MV Blog


Watching the total solar eclipse

by Tanya
Publish date
14 November 2012
Comments (0)

I had never seen a total solar eclipse before, and I was very excited to travel to Queensland to watch Australia's first solar eclipse in a decade just before 6AM this morning. 

It was incredible to wander down to the beach at 4AM and see it already packed with eclipse chasers! Thousands of people were at Palm Cove alone, more in surrounding Cairns and Port Douglas, while some headed inland where the weather prospects were better.

People on beach Eclipse chasers on the beach at Palm Cove, Queensland, awaiting the total solar eclipse.
Image: Tanya Hill
Source: Tanya Hill

We saw a magnificent sunrise over the water, but minutes later, when the partial eclipse was due to begin, the Sun disappeared behind clouds. It was an anxious wait but half an hour later, the clouds parted and we all donned our eclipse glasses to see a large chunk missing from the Sun.

The totality was perfect. Just beforehand you could tell that the surrounding light was different; it seemed sharp and unnatural. Then the brilliant diamond ring effect lit up the bottom of the sun and the moment had begun.

Total solar eclipse The moment of perfect totality, when the Moon was exactly in front of the Sun.
Image: Tanya Hill
Source: Tanya Hill

I was amazed by the colour - we could really see the pink prominences dancing around the Sun. Everyone cheered and just enjoyed the beauty of this natural show. We could see Venus shining bright above the Sun, the wispy corona and the Sun's outer gaseous layer, along with a dazzling bright ring encircling the Moon. It was surprising how long the two minutes lasted. The second diamond ring effect was blinding and spectacular as the Sun began to emerge once again.

The Yolngu of Arnhem Land tell their eclipse story of the sun-woman and moon-man coming together in the sky as husband and wife. It struck me that this is a phenomena that has been seen by so many, across thousands of years. I feel so fortunate to have shared in the experience.


'Eclipse groupies take shot in the dark,' The Age, 11 November 2012

'Eclipse sheds light on sizzling sun,' The Age, 14 November 2012 

Tribute to Neil Armstrong

by Tanya
Publish date
27 August 2012
Comments (2)

I was sad to hear the news yesterday that Neil Armstrong had passed away.

Neil Armstrong Neil Armstrong in Apollo Lunar Module after his historic moonwalk in July 1969.
Source: NASA

It was just last week that I had been talking about the Apollo missions to a group of Grade 3 students. It was my son's class and they had asked me to talk about life on Mars. They were studying the idea that over time, living things need to adapt in order to survive, and so they were thinking about what people would need to live on Mars one day.

As we spoke about things like the need for water and oxygen, along with the differences between Mars and Earth, I asked if they'd ever seen what happened when the astronauts walked on the Moon. The group, including my son, looked at me blankly and I realised that they had never heard of the famous Moon landings.

So we checked out the NASA clips of Apollo 11's landing and those great action shots of astronauts bouncing around on the Moon due to its weak gravity. The kids were astounded!

spacecraft on Moon Photo of Apollo Lunar Module on the surface of the Moon with Armstrong's shadow in the foreground
Image: Neil Armstrong
Source: NASA

I was born just as the Apollo missions were coming to an end. Even so, it was always a part of my world. The Apollo astronauts were amazing men and my tribute to Neil Armstrong will be to make sure that young generations know of the incredible things he and his fellow astronauts did. May they always be an inspiration to all.


Statement from Armstrong Family (via

Moon gazing across the globe

by Nicole K
Publish date
22 July 2012
Comments (6)

Your Question: How can my wife and I gaze at the full moon together, but from opposite sides of the globe?

Our enquirer is in Jervis Bay, on the East Coast of Australia. His wife is in Ottawa, Canada. They contacted Museum Victoria to ask if we can help them plan a romantic evening – a full Moon-gazing date on opposite sides of the Earth.

A full moon seen from Ontario, Canada. A full moon seen from Ontario, Canada.
Image: Michael Gil
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The next full Moon will occur on the 1st or 2nd of August 2012 (depending on what time zone you are in). In Ottawa, the Moon will rise at 7:55pm EDT (Eastern Daylight Time) on 1 August. It will be at its absolute fullest at 11:27pm and will continue to be visible until it sets on 2 August at 6:28am.

Sadly in Jervis Bay's time zone, the full Moon will occur when the Moon is not visible from that side of the Earth, at 1:27pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time). The Moon will have set that morning at 6:24 and will not rise again until 5:32 that evening.

