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Do you often find yourself taking pictures of the sky and skylines? Then I guess you are someone who takes the weather with you everywhere you go.

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Watching the clouds go by at the top of London's Primrose Hill on a sunny afternoon in October

Even if you don't and just inadvertently snapped a brilliant photograph of 'the weather', there's a new competition to enter.

 

Your photo must be taken in the UK to qualify for the OPAL Weather Photo Competition and you can upload as many as you want. The closing date is 3 May 2011. The winner will receive £100 of Amazon vouchers, a framed photo mosaic of your winning picture and a subscription to theWeather magazine.

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One hour later, further down Primrose Hill, the clouds started to gather quickly

The competition is looking for pictures from all budding photogtaphers of interesting weather scenes, or photos that show how we enjoy or are affected by the weather.

 

Upload your photos to the Weather Photo Competition on the OPAL website

 

If I could enter the competition - which I can't because OPAL is affiliated to the Museum - I might think about submiting these pictures (above and below) that I took last October on Primrose Hill in North London.

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Two hours later, at the bottom of Primrose Hill, the rain came and one rainbow, then two.

It was a gorgeous sunny, blue-skied autumn afternoon and we headed up Primrose hill to be wowed by the panoromic views of the city skyline framed with big white scudding clouds (pictured above). But staying true to our typical changeable British weather tradition, about two hours later, the sky darkened and the rain bucketed down. As we rushed to the bottom of the hill for cover, the rain stopped suddenly and a rainbow appeared, then another. I'd never seen a double rainbow before in the flesh and it was quite something. I just managed to catch the second one on camera before it vanished.

 

The competition launches in Climate Week which the Museum took part in all this week along with lots of other organisations across the country. There are events over the weekend, so see what's on. It's part of the OPAL Climate Survey which is currently running with the Met Office to investigate the ways in which we affect the climate.

 

Read the news story about the Weather Photo Competition

 

Find out more about climate change on our website

 

OPAL is a partnership initiative celebrating biodiversity, environmental quality and people’s engagement with nature.

 

 

 


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Last week on Friday evening, at 6.30pm, three extra special and extra enormous visitors arrived at the Museum.

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A team of 8 people with a forklift truck moved the 1.5 tonnes Tarbosaurus into the Museum. © Oli Scarff/ Getty Images

It took three and a half hours to show our guests into the building - nothing compared to their six-week sea voyage from Tokyo though - after which they were quietly ushered through to the Waterhouse Gallery. Here they will wait in the wings while their new prehistoric home is painstakingly created.

 

The three giants, Camarasaurus, Tarbosaurus and Gallimimus, will be the big stars in Age of the Dinosaur exhibition, opening on Good Friday, 22 April.

 

Paul Gallagher, our exhibition Project Manager, explains: 'We had to rig up a temporary lighting system to help illuminate our transport route into the gallery and also construct a scaffold platform on the front steps of the Museum.'

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'I am really impressed by the skin quality and the realism of the dinosaurs up close,' says exhibition Project Manager, Paul Gallagher after inspecting the 1.5 tonnes Tarbosaurus inside the Museum. © Oli Scarff/ Getty Images

 

Now, the installation work in the Waterhouse Gallery begins. Age of the Dinosaur will take visitors back millions of year into the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. It will feature six life-size animatronic dinosaurs, one animatronic bird, and about 75 specimens and specimen replicas with hundreds of insect, plant and tree models.

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Workmen manoeuvre the Gallimimus dinosaur model into the Museum. © Oli Scarff/ Getty Images

Next time you see these gargantuan beasts, they will be moving in the rocks, trees and watery places of their ancient world. It will be a very different encounter.

 

Read the news story about the animataronic dinosaurs' journey from Japan and arrival at the Museum

Enjoy more pictures of the animatronic dinosaurs arriving here Select the images to enlarge them. © Oli Scarff/ Getty Images

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Carefully unloading the first dinosaur outside the Museum
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Gallimimus emerges from the rear

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Gallimimus braves the bright lights

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Exhibition project manager Paul Gallagher introduces himself to Tarbosaurus

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Unveiling the head of Camarasaurus
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It seems like only a week ago that the front lawn outside the Museum was a mudbath. But now as I write, thanks to sunny dry spells, we have the roof on the butterfly house frame. And work is firmly underway for its metamorphosis into a fully-foliaged and delightfully decorated home for the first live butterflies arriving at the end of the month.

 

Our Sensational Butterflies exhibition opens to the public on 12 April and tickets are on sale now.

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Julia butterfly, Dryas iulia, one of the unusual species coming to Sensational Butterflies. These bright orange beauties have been spotted drinking tears from caiman eyes in Brazil. They are among a few butterflies in the world to do this.

I asked Rob, who's supervising the building work, how it's going: 'The main challenge is the weather – we basically have to turn a muddy field into an exhibition that will take 1000s of people walking over its floor surface, without it turning back into a muddy field again! It’s always a challenge, and every year we tinker with our ideas. The whole exhibition takes 4 to 5 weeks to build. Being a  tropical environment inside the house means that its humid, and the flowers and plants in there need loads of watering every day, which is really the worst thing you can do to a floor which was recently wet mud.'

