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What's new at the Museum

14 Posts tagged with the after_hours tag
The Earth Hall on Science Uncovered night last month. Bustling with cosmic and creative activity, cutting edge technology and prehistoric wonders. More pictures below.


Tonight, Friday 26 October, is a very special night for 10 lucky science and natural history fans, as they will be spending an exclusive evening sleeping over at the Museum.


At 28 September's Science Uncovered evening we ran a discovery trail called Stamped on Science and 5 attendees who completed the trail were drawn from almost 200 entries and won themselves, and a guest, an amazing overnight experience in our hallowed Central Hall, and tonight is the big night.



One of the many Stamped on Science-ers collecting a stamp on the night.

After they've enjoyed all we have on offer as part of our monthly Friday Lates with MasterCard, the 10 attendees will begin their unforgettable experience.


Museum scientists Dr Adrian Glover and Dr Victoria Herridge will guide them on exclusive behind-the-scenes tours and bring out specimens not normally on display to the public while they talk about their research.


After a night's sleep alongside the giant sequoia, in the upper Central Hall gallery, the lucky 10 will enjoy a continental breakfast under our iconic Diplodocus skeleton, Dippy. They'll then be taken on a tour of our Zoology Spirit Building and get early access to our ever-popular Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 exhibition.


Sounds like a lot of fun for those lucky 5 winners and their guests, who were just a fraction of the 9,077 visitors we had through the South Kensington doors (another 554 attended Tring) for our third annual Science Uncovered festival last month.


More than 500 scientists, staff, volunteers and visiting experts helped make the event possible and we're sure everyone who attended will agree it was a wonderful evening.


Have a look at some of our favourite pictures and see for yourself. Select the images to enlarge them.


At the Space Station comets were re-created using (mostly) household ingredients: dry ice, gravel (for the carbonaceous materials), worcester sauce (for the organic materials) and Mr Muscle (for the ammonia).


The skulls and other remains of our ancient ancestors at the Human Origins Station were a talking point for lots of visitors who chatted to Museum experts on the subject of where we came from.


Making your own cave art was a popular activity and resulted in a colourful display of familiar images and more contemporary hands-on contributions.


A state-of-the-art digital specimen table uncovered layers of a mummified cat (pictured) and Martian meteorites with the swipe of a finger.


Discovering the magic of minerals and their structures


The incredible palaeontological specimens at the Extinction Station station were a hit.


Scientists enjoyed the chance to chat about their research and show off their specimens, including here at the Ocean Stations (above and below).


Sea silk, one of the strange underwater specimens on show at the Oceans Station.


The Antarctica Science Station gave people a taste of the cold conditions scientists, researchers and explorers experience at the South Pole.


Many of the younger visitors could be found experimenting at being a vet and treating some very cuddly (toy) creatures at the Vets Station.


Behind-the-scenes tours gave visitors the chance to step into the role of scientist in our labs.


The tour of the Museum's library proved popular for its special access to historic artwork and texts.


Our roaming animal handlers let those brave enough hold real live animals.


The Food Station was as colourful and tasty as we would expect.


The Sopabox Art sessions attracted curious listeners, especially the discussion about breeding a mouse with the DNA of Elvis.


Science Fight Club in full sway.


The night was made all the merrier by the specially-concocted Science Uncovered cocktail, the Pollinator.


And who found out what this hairy brain-like mystery speciman was?

cocktail-long-1000.jpgAs our mighty Visitor Services team, caterers and planners swing into action for the Museum's biggest event of the year later today, and our Museum scientists make final preparations on their choice specimens, exhibits, equipment and talks for the show, I'm thinking of the things I will definitely be doing in a few hours time when I leave the office myself and visit Science Uncovered. It opens to the public at 16.00 and goes on until 23.00.


High on my list is, naturally, sipping The Pollinator cocktail (left) created exclusively for tonight's occasion. Its ingredients can't be revealed, but I've heard it is infused with vanilla and smells delicious, and is inspired by the pollination process... mmm nice! This concoction is available at the Cocktail bar in the Darwin Centre, and right next to the Food Station, which was a really cool place to hang out last year and have some really fruitful conversations.


Before heading over to the Darwin Centre, I hope to witness the volcano erupting at the Earth Station in the Earth Hall. And on my way from Earth to the Green Bar, I'll stop to listen to the Soapbox Art speakers in the Lasting Impressions gallery. I'm really intrigued about the possibility of a genetically-cloned Elvis mouse (below left) and perplexed by the prospect of women giving birth to endangered dolphins if the future need arose...