All is not lost, however. The Moon-watching date can still occur, just not at the precise moment when the Moon is at its fullest. Our couple will just have to wait a few hours.

When the Moon rises on the night of 2 August in Jervis Bay (at 5:32pm AEST), it will be 3:32am in Ottawa (EDT). The Moon will be visible in both places and will remain so until it sets in Ottawa at 6:28am (EDT). This means our two Moon-gazers can watch the still-very-full Moon "together" for nearly 3 hours.

If the idea of getting up so early diminishes the romance from the Canadian perspective, our Moon-gazers can wait a few days – if they are happy to look at a Moon that is no longer full.

On 4 August, the Moon will rise in Jervis Bay at 7:38pm (AEST). It will be 6:02am in Ottawa (EDT). The Moon will be visible in both locations until it sets in Ottawa at 8:48am. Unfortunately this means the Canadian half of our Moon-gazing couple will be looking at the Moon during daylight (the Sun will rise in Ottawa on 4 August at 5:51am).

While arranging this date was tricky, it was only possible because our lovers are not on exactly opposite sides of the Earth. If they were, there would be no chance of viewing the Moon that the same time (for more than an instant and only then if they had a perfect view of the horizon). And one of them would have to be in a boat. Less than 4% of all land on Earth (and no part of the Australian mainland) is antipodal (diametrically opposite) to land: the antipode of Jervis Bay is in the North Atlantic Ocean; the antipode of Ottawa is in the Indian Ocean.

Maps showing Jervis Bay, Australia, and its antipode, in the North Atlantic Ocean. Maps showing Jervis Bay, Australia, and its antipode, in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Image: Antipodes Map
Source: Antipodes Map


Melbourne Planetarium: Skynotes

Melbourne Planetarium: Moon Phases

US Navy: Rise/Set times for Sun/Moon

Antipodes Map

Moon rock now on display

by Ursula
Publish date
19 June 2012
Comments (6)

Ursula Smith works in the natural sciences collections at Museum Victoria. Though a palaeontologist by training she finds all the collections fascinating and swings between excitement at all the cool stuff in them and despair at the lack of time to look at it all.

Museums make it possible to see specimens from faraway places that you won't get the chance to visit yourself. And it doesn't get much further away than the Moon – a piece of which we've received on long-term loan from NASA for display in Dynamic Earth. It was installed just this morning.

Moon rock Moon rock in its protective glass case, now on display in Dynamic Earth. Behind it is the exhibition's Moon model.
Source: Museum Victoria

It's a small piece cut from a larger rock, lunar rock 15555, dubbed 'The Great Scott' after Commander David Scott who collected it during the Apollo 15 Lunar Mission in July 1971. Its specially-built glass case is filled with nitrogen to protect the rock from Earth's atmosphere.

Moon rock is incredibly rare - we have not quite 800kg in total on Earth, which is lighter than an average family car. It's also incredibly important because of what it can tell us about the Moon's formation.

The Great Scott is a basalt formed from a volcanic eruption. It's similar to basalts found on Earth, being composed of silicate minerals such as olivine, pyroxene and plagioclase, except that basalts from the Moon lack water.

Great Scott moon rock Apollo 15555, 'The Great Scott'. The dent in the centre of the visible surface is a "zap pit" - a hole caused by the impact of a micro-meteorite.
Source: NASA

The Great Scott is 3.3 billion years old and has been sitting on the surface of the Moon for 80 million years, since long before the dinosaurs went extinct! We can tell this by measuring how long its minerals have been exposed to cosmic radiation. The rock still looks amazingly fresh because the Moon has no atmosphere, meaning very little weathering has occurred.

Apollo 15 was the fourth of the Apollo missions to land on the Moon and the first to involve significant geological training for the crew. 

Three men in space suits The Apollo 15 Crew standing in front of the Lunar Rover: Cmd. David Scott, CMP Wolden, LMP Irwin.
Source: NASA

The landing site for Apollo 15, Mare Imbrium, was selected specifically to allow investigation of three different landscape features: a mare basin, a mountain front and a lunar rille. Mare Imbrium is so large that it's visible to the naked eye from Earth. It was hoped that Apollo 15 would be able to collect Pre-Imbrian material – rock exposed or thrown out by the impact that formed the enormous crater.