 

Rob also told me that the butterfly house is actually an agricultural building, the same farmers use to grow crops of tomatoes or flowers. But the material it’s made from is a type of plastic that’s very flame-resistant, this is why it looks different from a normal agricultural building, which would just be covered in polythene.

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The race is on: Turning a muddy field into a beautiful butterfly house and garden must be done in 4 to 5 weeks

It's the fourth year running for the Museum's ever-popular outdoor summer exhibition and this time it's all about the sensory world of butterflies. We'll get to find out what it's like actually being a butterfly and experience things from their perspective as we explore five different sensory zones in the butterfly house.

 

There will be lots of fun things to do indoors - we have no outside play park this year - like touching a real cocoon, crawling through a chrysalis, and even sniffing your way around tropical plants. New additions to the house include the intriguing-sounding butterfly puddle display and the chrysalis crawl-through tunnel.

 

The outdoor garden will have a lot to live up to on last year - it was the envy of the everyone here at the Museum by mid-summer - and will again bustle with window boxes, garden plants and tips for attracting butterflies.

 

So to the beauties of the show. On 30 March, about 600 live sensational butterflies will be released in their new home for the exhibition's opening, along with 1200 pupae. Exciting species to watch out for in the house will be the noisy wing-snapping Cracker butterfly (below right), the Julia butterfly (above) which has been seen drinking tears from caiman eyes in South America, and massive Atlas moths (below left).

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Species to look out for at Sensational Butterflies

Left: Is it a fern? Is it a spider? Nope, it's the Atlas moth, the largest moth species in the world.  Image Neil Gale, Magic of Butterflies House

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Right: What's the noisiest butterfly in the world? Probably the Cracker butterfly, Hamadryas feronia. You might hear some snapping their wings at potential predators on your visit.

 

Select the images to enlarge.

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Tomorrow, Friday 11 March, is sadly the last day that our Waterhouse Gallery will be home to the winning and commended photographs of the Veolia Environnement Wildife Photographer of the Year 2010 exhibition.

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Chick delight. This photograph is jumping with the joys of Spring. Johan captured the hungry Arctic tern chicks in Látrabjarg, Iceland, Europe's most westerly point. Highly commended in the 15 - 17 years category.

I had one last dash around the gallery yesterday and, as always, was moved by certain images that I hadn’t noticed as much before, like the joyful Chick delight (above), and Laurent Geslin's romantic Paris life (below), with its furry friends enjoying a night out.

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Paris life. Laurent got down on his belly for this dazzling shot of rabbits silhouetted againt the bright lights of Paris at nightfall. Highly commended in the Urban Wildlife category.

The exhibition’s design this year was particularly special because we introduced a new structural framework featuring a white woven fabric backdrop. These changes enhanced the exhibition experience and created a more intimate and inviting setting for the spectacular imagery, helping the photographs look ever-more luminous.

 

Over 124,000 visitors enjoyed the 2010 exhibition here and the last few months were especially popular. Every late night Friday at our monthly After Hours has been a sell-out.

 

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But it isn’t over for the 2010 exhibition. The UK and international tour has already started and if you head west to the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery (right), you can see the photographs there until 5 June 2011.

 

Find out more UK and international dates of the tour on the Wildlife Photographer of the Year website.

 

In the meantime, photographers have until 18 March to get in their images for the chance to be Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2011. Find out how to Enter the competition.

 

Who knows what incredible images and wildlife characters await us this year, but one thing’s for sure, there will be a new Young Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year as 18-year-old Fergus Gill who won the Young competition for 2 years running in 2009 and 2010 is now an adult! He says:

 

‘Now that I am 18, I must confess I’m excited about moving up the ranks into the adult competition. Whilst I have a lot of work to do if I am to win any awards when competing against such high quality entries, I’m looking forward to the new challenge and where my future work takes me.'

 

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And his tip for being a potential winner: ‘From my experience the best chance of being successful is to get a different take on a common or overlooked species.’

 

If you want a commemmorative book or print of one of your favourite images, visit the online Wildlife Photographer of the Year shop

 

And enter our competition to win a fantastic goody bag of things inspired by the exhibition

 

Left: Fergus Gill receiving his award as Veolia Environnement Wildlife Young Photograher 2010 with his winning image, The frozen moment. The photograph was taken on Boxing Day, 2009 at the bottom of Fergus's garden in Perthshire.
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There was a moment on Monday night, at the author's book launch event here, when I actually expected a Neanderthal to walk onto the stage and join novelist Jean M Auel and Museum scientist Chris Stringer in their conversation about prehistoric life and the Earth's Children books.

 

Both modern humans entertained us for an hour chatting about the wonders of cave art and craft, Neanderthal veggies, the interbreeding of Neanderthals and early humans, and the possiblity of cloning Neanderthals in the future.