Both these somewhat surreal subjects and the speculative uses of scientific advancement, as seen through the eyes of budding Royal College of Art design graduates, are sure to give great food for thought. Soapbox Art is a new addition this year.


soap box art.jpglocust-devours-mouse-1000.jpg

'Tails' of mice at Science Uncovered tonight. Left a mouse that could be genetically-cloned from Elvis hair samples... featured in a Soabpox Art session; right a locust devouring a mouse at the Parasites/Pests Station.

On the subject of mice and pests, there will be more to explore at the Darwin Centre science stations. I definitely need to see the locust caught in the act of devouring a mouse at the Parasites/Pests Station, where I heard a rumour there might also be edible chocolate parasites. And I must remember to get some inside information at the Vets Station for a little person I know who wants to become a vetinary surgeon.


Another must is the roaming digital specimen table (below) where I'll have a go - if I can get a look in - at unwrapping a mummified cat and examining the core of the rare Tissint Martian meteorite. The table will be in the Earth Hall (where you can also see the Imaging Station) from 16.00 - 20.00, moving to the Earth globe just outside the Earth Hall from 20.00 - 22.00.



And of course, I'll be drawn to weird fish, ancient skull cups, gorgeous butterflies, giant bugs, native gold, glowing minerals, amazing CT scans and much, much more along the way.


For anyone interested in science and in our planet's history, its solar system and its future, this is the place to be in London tonight.


Find out about the Science Stations and everything that's on tonight at Science Uncovered


Read the news story about the digital specimen table


Download the Science Uncovered map [PDF]




Of course, if you're in Hertfordshire and close to our Museum at Tring, you can join in their amazing Science Uncovered at Tring night there too. The Edge of Extinction display and talk about birds, which is Tring's special area of research, promises to be fascinating as do some of their special bird art presentations. Pictured above is the forest owlet that has recently been making a recovery and actually 'returning from the dead'.


Where can you: create your own comet with a space expert or examine a large land snail back from extinction? Get close to rare cave art statuettes and Martian meteorites outside of their glass display cases? Look a fearsome Dracula fish in the face or marvel at a giant clam? Witness a blood spatter analysis by the police? Let a scorpion sit in the palm of your hand? Examine the insides of a mummified cat on a virtual autopsy table? Get inside the colon of a cow as a virtual vet? Take a tour of the largest natural history art library in the world? Or challenge a leading scientist on the latest discoveries about climate change as you sip on a cocktail? And all during a single night.


At our brilliant Science Uncovered festival from 16.00 to 23.00 on Friday 28 September, you can do every one of these things and more ... and also try to win your very own private sleepover here at the Museum.


The Space Station where vistors can make comets and see the Tissint meteorite from Mars, and the Forests Station with its butterflies, beetles and moth displays are sure to attract the crowds at Science Uncovered. Select images to enlarge.

Stephen Roberts, Science Uncovered's co-ordinator, gives us a hint of this year's highlights:


'We have a little under two weeks to go until the biggest evening event in the Museum's fantastic yearly calendar - Science Uncovered. This year, in keeping with the summer theme of pushing limits and new records, we will see new science, new ways to take part and new specimens coming out – all for one night only in this unique festival of science, made free thanks to the EU.


'On the evening of Friday 28 September, more than 350 researchers will be in our galleries as part of European Researchers’ Night that takes place across 32 countries and gives us unprecedented access to world class research and the people who make it happen.


Meeting a Dracula fish face to face - it may be tiny but it's huge for taxonomists - at the Evolution Station, and witnessing the police analyse a blood splatter at the Forensics Station will be other popular highlights.

'In a year that has seen science stories making such a splash it is terrific to have the chance to actually meet the people involved and get your hands on some of their work. From mini-mammoth remains discoverd in underground Cretan caves to amazing Martian meteorites and a live link to CERN's Large Hadron Collider control room or the chance to live-chat with researchers in Antarctica, there has never been a better time to meet the people at the cutting edge of discovery.

antarctic tent at sunset.JPGlhc--1000.jpg

At the Antarctica Station you can step inside a real polar tent and try out expedition equipment, and in the Attenborough Studio we video-link live to the control room of CERN's Large Hadron Collider.

'As well as the science and scientists, some of the most precious specimens from our collections will be brought out for this rare occasion, and there's the opportunity to delve behind the scenes into our collections on exclusive tours.


