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Martian marvels in The Vault

Posted by Rose Feb 28, 2012

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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Is Earth's future out of order?

Posted by Rose Feb 20, 2012

As I walked through the Museum’s Earth galleries last week it made me chuckle to see a small sign posted on the What is Earth’s future? exhibit. The sign read ‘Out of Order. This exhibit is being repaired…’ The group of young lads who noticed it too were also highly amused at the irony of it.

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The Museum's What is Earth's future? exhibit, recently declared 'Out of order'. Symbolic of things to come for our planet? The exhibit, located in the From the Beginning gallery in the Museum's Red Zone, has since been restored to its spinning globe with haunting moving images projected on it. Select images to enlarge them

 

Of late, we’ve experienced some trying times behind the scenes in the Earth galleries office block, where I work. First our staff lift ground to a halt (leaving us with a lung-busting hike up the stairs), then the water packed up - just as well since the toilets had stopped working - and to top it all off  the heating threw in the towel for a day at the height of the recent cold spell. However, we soldiered on to make the Red Zone's galleries the greatest show of Earth on Earth. And, because we care and because the Natural History Museum is an inspiring place to work, we were happy to do so (like the rest of our 'fairly happy' fellow Britons as recently observed in the much-talked-about Happiness survey.)

 

It strikes me that what happened in the Museum's Earth galleries is in uncanny synchronicity with the central concerns of our current series of Earth Debates, which continue here over the next three months: if we don’t do some vital repairs to our resources and society, will parts of the Earth soon be declared out of order too? What is the real impact of what we produce and consume on our surroundings? Does our quest for the greatest show, greater monetary wealth and the constant demand for more material goods come before our immediate day-to-day living needs? Are we happier and do we feel more valued if we are more affluent or is it because of what we achieve and where and who we are with?

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Would you be willing to go vegetarian, or even just to switch to eating poultry, pork or pasture-fed beef rather than grain-fed beef to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment? Big decisions are ahead at the next international Earth summit.

 

There is little point in me trying to explain here why the UN's earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in June is so important (aka Rio+20 as it is being held 20 years after 1992's seminal summit). It would take too long - our Earth Debates partner, the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future, who are coordinating and guiding key discussions in the lead-up to Rio+20, has identified 97 key issues (see the tag cloud below) - and besides our Earth Debates pages online already do a very clear job of this and will point you to all the right places for more information.

 

What's more vital is that the Museum needs your input now on the big issues that will be acted upon at global level in June. We need your thoughts on a sustainable green economy for the world or your local area, and all your favourite bugbears that go with it, as part of our ongoing Earth Debates.


Each of our four Earth Debates, with its four panellists and invited audience, is broadcast live from the Attenborough Studio on our website. The format of each debate is like BBC’s Question Time and you can watch it live, follow or contribute your questions or comments using #earthdebates on Twitter, or post your views to our online community before, during and after the event.

 

The next Earth Debate is this Wednesday 22 February from 19.00 to 20.00 GMT where the panel and studio audience will ask Beyond GDP - how can we measure progress? This debate will question the alternatives - like measuring our wellbeing and the value of the environment - to the traditional measures of economic growth and and asks what is needed for businesses and governments to invest in a green economy rather than exploit it.

 

Bookmark the link to the webcast and to #earthdebates on Twitter to join us on the night.

 

Missed the first Earth debate on 25 January about the price of nature? Watch the highlights in this short video clip which features debate chair Tim Radford, panellists Professor Sir Robert Watson, Claire Brown, Ian Dickie and Will Evison, and audience member Tony Juniper.

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'Business as usual is absolutely unsustainable... but we also have to show business that there are solutions.' An extract from the closing comment of Defra's Robert Watson in January's first Earth Debate.

Watch the whole of the first debate Ecosystem economics - can we put a price on nature? (video of the 1st Earth Debate).

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The third debate will tackle Green cities in a green economy - how to pioneer a sustainable transition? on 14 March 2012, followed by the fourth debate Food security - how do we feed 9 billion people in 2050? on 11 April 2012.

 

Find out more online about our Earth Debates and the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro

 

Get more information on the the Stakeholder Forum for a sustainable future and their priority concerns.

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The entries have been pouring in for the 2012 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition but I can't believe there's just under one week to go before the competition closes.

 

The entry period has flown by this year, even though there's been almost an extra month due to the early opening in December for the first time. If you want to be in with a chance of winning, you will need to submit the very best of your wildlife photographs and catch the deadline of 23.59 GMT on Thursday 23 February.

