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What's new at the Museum

5 Posts tagged with the minerals tag
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Science Uncovered's show stoppers

Posted by Rose Sep 27, 2013

The hour is fast approaching when we open our doors to the Museum's greatest show of the year on Friday, 27 September to mark the Europe-wide event of the year, European Resarchers' Night. Of course, Science Uncovered is much more than just a show, it gives visitors exclusive and extensive access to hundreds of scientists and our collections and research. But this year, in particular. there are some unmissable star attractions. A few are hot off the press.

 

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Must-sees at Science Uncovered on 27 September include a beautifully-presented Archaeopteryx fossil and hologram on show at the Extinction Science Station from 16.00-22.00 in Fossil Way. Image courtesy of The Munich Show.

 

Following its sensation at the Munich Mineral Show - and thanks to a private collector - we are showcasing a rare Archaeopteryx fossil (thought to be the 11th known example of Archaeopteryx) at the Extinction Science Station throughout the evening. In addition to getting a glimpse of the fossil up close, a hologram brings the Archaeopteryx to life. Alan Hart, Museum Collection Manager, hails it as 'an amazing specimen, especially in the way it is presented. And the hologram reconstruction is a really innovative way of examining it.'

 

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Watch the video of Archaeopteryx and its hologram unveiled at the Munich Mineral Show

 

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Satisfy your app-etite for dinosaurs at Science Uncovered. Catch T. rex on the prowl in the Darwin Centre, using an iOS or Android device. A massive Stegasaurus can be stalked in the Central Hall.

 

Excitingly, we will also be joined by digital dinosaurs roaming the Museum around the Central Hall and Darwin Centre atrium. But to see the 3D animated dinosaurs, you'll need to download the free Aurasma app on an iOS or Android device. Then watch and listen as a realistic-looking dinosaur strides into view, using augmented reality. Museum volunteers will be on hand to help out if needed. Once you've found a dinosaur, you can take a photo of your friends with it and tweet it using the hashtag #SU2013.

 

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We've just had news that the incredibly rare T. rex fossil (pictured above being unpacked in readiness), featuring in Dr Paul Barret's Dinosaur Extinction studio event at 17.00, will now make an appearance at the Extinction Science Station from 20.30-22.00. Remember, you'll need tickets for the free Attenborough Studio events, but they are on a first-come, first-served basis, so this is another way for you to see this incredible specimen if you don't make it to the talk.

 

Along with these big blasts from the past and other amazing highlights on the night, make sure you soak up some of the really cool and quirky stuff too.

 

Get more out of gin than you can imagine over at the Darwin Centre's Food station, use a seismometer to create your own earthquake at the Natural Environment station, examine sticky crime scene evidence (and we're not just talking blood samples) at the Forensics station, or peel away layers to see the intricate insides of specimens using the Insider Explorer Table and 3D Imaging unit in the Earth Hall. And much, much more all over the Museum.

 

Family-oriented activities kick off earlier in the day, so check the website for details.

 

food-soapbox-art.jpgThe ‘beautiful’ future of food: Soapbox Art speakers from the Royal College of Art divulge their creative culinary tactics.

 

Don't forget to stop a while in the Lasting Impressions gallery (near the Birds gallery) to hear what Soapbox Art speakers have to say about their creative tactics for the future of food and where babies will come from.

 

Download a map online, or grab one when you arrive, to plan your exploration and entertainment for the evening. Keep an eye out for the scientists wearing 'talk to me' badges on your travels.

 

Download the Science Uncovered map listing all activities and locations [PDF]

 

Find out what's on at Science Uncovered

 

Countdown to Science Uncovered blogs

 

Read the recent news story about what scientists will be confronting at Science Uncovered

 

Can't make it to the event? Keep in touch with what happens on Twitter via @NHM_Live and #SU2013

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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.

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What intriguing finds will the team of Natural History Museum scientists be asked to identify at this year's Lyme Regis Fossil Festival over May bank holiday weekend, 4 - 6 May? I asked the team of palaeontologists who are today getting ready to go (we have a regular presence at this popular annual event).

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Lyme Regis Fossil Festival 2012 highlights: the parade and lots of Natural History Museum displays and activities.

'It's mainly the Dorset ammonites that I am expecting to see,' our vertebrates curator Lorna Steel told me. 'But people do bring in all sorts of things from all sorts of places. The last time I went, someone handed me a badger skull... and someone else had a load of ichthyosaur bones that their granddad had found in a pile of rubble while working as a builder - they'd kept them in their loft for decades!'

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Over the next few days our scientists will be setting up their stalls in the festival's Grand Marquee fossil fair (below left) ready to meet the public and talk to them about fossil collecting.

 

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As well as hoping to discover Lower Jurassic ammonites or ichthyosaur fossil specimens, the Museum palaeontologists will be inviting festival-goers to assemble and take apart a Baryonyx skull replica and sift sand from Kent for shark teeth. There are other Museum offerings too, including gold panning, a dino dig activity led by some of our Learning Department, and talks about meteorites, whale carcass communities and corals.

 

A presentation of The What on Earth? Wallbook of Natural History timeline will be a fun attraction this year, with specimen highlights from our scientists. This Museum book is a unique guide to the history of life on Earth.

 

The Fossil Festival is just as much about music and arts as it is about fossil collecting and rockpool rambling on the beaches, where Mary Anning once walked. Have a look at the official fossil festival website programme to choose from activities as diverse as the Travelling Pliosaur Cinema, stonebalancing and carving, and a fossil time machine.

 

The theme for the 2012 Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is Discovering Earth. The event organisers are emphasising  how vital fossil collecting is today, particularly for climate change research:

 

'Paleoclimatologists studying both fossil finds and the coast itself learn new things about not only the ancient seas and the creatures that swam there, but also the way our oceans and marine life might respond in future as our climate changes. This evidence of how past life forms reacted to changing temperatures and conditions in the past helps to tell us what we might need to be prepared for.'

 

There are still important fossils and rocks being discovered on this historic Jurassic coastline - most recently a large pliosaur skull and a new species of crocodile.

 

If you can't make it to Dorset over the bank holiday weekend and are visiting the Museum, drop in to our talks with live-video-links to the Museum team at the festival. Fossil hunters: Live from Lyme Regis is on Saturday (12.30 and 14.30) and Seashore Search: live from Lyme Regis beach is on Sunday (12.30 and 14.30). Some of our scientists at the festival will also be posting live in our new Palaeontology news blog.

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The Museum has several huge ichthyosaurs on show in its Fossil Marine Reptiles gallery. One is the largest and most complete of its kind and was discovered by the 19th-century fossil-hunter Mary Anning in Lyme Regis.

Undoubtedly, we have amazing fossils in our galleries from the tiniest to the gigantic. I'd recommend Fossil Marine Reptiles, Fossils from Britain and the Red Zone's Earth Lab where you can use resources to help identify your own British rocks and fossils.

 

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival website

 

Paleontology department news

 

More fossil information

 

Find out more about fantastic fossils and ammonites on our Kids only website

Get some tips on fossil hunting

Discover all about fossils online

Watch the Baryonyx video and follow the story of this unusual British dinosaur

Explore dinosaurs and other extinct aquatic animals like ichtyhosaurs

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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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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