'And, of course, if you would rather get your hands dirty you could help build a comet, recreate cave art or extract your own DNA, to name but a few of the more practical aspects. Not least of which for a Friday night, we have a record breaking 7 bars and, by popular demand, our delicious Restaurant will be open till late.


Homo sapiens and Neanderthal skulls alongside cave art figurines, rarely shown to the public, will be at the Human Origins Station, along with the researchers who more than anyone can answer the questions as to who we really are...

'Our Museum at Tring is also taking part with a fantastic Science Uncovered night in Hertfordshire, with the promise of curators giving us insights into how to prepare bird skins and skeleton specimens, shows of feather painting and natural history art illustration, and the chance to meet live creatures with keepers from Amey Zoo. Local beer and barbecue-style food are on the menu too. Check our Science Uncovered at Tring pages for more information.


'If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington or at Tring this is the night to come along and see for yourself.'


Find out what's on at Science Uncovered in London


Download the Science Uncovered map to see where things are and to plan your evening in London


See what's on at Tring's Science Uncovered


Curiosity's surroundings on Mars'This mission has been in the works for 10 years. If it is successful it will be one of the greatest engineering feats of mankind,' declared Museum scientist Joseph Michalski shortly before that feat was pulled off with aplomb in the early hours of today. As NASA's Curiosity rover beamed back its first image from the surface of Mars it was 06:14 BST, but it was only after a 14 minute-long journey via the Mars Odyssey orbiter, Canberra's Deep Space Network, and California's Mission Control, that it reached the large screen of our Mars Landing special event in the Museum's Flett Theatre.


The elated joy visible on screen at Mission Control was immediately mirrored by the eruption of cheers and applause from our audience. The relief was palpable, particularly as half of the previous missions to Mars have ended in failure; Michael Balme, panellist and - like Joe - one of the team of international scientists who worked on the mission, would later sum up the morning with, 'I expected the worst but hoped for the best, so today is now going to be like Christmas!'


Of the 7 minutes of terror during EDL (entry, descent and landing), if anything was going to go wrong it was the very last moments of the L as this was when an entirely new and untried mechanism for deploying a payload onto a planet's surface was put to the test. Although airbags had been hugely successful for Spirit and Opportunity in 2004, the near 900kg of Curiosity made the same approach highly impractical; instead, the brain-storming at NASA had produced 'sky crane', which Joseph described perfectly following the landing as something that '... looks bonkers, but it worked!'


From an altitude of tens of metres above the surface, this mechanism winched the Curiosity rover from its rocket-powered, hovering landing cradle gently onto the surface. In a very British style, Matthew Balme put it as, '... something you would call very Heath Robinson,' or, to paraphrase a tweet that flashed past on my phone at the same time, 'if you had put this crazy idea for a landing in a hollywood script, you would have been laughed out of the studio'.


nasa-jpl-caltech-mission-control.jpgThankfully, NASA's team of engineers did Heath Robinson and the rest of us proud and Curiosity has started its Martian-year-long mission (equvialent to about 2 Earth years) with great success. The first black-and-white 64x64 pixel thumbnail image and, soon after, the sharper 256x256 pixel version announced its perfect landing on the anticipated flat, slightly gravelly surface.


These were closely followed by shots of its wheel and shadow on the same, and the end of the beginning for this multi-billion dollar adventure was reached. Sadly for our audience, Martian time prevented more than this handful of snapshots being captured during our event as Odyssey promptly disappeared over the Martian horizon and thus the link back to Earth was lost until its next pass over the region some hours later.


At this point, our extremely relieved panel of mission scientists and Mars experts started to take questions from the audience. These ranged from the planning behind the mission to the future of Mars and space exploration. Panellist Peter Grindrod had the onerous task of trying to follow the excitement of the landing and did an admirable job.


He first explained how sky crane had permitted the EDL team to target a much smaller landing area than those of previous missions. The huge benefit of this focussed, and very gentle landing of a large rover was the amount of scientific equipment it could carry to the surface (his slide below helps put that in true perspective - the rover is huge).


rovers-compared.jpgPeter Grindrod's slide of the different rovers that have made it to Mars. Curiosity is on the right.


Further prompting from the audience led him to describe how Gale Crater had been chosen as the target for the mission - it was the combination of all the characteristics they were looking for, topographical, geological and chemical, that carried the day for Gale Crater although another 3 very good contenders had been shortlisted following an approximately 6 year-long selection process. It also happened to be Peter's favourite choice, 'I can only imagine the view Curiosity must have now.'