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Left: Novelist Jean M Auel and Museum palaeoanthropologist Chris Stringer admire a Venus statuette as an example of early cave art at the author's book launch event on 28 February in the Museum's Flett Theatre. Right, Jean compares a Neanderthal skull with an early human one. The Land of Painted Caves is out on 29 March.

The age-defying, 75-year-old American novelist arrived with several family members and various literary and publishing aides, to find a packed Flett Theatre in the Museum. Chris Stringer brought some rare, prehistoric objects and remains. The event marked a step closer to the long-awaited release of Jean’s sixth and final book, The Land of Painted Caves, in her bestselling Earth’s Children series. The series follows the epic adventures of Ayla, an early modern human girl adopted by Neanderthals, growing up and adapting in Ice Age Europe.

 

Stepping back about 30,000 years, it was fascinating to hear the two speakers talk about the similarities and differences between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons (early modern humans) who populate Jean’s books. And to discover the comparative views of a bestselling novelist and renowned palaeoanthropologist on the advances in our understanding of these species. The conversation wasn't so much fact versus fiction, more fact enriching fiction.

 

It was clear that Chris and Jean were equally intrigued by the Neanderthal race. And I discovered how close we all really are when Chris pointed out that recent research shows that most of us in the audience would have about two and half per cent Neanderthal DNA in our genes.

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Jean told us how she researches her books, visiting caves and conferences, learning how to make snow fires and stone tools, and even treat deer buckskins with brains! Chris drew attention to the historic detail in her books of animals, objects and the Ice Age landscape.

 

So what was the inspiration for the Earth’s Children epic? ‘It started out as a short story. But I quickly found I only “do long”, joked Jean. ‘What if we were sharing this world with another kind of human? That was my original thought, which sparked the idea.’

 

The author didn’t give away much about the content of The Land of Painted Caves, except to mention that all but one of the caves in the final book are based on real caves, many of these she has visited. ‘Life got in the way,’ was her answer to the questions of why the long gap since her last book and why the series has taken 30 years to complete.

 

We were enlightened further when the speakers answered questions from fans, like, ‘Where did Ayla’s name come from?’ ‘Is Ayla a feminist character?’ 'What inspired the memories and sign language of the Neanderthals in your story? ‘How did you get your first book published?’ 'Is it true Neanderthals had rickets?’ And ‘What is the scientific evidence of interbreeding between humans and other species?’

 

But you’ll have to wait to watch the film of the event to find out some of the answers. We will have a short video clip on our website soon. And there will be more film coverage on the publisher's website. Our event was followed by an author's signing session (pictured above).

 

The Land of Painted Caves is published on 29 March by Hodder & Stoughton. Their Jean M Auel website has all the details.

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You can get a limited edition of the new book featuring an AR (augmented reality) Ayla showing what she might have looked like. Some of Jean’s fans helped decide on this here earlier on in the author's visit to the Museum.

 

In the meantime get to know Neanderthal man more closely in our latest Neanderthal factfile animation (left) and if you have a webcam you can have an augmented reality Neanderthal in your home.

 

 

 

Come and find out more from Chris Stringer at our free talk on 11 March at 14.30: Are we Neanderthals?

 

Read my earlier blog about the Jean M Auel in Conversation event

 

Find out more about human evolution and the ancient human occupation of Britain

 

See a 14,700-year-old human skull cup replica on display at the Musem

 

Compare 3D hominid skulls in our online interactive

 

Enjoy more pictures from the event. Select them to enlarge

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Jean Auel meets fans here to help choose the augmented reality image of her books' heroine, Ayla

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Sharon Ament, the Museum's Public Engagement Group director intoduces Jean Auel and Chris Stringer in the Flett Theatre

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A captivated audience in the packed Flett Theatre

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Chris Stringer shows a rare, ritualistic 14,700-year-old human skull-cup replica, now on public display here

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The author gets ready to sign books for her fans

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A happy fan gets the first book, The Clan of the Cave Bear, signed
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We're forever blowing bubbles...

Posted by Rose Mar 4, 2011

Do you want to help with a spot of weather watching by blowing bubbles?

 

A new Climate survey has just begun and one of the fun, easy things you can do to take part is blow bubbles to measure wind speed and direction near the ground.

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But don't worry, you don't have to buy a bubble blowing kit to do this. Just watch the video below and learn how to make your own bubble blower cone using 2 sheets of paper.

 

 

Other cool things to do in the survey include looking out for plane trails  (contrails), watching cloud movement to record wind direction, and recording how hot or cold you feel.

 

Have a look at the Climate survey website to join in. Anyone in England can take part.

 

Read the recent news story about the Climate survey


The Climate survey is being conducted by the OPAL network with scientists from the Met Office and the Royal Meteorological Society. OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) is a nationwide partnership initiative that  inspires communities to discover, enjoy and protect their local  environments. It is led by Imperial College London and the Natural  History Museum is a partner.