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2 Posts tagged with the mineralogy tag
1

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The Red Planet is on all our minds here at the Museum as we prepare for an exciting live-stream of the landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars in the early hours of Monday 6 August.

 

It'll be make, and hopefully not break, time for the largest rover that NASA has ever attempted to land on another planet, as the Mini Cooper-sized Curiosity rover (image left, credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) reaches the nail-biting conclusion of its journey to Mars and begins its mission to find evidence for a life-supporting environment on the surface.

 

We'll be live-linking to Mission Control in California and the audience will be able put their questions to NASA's scientists during this once-in-a-lifetime event. And, if we are lucky, we may even see the first images transmitted back to Earth from Curiosity.

 

Also on hand during our live-link will be 3 former mission scientists and Mars experts, Dr Peter Grindrod from University College London, Dr Matthew Balme from Open University, and Dr Joseph Michalski from the Museum to talk us through planetary exploration, the technology behind NASA’s latest Martian endeavour, and the purpose of Curiosity’s mission.

Tickets are sold out but you can follow the #msl tag on Twitter to keep in touch with global coverage and experience the tension as NASA goes through the 7 minutes of terror of the landing.

 

 

Gale Crater, where Curiosity is destined to land, is known from other Mars missions to have been wet and contain clay minerals. Clays, other phyllosillicates and sulphates are known to form under liquid water conditions with life-supporting pH ranges. The wet environment at the landing site is long gone but the chemical signs of what could have been a habitable environment - and the geological context for it - could still be detectable and this is what Curiosity’s 10 scientific instruments will be studying during its stay on Mars.

 

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The intended landing area for NASA's Curiosity rover in Gale Crater is known to have been wet in the past. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

 

Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror

 

So, come Monday morning, it'll be fingers crossed that Curiosity lands safely and goes on to be as wildly successful as Opportunity and Spirit, NASA's last two rovers to journey across the surface of Mars ...

 

See what other After Hours events are happening at the Museum

 

Follow the latest news about Curiosity's mission via #msl on Twitter

 

Unable to join us early on Monday morning? Joseph will also be with the Nature Live team later in the day at 12:30 and 14:30 to give two free talks on the mission, so drop into the Museum's Attenborough Studio for Destination Mars.

 

P.S. Rose is currently on annual leave, but will be back soon to bring you What's new at the Museum.

2

From today, you can see this gorgeous 110-carat pear-shaped yellow diamond in The Vault gallery thanks to the generosity of Cora diamond manufacturers who have loaned us the gem.

 

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Model Jerry Hall is dazzled by the arrival of the Cora Sun-Drop in The Vault gallery (Image copyright Adrian Brooks - Imagewise)

 

These large (over 100 carat) coloured diamonds are extremely rare in nature and are historically significant as so few exist. So it's a privilege to be able to have the Cora Sun-Drop on show to our visitors.

 

Cora-Sun-Drop-(black)-Photography-700.jpgI asked Alan Hart, the head of collections in our Mineralogy Department if he could tell me what particularly fascinated him about diamonds like this. He says:

 

'When you look at a diamond like this you are not only looking at a unique piece of art, you are looking at the fascinating science that bought this stone to us.

 

'The Cora Sun-Drop diamond was formed deep within the Earth’s crust 1-3 billion years ago. As it grew, it incorporated nitrogen into its carbon crystal structure. It is these nitrogen impurities that give the diamond its yellow colour as they modify light, absorbing the blue part of the visible spectrum. The diamond then travelled on a long journey upwards in a slushy rock magma. After it was found within a kimberlite pipe (a type of volcanic rock), it was expertly studied and cut, bringing the diamond to life.

 

'Good quality coloured diamonds, known as "fancy" diamonds, are extremely rare. Only about 1 in 10,000 mined diamonds are thought to have good body colour, and only a small percentage of these are considered to have good enough clarity to be labelled as a fancy diamond.

 

'The Cora Sun-Drop combines both a vivid yellow colour and another rare quality, a large size. At just over 110 carats, it is not only exceptionally large, it is the largest yellow pear-shaped diamond known.'

 

But diamonds aren't forever, I'm afraid! The Cora Sun-Drop is only with us in The Vault for a limited time, so bask in its light while you can. And don't forget there are 300 other diamonds in The Vault, including the Aurora collection, as well as a model of the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond.

 

You can hear Alan Hart talk about our impressive diamonds and gemstones at The Treasure Trove talk here in the Attenborough Studio on 25 March at 14.30.

 

And in case you wondered what the largest faceted diamond in the world is? At a whopping 545.67 carats, it's said to be the Golden Jubilee, also known as the Great Star of Africa, which now resides in the Royal Thai Palace as part of the crown jewels.

 

Watch the video about the Cora Sun-Drop diamond and The Vault gallery

 

Glimpse The Vault gallery highlights in our slideshow

 

Find out more about diamonds on our website

 

Pear-shaped Cora Sun-Drop image right courtesy Tom Tragale for M Patricof, Creative Group