He then described in brief each of the 10 instruments on board, including the X-ray spectrometer (the first to be deployed on another planet) that will analyse samples collected from drilling a few centimetres below the surface. 'Context is key for geological analysis,' and so the ability to pick locations and drive the rover to them forms an important part of the mission. At this point, Joe chipped in with 'some sort of organic material would be excellent to discover,' which led Peter to state that, as with all previous missions, it is the things that the planners haven't anticipated that will prove the most exciting aspect of the mission.


More questions and more responses from all of the panellists followed, including a great fly-over of Gale Crater in Google Earth (that is, the Mars version) from Matthew to show the geology of the landing area and crater. These taught us that Gale will be an exemplar for many other locations on Mars as similar sedimentary rock formations have been observed elsewhere on the planet. Matthew and Joe told us how the landing area was a compromise between the demands of the scientists ('we want interesting and varied topography and geology - the equivalent of the Grand Canyon!') versus the engineers ('we want flat, boring and windless!').


matthew-hirise-image.jpgMatthew Balme shows imagery of Gale Crater on Mars captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter


Joe described how the marginally smaller size of Mars relative to Earth is a possible explanation for why it doesn't experience any plate tectonics - incidentally, Earth is the only planet in our solar system that does - which is a good reason for going there to study it (we don't have access to any truly ancient rocks here on Earth due to the churn and change that our heated core causes at the surface).


The mound in the centre of the impact-generated Gale Crater was, according to Peter, probably there because it was once infilled, and erosion has cleared the surrounding basin while leaving the central peak preserved. This means the base of the mound is the old geology, the top the relatively new. And, of course, the tantalising evidence of previous water flow and clay formation as the principal reason for choosing Gale Crater featured heavily in the discussion as it is this that makes it ideal for the search for a potentially once-habitable environment.


A few of the many great questions from the audience are worth highlighting here (I've summarised the replies):


Q: 'Why haven't probes sent to Mars looked for life since the Viking missions [in the 1970s]?'
A: Because of the likelihood that very few locations will have any evidence of life. We have to first discover where could there have been life before we ask is there life and we have to be patient. Therefore Curiosity is looking for habitats that could have supported life rather than life itself.


Q: 'How long will the mission last'

A: It is guaranteed funding for one Martian year but, due to its nuclear power source, it could go on for many, many years if the instrumentation remains working and is still returning useful data. [N.B. Spirit and Opportunity were originally funded for a 90 day mission as their solar panels were expected to clog up with dust and cease functioning; in reality they lasted 8 years as the wholly unexpected benefit of dust devils on the Martian surface periodically cleaned the panels enabling them to keep charged for far longer than anticipated].


Q: 'What will happen to Opportunity now that Curiosity has landed safely?'

A: Opportunity has taken a lower priority for obvious reasons, but its mission will keep going for as long as it sends back useful data and the funding is there [N.B. Spirit got stuck in a location that meant it could no longer charge and it lost power, thus effectively ending its mission earlier].


During the post-landing Q and A we also had the pleasure of linking-live for a few minutes to the boisterous Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California to talk with Dr Derby Dyer who worked on Curiosity's ChemCam instrument. She and her colleagues were walking around with big smiles on their faces, and not because of the cookies that had just been deployed in their office at that moment:


Q: 'What would have happened if the weather conditions hadn't been ideal for landing? Could the mission have been aborted?'

A: The landing was autonomous so we couldn't have aborted or changed it. However, the weather has been modelled for weeks in advance - if we had spotted potential issues a few weeks ago, we could have made a slight alteration to the landing schedule but there wasn't a lot of leeway.


Q: 'What would you recommend someone does to get involved in this type of project'

A: Learn how to be a critical thinker! Go to College [University] and be passionate about the science.


We were also joined by Ralph Cordey of Astrium, to talk about future missions to Mars. Astrium's prototype rover for the next major trip to Mars, the European ExoMars mission in 2018, was on display at the Museum today. Ralph explained how the Curiosity mission already contained a European element as it invovles the ESA's Mars Express as one of the orbiters capturing the data from Curiosity for transmission back to Earth.