  The Moon showing Mare Imbrium. The Moon showing Mare Imbrium.
Source: Wikipedia

Another of the primary goals of the Apollo 15 mission was an examination of Hadley Rille, a channel-like depression in the lunar surface. During their three-day stay on the Moon, Scott and Irwin traversed over 28km in the lunar rover – the first time a vehicle had been driven on the Moon's surface.

At Hadley Rille they collected a large proportion of the rocks that were brought back to Earth, including Apollo 15555. Weighing 9.6kg on Earth, the rock weighed only 1.6kg on the Moon so it was easy to carry.

Moon rock in situ on the Moon Apollo 15555 prior to Commander Scott collecting it. The tripod structure is a gnomon used to indicate the direction and elevation of the sun.
Source: NASA (Image AS15-82-11164)

NASA distributed rock from the Apollo missions to researchers around the world for study, including Museum Victoria Honorary Associate Professor John Lovering. At the time of the Apollo program he was the Head of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

Professor Lovering carried out some of the very first chemical analyses of the Moon rock from Apollo 11 and 12, and discovered a new mineral, tranquillityite, which has since been found on Earth – from six localities in Pilbara, Western Australia – as well as from rocks from every Apollo mission and a lunar meteorite.

Man and vehicle on the Moon LMP Irwin and the Lunar Rover, taken by Cmd. Scott
Source: NASA (Image A515-86-11603)


Infosheet: The Moon

MV Blog: Distant Moon

Apollo Lunar Surface Journal

Lovering, J. F. et al (1971). Tranquillityite: A new silicate mineral from Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 basaltic rocks. Proceedings of the Lunar Science Conference 2: 39–45.

MV Blog: Murchison meteorite

Partial lunar eclipse

by Tanya
Publish date
2 June 2012
Comments (1)

Tonight the Moon, Earth and Sun will fall into line to create a partial lunar eclipse. Between the hours of 8pm and 10pm, a small section near the top of the Moon will plunge into the Earth's shadow.

This event has been somewhat overshadowed (ha! ha!) by the Transit of Venus that occurs on Wednesday. But I must say, that I have a particular love of lunar eclipses. I think it's because they happen at night - so not only do you get to see the eclipse, but you can also check out the starry night sky.

9pm, 4 June 2012 The eclipsed Moon will be found below the constellation of Scorpius, at 9pm on 4 June (created using the Starry Night software).
Source: Museum Victoria

This eclipse will occur in the eastern sky, with the Moon just beneath the constellation of Scorpius - one of the constellations that really is true to its name. Looking at the curving line of stars, it is easy to picture a Scorpion up there in the sky. And if you are away from city lights, then you'll see the brightest part of the Milky Way, which lies towards the Scorpion's tail.

The other great thing about lunar eclipses is that you don't need any special equipment at all to view them. Just a clear night sky and the willingness to spend some time outdoors, marveling that we are part of a much larger Universe.

Lunar Eclipse Sequence Progression from a partial to total lunar eclipse, Pennsylvania, December 2010.
Image: Anthony Skorochod
Source: Wiki Commons

Distant Moon

by Wayne
Publish date
20 February 2012
Comments (2)

Your Question: Is the Moon getting further away?

The short answer is yes, the Moon is getting further away - it is retreating from Earth by 3.8 cm per year.

Close-up of Planet Earth with Moon in background Close-up of Planet Earth with Moon in background
Image: NASA, JPL
Source: NASA, JPL
The history of the Moon gives us clues about its future. Over 4.5 billion years ago, a planet-sized body collided with a young Earth. Although most of the impact was absorbed into the still-molten Earth, the collision threw debris into space. A large section of this debris solidified in orbit around Earth and formed our Moon. The Moon has been slowly getting further from Earth since then.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon Astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
Image: NASA
Source: NASA
If we were to fast-forward from the impact event to about 1.2 billion years ago (over 3 billion years after the Moon formed), the Moon was still relatively close to Earth; much more so than it is today. As a result, the Moon’s gravitational effect on Earth was greater, and the tides were 20 per cent stronger than they are today. The Moon would have appeared much larger in the sky, although there was no life on earth equipped to see it.

Earth as seen from the Moon, Apollo 8 Mission Earth as seen from the Moon, Apollo 8 Mission
Image: NASA
Source: NASA
If we fast-forward again, this time 600 million years into the future, the moon will have less influence on Earth - ocean tides will be significantly weaker. From Earth the Moon will appear tiny by today’s standards and events like eclipses will no longer be visible.

Got a question? Ask us!


Moon rocks land at Melbourne Museum

Dynamic Earth: How the Moon formed

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.