 

The competition is open to everyone, from budding amateurs to professionals to young photographers across the world, but you'll need images that stand out from the crowd to get the judges' notice during the thorough selection process. So, for last-minute entrants, here are a few suggestions:

 

From those of you just starting out to those of you already firmly established in your chosen field, there are categories for everyone. Whatever your favourite subject is, be it plants, insects, reptiles, underwater shots, landscapes, urban wildlife, mammals and birds, or more find the category that is best-suited to your skills and interests before you enter. And if you can tell a riveting story through a series of themed photographs, then the photojournalism category could be the one for you.

 

Whatever your age or your experience, get the judges to stop in their tracks with a new angle or an evocative and innovative use of technique or framing and you'll be part-way there.

 

From common subjects to once-in-a-lifetime events, enter photographs that turn them into moments of magic, like this year's Boy meets nature by Alexander Badyaev, Pelican perspective by Bence Máté, Swoop of the sea scavenger by Roy Mangersnes or the techinical simplicity of Great tit poised from one of our youngest entrants in 2011, Corentin Graillot Denaix.

 

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Urban wildlife is full of surprises as captured perfectly in Alexander Badyaev's 2011 winning image, Boy meets nature. From bats in cabins in the Montana wilderness, to coyotes on railway tracks in Canada's Burnaby to Moorish geckoes on the Italian Riviera, last year's winners in this award really captured the moment. (Click images to see them full size)

 

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We must have all seen pictures of pelicans before, but none quite like this. Bence Máté's award-winning photograph doesn't just provide a different perspective, it frames the pelican's most recognisable feature in a fantastically unique way and was just one of a captivating series that won Bence the Eric Hosking Portfolio Award in 2011.

 

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With its striking silhouette and the tight-framing of its subject, Roy's highly commended photograph successfully reflects the sheer size of the white-tailed eagle shortly after it's successful swoop to scavenge a fish.

 

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Keeping the adult entrants on their toes...  one of the youngest 2011 award-winners was Great tit poised by Corentin Graillot Denaix in the Under 10 years category. His simple but carefully framed shot was taken in his garden where he observed the birds who visited the hide constructed by his dad.

 

It's photos like these above that make us catch our breath at the unimaginable wonders of our world. So, whatever your passion, pay heed to some wise words from the youthful Mateusz Piesiak of Poland, the 2011 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Young Photographer of the Year who won with his Pester Power oystercatchers. Mateusz says:

 

"I started with a compact camera and then in 2007 had a major breakthrough in my development when my parents bought me a digital SLR. I also met several nature photographers who showed me how to approach birds and build special photographic hides. As the months and years passed I learnt the secrets of photography and became infected with the rather incurable disease that is bird photography!

 

"I think that what counts above all in photography is creativity and the ability to look at a commonly captured subject and make something new out of it, something that nobody has ever seen before."

 

All the information you need to enter the competition is online, so good luck!

 

Haven't seen the 2011 exhibition yet? You've got until 11 March to catch it here at the Museum in London (attend in the morning if you can to enjoy more space at the exhibition).

 

Can't make it to the Museum? See where where it's touring next, throughout the UK and worldwide.

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I bet Hertfordshire, the home of our Tring Museum, is covered in snow as I write this blog. And lots of local children will be getting even more over-excited than usual as they start their half-term holidays this weekend.

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Another source of excitement is sure to be the opening of our Tring Museum's Animal Record-Breakers exhibition earlier this week.

 

As well as the chance to gasp at incredible records and feats in the animal kingdom as we run up to the Olympics, the exhibition has lots of entertaining games and challenges for children.

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Big beetle displays. Rhinoceros and dung beetles in the Scarabaeidae family are among the strongest animals for their size. Some species can carry up to 850 times their own weight.

 

I asked Alice Adams, Tring's Manager who helped design the exhibition, about its first week.

 

'Since we opened on Monday, all the kids and especially the two visiting schools have been having brilliant fun in the exhibition. Parents and teachers taking pics of the kids with the horns, the animal sounds have been intriguing them and seem to be inspiring lots of animal noise-making from the kids - mostly howling wolves.

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Try out the Archerfish game or see what you look like in horns at Tring's new Animal Record-Breakers exhibition.

 

'The archerfish game is getting a good pounding too. Great to watch the kids get the hang of it and see their faces when they get the ball through the flap and it pops out at the bottom of the tree.