For ExoMars, there are currently three prototypes of the rover: BRIDGET (Ralph believes it may be named after Bridget Bardot), BRUNO - which is being tested in Stevenage - and BRADLEY (Italy). The final rover will be smaller than Curiosity but will be designed to drill up to 2 metres below the Martian surface and look for biomarkers.


bridget.jpgMembers of the audience enjoy their look at BRIDGET, Astrium's prototype Mars rover

However, that mission is still to come, and from today we are looking forward to the first real results from Curiosity's in-built science lab and (hopefully) the excitement of seeing photos of its descent to the planet and video of the sky crane deployment as shot from the landing module. But, as must be the case with a 10 year long project, we will need to be patient over the next few days as all this data can't be sent at once and NASA's priority now is to perform tests to make sure everything is functioning as expected. That just leaves me to quote my favourite tweet from earlier today:


@Paul_Cornell: As Eugene Byrne put it: 'The nerds just took Gold in the 560 billion metres'


View NASA's multimedia gallery from the Curiosity mission


Follow @MarsCuriosity on Twitter


Find out more about our After Hours events


Image rights:


After Hours Mars Landing event photos, Natural History Museum

Curiosity's surroundings, NASA/JPL-Caltech
JPL Mission Control, NASA HQ PHOTO



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.



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.


Nearly 7,000 people turned up on the night for our biggest-ever After Hours event in 2010. Double the numbers we had hoped for. By 8pm there were queues stretching far down the Cromwell Road outside the Museum, South Kensington tube was rammed and the atmosphere in the Central Hall was buzzing.


(Click on the images to enlarge them.)

First visitors arriving in the afternoon

I went down around 4ish to the Central Hall just as the event was starting and was lucky enough to get a glimpse of some of the great things at the science stations: Alan Hart's gold nugget, Ed Baker's domino cockroaches (scampered up my sleeve!), and Richard Sabin's rare dolphin skull, before passing by some very excited toddlers observing wriggly worms in a petri dish at the Natural History Roadshow in Dinosaur Way. This was the family time of the event and not so crowded. Although it was still too difficult to get near to Max Barclay's huge beetle collection at the Entomology Station, due to the avid fans around him.


Ed Baker's Past and Present Insects Station - live cockroaches in the container to the right of the boy!


When I returned later from the office, around 8pm, it was really packed and Central Hall along had that amazing feeling of 'the place to be'. But the Museum tours were by now fully booked up, so I missed these. I met friends who had joined The Vault tour and were raving about Alan Hart our mineralogist who led this tour. They were also charmed by the live chameleon that had greeted them near the front desk.

The live chameleon at the front desk, what a charmer

Around mid-evening it was pretty difficult to get close to any of the science stations so we headed to The Science Bar. Aoife, the bar's stewardess for the night, was shepherding the next batch of guests to their tables, with scientists at the ready to join the conversations. It was obvious they were all having a brilliant time. Aoife told me afterwards: 'It was probably the most intense and rewarding experience I've ever had. The scientists loved it. But I didn't get to sit down all evening or have a minute's break." I think the latter sentiment was echoed by many of the scientists and volunteers involved in the night's activities.


The Whale Hall tour led by Roberto Miquez, especially popular because there was also a Spanish translator to hand


The Darwin Centre's Forensics Station was a real hit, thanks to lots of recent press coverage for our forensic insect experts

Drifting over finally to the Darwin Centre, past a huge bone (or what is it a fossil?) being presented at the Natural History Roadshow, we made it to the Hendrick's Bar of Curious Concoctions. Annoyingly it was closing, but the manager proudly announced to us that they'd given away over 700 gin and tonics. He waved a huge wadge of postcards at us, shouting, 'we'll have to sort all these next, it's been fantastic.' I guess we'll hear more of those quirky 'natural history' stories exchanged for free spirits at a later point. But Hendrick's gin has now joined many of my colleagues' drinks collections that's for sure.


'We gave away over 700 free gin and tonics' announced the Hendrick's bar manager proudly at closing time

On my way out as the event was finishing, I met Laura Harmour the event co-organiser with press officer, Sam Roberts. Both had big smiles on their faces. 'Wow, what a success, worth all the hard work and why were we panicking people wouldn't come!' we laughed. Ringing in my ears were Sandy Knapp's witty observations on freeze drying potatoes up in the Andes and Mike Rumsey's erudite identification of an opal that a visitor had thrust in his face on her ringed finger. Let's hear it for the scientists, thought I. It really was their night.



Rare botanical books revealed by Mark Spencer on the Leafing through the Past tour behind the scenes

There were disappointments for those who couldn't get on the Museum tours and frustration at not getting as close to some of the scientists and their specimens as some would have liked. But hey, it was the first time we staged such a massive science event. Lessons to be learned and as Stephen Roberts, organiser of the event says, 'we'll do it better next time.'


The atmospheric Fossil Way bar


Science Uncovered, au revoir.


