understanding of the mysteries of the Red Planet. With its volcanoes and valleys, its watery history and its seasons, Mars will never cease to intrigue us because it resembles our planet more than any other.

 

The Tissint meteorite will be coming off display periodically so that Dr Smith and other Museum scientists, in conjunction with colleagues around the world, will be able to study it. Research will include analysing the minerals it contains and looking in detail at the chemistry of the rock to better understand the formation and history of the Red Planet. A lot of this work will be done in the Museum's own world-class laboratories.

 

There are other beautiful meteorites to discover, including ones from the Moon, in The Vault's collection of Mars rocks, dazzling gemstones and crystals. And head over to the Red Zone's Earth Today and Tomorrow gallery to gasp at the Cranbourne meteorite which is our most massive space rock in the Museum.

 

The Vault gallery is in the Green Zone, on the upper gallery of the Central Hall at the end of the Minerals gallery.

Browse The Vault gallery highlights slideshow

 

Read the news story about the mighty Tissint meteorite landing at the Museum

 

We have lots of information about Mars and meteorites on our website. Enjoy this selection:

Martian meteroites

More about meteorites from Mars and the moon

Exploration of Mars

The surface of Mars in 3D

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We have the next Night Safari event coming up on Monday night, 10 May, starting at 6.30pm.

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Paul Barrett, our dinosaur specialist, leading the first Night Safari visitors through the torchlit Dinosaurs gallery

At our first Night Safari event in March, the feedback was fantastic. Everyone raved about it, describing it as a 'magical' night, 'one in a million' and 'you guys and girls rock!'

 

What most people loved was the chance to enjoy a more exclusive experience of the Museum in small groups, and with a relaxed and personal touch.

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Monday's rare treats include getting up close to meteorites, spiders, a mummified cat and two-headed sheep skull (!) and of course, the dinosaurs by torchlight. The torchlit Dinosaurs gallery tour was a late addition to the March event, and is back again.

 

Visitors will meet some of the scientists from the recent BBC Two Museum of Life documentary and hear about their favourite specimens, including admiring the Central Hall's magnicient ceiling decorations with botanist, Sandy Knapp.

 

As before, the tours starts around 7ish and groups are taken around the Central Hall to hotspots where they'll meet scientists, specimens and exhibits, and shadowy dinosaurs. With a 30-minute break in between to enjoy the bar... and bellinis.

 

There's also time after the tour to chat with the scientists at the bar before the doors close at 10.30pm.

Book tickets online.

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ufo-landing-red.jpgHelp us decide if we should be preparing to meet ET and aliens now, rather than later, at our Nature Live Night on Thursday 29 April

 

Is There Anybody Out There? is the subject of our Nature Live Night evening debate this week on 29 April and is a must for anyone interested in other planets and the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Expect otherworldy topics on the agenda like the evidence (or not) for life on Martian meteorites, what will aliens look like, are aliens already here in a shadowy biosphere, Earth-like planets, and planetary protection.

 

We'll bring you together with astrobiologists and meteorite researchers to catch up with the latest news on the search for alien worlds. And we'll be debating how our actions in other worlds could affect life as yet undiscovered, as we ask the question 'should we actually be trying to find aliens'? Some, like Stephen Hawking, caution against this. See the recent BBC coverage of Stephen Hawking's warning of making contact with aliens.

 

The debate rockets off at 7pm in the Darwin Centre Attenborough Studio, and arrive at 6.30ish for a drink beforehand. The bar is open during the event. Book tickets (£6) online.


What would you tell an ET if you met one tomorrow? Come to the event and share your thoughts with other Earthlings.

 

Prepare to get spaced....

 

 

Grainy black and white image of supposed UFO, Passoria, New Jersey, right