 

'Several kids were in awe of the shark head and disgusted by the chunk of whale blubber!! Made up for though by the gorgeous iridescent hummingbird.'

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From the scary to the pretty. Left: Mako shark head, Isurus oxyrhynchus. Sharks have a better sense of smell than any other fish. Right: Purple-throated carib, Eulampis jugularis. Hummingbirds have the fastest wingbeats in the bird world.

 

The exhibits explore the animal champions and runners-up so you'll find out the fastest, loudest, longest, most dangerous and much more.

 

The Animal Record-Breakers exhibition is free and well worth a visit at half-term or if you're visiting the Tring area over the coming months.

 

Read the latest news story about Tring's Animal Record-Breakers exhibition opening

 

animal-records-paperback-book.jpgAnd if you want to know more, there's the Museum's Animal Records book by Mark Carwardine. It's on sale at Tring's exhibition and online. The book inspired the exhibition and is packed full of fab facts and photos.

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Our Blue Zone's Images of Nature gallery welcomed a new temporary Australian-themed exhibition yesterday, showcasing the Museum's impressive 18th-century First Fleet collection of watercolours and drawings.

 

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‘Mr White, Harris and Laing with a party of Soldiers visiting Botany Bay Colebee at that place, when wounded’, Port Jackson Painter/Watling collection. Watercolour, c1790–1797.

 

The British First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson (now Sydney) in January 1788, when 11 ships carrying about 1,400 people landed to establish the first penal colony. Among the sailors and convicts on board were draughtsmen, artists and forgers. They painted and drew the new landscape, its wildlife, and the Eora Nation clans who inhabited the area. Despite their lack of scientific accuracy, the images in the First Fleet collection are some of the most important in the Museum, providing a snapshot of a key moment in Australia's history. They are beautiful, telling images that provide rare natural history and ethnographic records.

 

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Left: Waratah, Telopea speciosissima. Port Jackson Painter/Watling collection, watercolour, c1788–1797. The waratah is New South Wales' official floral emblem. Right: Southern cassowary, Casuarius casuarius. George Raper, watercolour and ink, 1792. This cassowary lives in the rainforest of northern Queensland.

 

In the first rotation of 32 First Fleet artworks on display now, you'll find gems like the cassowary and the well-known Waratah (above), official floral emblem of New South Wales, along with stranger-looking species like the Large pretty pink-winged stick insect below. There are also striking portraits of local tradesmen in the collection - often with dramatic stories to tell. The next selection of First Fleet artworks will be installed in the gallery in April.

 

The 600-strong First Fleet collection came into the Museum as three smaller ones known as the Raper, Watling and Port Jackson Painter collections after the artists whose work they contain. The drawings attributed to the Port Jackson Painter are thought to be the work of several unidentified artists.

 

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Above. Large pink-winged stick insect, Podacanthus typhoon. Thomas Watling, watercolour and ink, c1792–1797. There are almost 150 species of stick insect in Australia.

 

The perspective of the Aboriginal Australian people who had been invaded, however, was not recorded in the First Fleet works. So our temporary exhibition features two newly-commissioned installations by Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd whose provocative work comments on that ommission.

 

At the end of last year Daniel spent several months as an artist-in-residence here at the Museum researching and creating the pieces that are on show in the gallery now. He was putting the finishing touches to his installations last week.

 

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Above: Australian Aboriginal artist Daniel Boyd unveils his Up in Smoke Tour installation in the Images of Nature gallery. Watercolours, 24 Museum archival boxes. Right, installation detail.

 

Daniel's work comments on the loss of native cultures recorded in the First Fleet collection, particularly on the British perception of Port Jackson at the time and the Aboriginal Australian people. It's the way these historic images obscure the original indigenous identity that interests the artist. His work in the gallery has also been inspired by the Museum's anthropological collection and he features Museum specimen boxes in his installations.

 

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An earlier work by Daniel Boyd. We Call Them Pirates Out Here, 2006, oil on canvas. The work is kept in Sydney's Museum of Contemporary Art collection.

 

Daniel joins today's free Nature Live talk about The Art of the First Fleet (7 February) in the Attenborough Studio. And so too does the Museum's special collections librarian Lisa Di Tommaso, whose book explores The Art of the First Fleet. So pop along to the Darwin Centre's Attenborough Studio at 14.30 to hear and see more of these fascinating works first-hand.

 

Browse the Images of Nature gallery slideshow

 

Explore the First Fleet collection online

 

Watch artist Daniel Boyd on video discussing his new artwork and cultural background