Give us your feedback from the event and post your pictures on the Science Uncovered community website


It's only 3 days to go till our After Hours: Science Uncovered big night this Friday, 24 September, and the last operational plans are in frantic motion.


Yesterday was the dress rehearsal for scientists to bring out their star specimens and run through setting up the event's science stations in the Central Hall. The 9 Face to Face science stations are mostly located in the Museum's Central Hall bays. Each represents one of the Museum's main science departments and will showcase specimens from our collections and their research.


Left: This complete skull of the female Yangtze River dolphin (also known as Baiji), was collected from Tung Ting Lake in 1922. It is on show at Science Uncovered and measures 54cm long and has 36 pairs of teeth in its upper and lower jaws.
Right: A live Chinese River dolphin rescued from the Yangtze River in 1980. She died in 2002. AFP/Getty Images


At the science stations you'll find some truly precious and extraordinary specimens to explore and discuss face to face with our experts. Many have never been on public display before. It's vital that they are handled securely and the timings of the rota of exhibits runs to schedule. During the evening from 16.00 onwards, different scientists with their different chosen specimens will alternate on shift


Of special interest will be the complete skull of the now-extinct Yangtze River dolphin (above) on display at the Zoology Station, courtesy of our renowned mammals curator Richard Sabin. This rare female skull came into the Museum's collection in 1922. There are only a few specimens of this extinct species in museums worldwide, so preserving it is crucial. This is what Richard has to say about the Yangtze River dolphin skull:


'The reason I am showcasing this specimen is to highlight how the nature of museum collections and specimens can change, and how they reflect what is taking place in the world. The extinction of a large marine mammal is not only a sad loss to biodiversity, it is also a shock that you cannot adequately prepare yourself for. As curator of marine mammals, I am at a loss to express how I feel about never being able to see this species in the wild. The specimen will be used to investigate the genetic make-up of the species, which will hopefully provide data that can be used to help conserve other closely-related cetacean species.'



Other Zoology Station treats include a skull of a lion kept at the Tower of London more than 500 years ago. The lions were part of the Royal Menagerie, or zoo. And Richard is also going to show some of the Museum's mummified cats (right)... I did say there would be beauties and beasts, didn't I? Our Head of zoology collections Clare Valentine will also be featuring some unusual sponges (below).



Insect lovers should head off to the Past and Present Insects Station in Fossil Way for the chance to meet live creatures like the rather pretty Therea petiveriana, Domino Cockroach (pictured left), which our entomologist Ed Baker will be bringing along. These cockroaches are often kept as pets. Ed is joined by palaeontologist David Nicholson who will also present some 100-million-year-old insect fossil specimens.


Meteorite fans should check out the Mineralogy Station in the Central Hall. We'll have a piece of the very rare Allende carbonaceous chrondrite meteorite (below) that fell as a huge fireball in Mexico in 1969. The Museum has about 5,000 meteorite samples, which hold secrets of the formation of the solar system.



We hear mutterings that Alan Hart, who is leading The Vault gallery tours, will be showing some excavated Devonshire gold at the Mineralogy Station.


sponge-800.jpgTomatoes and poisonous algae are just a few of the botanical delights at the Botany Station, including an actual old-fashioned plant press.


And there is the enigma of the giant beasts on the Dinosaurs and Whale Hall torchlit gallery tours, with the chance to learn about identifying worms at the Natural History Roadshow in Dinosaur Way.


Moving over to the Darwin Centre Forensics Station, you'll be able to glimpse the first maggots used as forensic evidence (below) to convict a criminal in a court of law. This formed part of the famous 1935 Ruxton murder case.


In short, 100s of star specimens and gallery treasures await you at Science Uncovered. This is your chance to witness them close up with the people who know them best.


After Hours: Science Uncovered is part of European Researchers' Night.


Read the latest news story about some of these rare specimens at Science Uncovered


Here are some links to related news stories about a few of these specimens that might also be of interest:


Did Egyptian mummification lead to the domestic cat? - news story

The Tower of London lion origins revealed - news story

Museum insect detectives join forensic team - news story


Click on the images to enlarge them.


On Friday 24 September, 2 weeks from now, we are planning our biggest-ever after hours event, Science Uncovered. It promises to be an amazing science festival and more.

The Museum opens its doors until 22.00 on Friday 24 September for its biggest-ever After Hours

If you've ever wanted to visit the Museum for an evening drink and never quite made it, this is the night you should come.


As well as being a historic, atmospheric venue for Friday night drinks, it's the perfect event to recapture your first vivid Museum encounters as a child, like T.rex and the blue whale. As well as discover new treasures and the latest scientific and natural history research going on behind the scenes.

The event is free and the Museum's doors will stay open until 22.00. Although it's mainly for adults, there are earlier family events and shows starting about 16.00 in the afternoon. Science Uncovered is part of European Researchers' Night happening across Europe, so on the night there will be over 200 cities in Europe having their own celebrations.


You'll find all the details of the event on our Science Uncovered website. But in a nutshell here's what's happening:


We'll have 3 bars open, 26 exclusive Museum tours you can join, 9 science stations around the Central Hall to stop by and meet scientists and explore 'star' specimens, 5 special nature talks in the Darwin Centre Attenborough Studio and a Natural History Roadshow in Dinosaur Way.


Over 50 of our scientists and curators are your friendly hosts throughout the evening.


In the next 2 weeks you'll be hearing more about the exciting and inspiring things to enjoy on the night.


One of the special attractions of our big event is The Science Bar in the Central Hall Cafe. Here you can join scientists for a drink at tables, in an informal atmosphere, and chat about hot science topics listed on the menu cards at the tables. You'll also be able to chat with scientists face-to-face at a variety of science stations that you'll find around the Central Hall and in the Darwin Centre and Fossil Way.


Before you come, maybe think about some questions you've always wanted to ask a scientist or curator. This is your chance to ask them face to face. But don't worry if you haven't got any questions, the night is for you to enjoy the galleries and listen in too.


Here are just a few of the scientists you may bump into during the evening.

At the Science Bar. L to r: Roland Jenner, zoologist, on 'Is science noble?'. Karen James, botanist, on 'What stops women in science?'. Paul Taylor, palaeontologist, on 'Are we in the midst of a mass extinction?' Amoret Whitaker, forensic entomologist, on 'Would you donate your body to a body farm?'


Face to Face science stations. L to r: Richard Sabin, mammals curator, zoology station. Sandy Knapp, botanist, botany station. Eva Valsami-Jones, nanosciences researcher, European Researchers' station. Mike Rumsey, mineralogist, mineralogy station.


Museum tours. L to r: Alan Hart, mineralogist, The Vault gallery. Susie Maidment, palaeontology researcher, Dinosaurs torchlit tour. Roberto Miguez, zoologist, Whale Hall tour. Alex Martin, science lab manager, DNA lab tour.


Scientists talks. L to r: Jon Ablett, zoology curator, The Giant Squid. Heather Bonney, human remains palaeontologist, A Body of Evidence. Geoff Boxshall, zoologist, Life in the Oceans. Adrian Glover, marine biologist, Mysteries of the Deep.



The massive Ice Age mammals that lurk in the recesses of the Central Hall, some giant worms and a gigantic gold nugget, these are all highlights of our last summer Night Safari tour on Monday 12 July.



Our fossil mammal expert, Adrian Lister, introduces the Ice Age glyptodon.jpgmammals on the night and gives safari visitors the rare chance to get closer to some of our most iconic Central Hall exhibits, like the Ilford Woolly Mammoth skull and tusks, below left, and our armadillo-like Glyptodon fossil, pictured right.


Upstairs in Central Hall, curator Emma Sherlock and her giant worms lend their charms to the Tree gallery, and mineralogist Mike Rumsey shares some golden moments in the Vault gallery. Museum botanist Sandy Knapp presents her top Museum pieces, Central Hall's botanically illustrated ceiling panels, and butterfly explorer Blanca Huertas reveals her favourite flutterers.


As before, Night Safari visitors can enjoy a drink and snacks at the bar before and after their exclusive tours of Central Hall. There's also a break in the middle of the tour.


Book tickets online for Night Safari on 12 July


Believe it or not, there was actually a proposal of marriage made - and accepted - in The Vault gallery at the last Night Safari in May, by one of the safari visitors. He'd rung the event organisers beforehand to arrange it and said afterwards: 'Not only was the Night Safari so cool, but finishing the night knowing that I will be spending the rest of my life with my girlfriend, is beyond happiness.' How sweet is that and what a place to do it, surrounded by all those gems.


And put this date in your diary. On 1 November, Night Safari returns for a Halloween special.


Back to one of July's highlights ... the Ilford Woolly Mammoth skull and tusks display in Central Hall, shown below, is something to behold. But the enormity of this Essex fossil doesn't really come across here. It's the only complete mammoth skull ever to be found in Britain.


The Ilford Woolly Mammoth model, on the right here, is not on public display, but held in our Palaeontology collection at the Museum


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


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.



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.


Aliens in the Attenborough Studio

Posted by Rose Apr 27, 2010

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


The salsify canopy. Ana Retamero's close-up of salsify seed-heads won the In Praise of Plants category in 2009.

There are 2 weeks left for photographers to enter the world's most prestigious wildlife photography competition, as the closing date is Monday 8 March 2010, 9.00am GMT. You can enter the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition online.


The competition attracts more and more worldwide interest and submissions. There were over 43,000 entries for the 2009 competition. Compare this to the very first 1964 competition with its 600 entries and 3 categories, and you'll realise just how phenomenal it's become.


The competition now has 18 categories. For photographers still wanting to enter, it's worth noting there is the new Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year award this year, which allows you to enter a sequence of pictures that tells a memorable story.


There may also be less competition for categories like Urban Wildlife, which can include wild plants or animals in an urban or suburban environment, or In Praise of Plants, which can feature wild flowering and non-flowering plants or fungi. One of the most magical photographs from 2009 is the In Praise of Plants category winner. The salsify canopy, shown above, is an exquisite close-up image of a meadow of salsify seed-heads and a real stunner in the current exhibition. Read the news story about the last call for best wildlife photos 2010 and find out more about the competition.

Last chance to visit the 2009 exhibition

You've got until 11 April to visit the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 exhibition in the Museum's Waterhouse Gallery. And one more chance to see the exhibition at our After Hours night on Friday 26 March. Last month's late-night exhibition, pictured above, was very popular, so make sure you book your tickets in advance. Click to enlarge image.



Museum treasures will be revealed on the exclusive new Night Safari tour

When we announced the first Dino Snores sleepover event in January this year, many adults were understandably miffed that the only way you could join in was if you accompanied a group of children. (After all, it is a children’s event.)


But now there’s something new and exotic for adults and it’s called Night Safari. The first safari will take place on 8 March. Expect all the adventure and atmosphere of a real wildlife safari, but here in the comfort and splendour of our iconic Central Hall, not to mention a bar.


Night safaris won’t be all-nighters, they’ll start around 6.30pm and end at 10.30pm, and they promise some rare treats.


On arrival at the Museum, there will be an introductory talk and safari visitors can enjoy the bar before the tours start (drinks can’t be taken on the tours for obvious reasons). Groups of 25 visitors will then join our Night Safari guides for their tours around 7ish, starting at different points in Central Hall.


Tour groups will explore both the Central Hall ground floor, featuring a stop at Dippy, our famous Diplodocus skeleton (below), and the upper galleries, including Minerals, the Vault and the giant sequoia tree trunk at the very top of the balconies.


On the tour, visitors will meet some of our leading scientists and researchers who’ll reveal and discuss their favourite, treasured specimens. Some of these ‘top five’ specimens are usually kept in our collections behind the scenes, so this is a really unique opportunity to get close to something extraordinary, with the expert on it at hand.


I’m told that at the March safari, one of the scientists' chosen specimens will be an awesome set of great white shark jaws and skin - presented by our well-known and respected fish curator, Ollie Crimmen.


To ease off the safari heat, there’s a 30-minute break in the middle of the tour. Tours finish around 9.45pm, so enough time for a last drink and chat before heading out from the Central Hall wildlife at 10.30, when the doors close.


If our Night Safaris are anything like the Dino Snores events, they are likely to sell out quickly, so book tickets online early. Night Safaris are planned for every 2 months on a Monday night and the next ones are confirmed for 10 May and 12 July.


Sleeping with dinosaurs

Posted by Rose Dec 11, 2009


Zzzzz or Roarrr?

One of the Museum's most exciting events for children starts in January when our  monthly Saturday sleepovers are launched.


We adults are jealous, because you have to be 8 – 11 years old to attend, although an adult needs to accompany each group of children, so you can go along as a group leader and get in free. But you have to be responsible!

The first Dino Snores sleepover is on Saturday 16 January 2010 and is in association with Sony PlayStation who are giving kids the chance to try out their new game, which I'm told is fantastic.


Fun activities at your exclusive night at the Museum will also include a torch-lit tour of some of the galleries including Dinosaurs, a live show from TV presenter and naturalist Nick Baker and our own Museum insect expert, with art and crafty things to do too.

But the real fun will be finding out what really happens after dark in the Museum as you bed down in the shadow of our famous Diplodocus skeleton as midnight beckons…


Dino Snores sleepovers are planned for the middle of every month, so if you can’t make the first, there will be more to come.


Read our Dino Snores helpful questions and answers to find out more.