Scienceworks makes science an adventure. Located in Spotswood (7km from the Melbourne CBD), you can discover everyday science through interactive exhibits, programs and shows at this award-winning, interactive museum. 

Welcome to the family, Pluto

by Tanya Hill
Publish date
16 July 2015
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image of planets Welcome to the family. Ben Gross/twitter, CC BY-SA

What an amazing time for space exploration. The picture of the solar system from my childhood is now complete, as seen in this great family portrait produced by Ben Gross, a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and distributed via twitter.

I love this image because it shows each world in close-up, using some of the latest pictures from space exploration. As we celebrate seeing Pluto for the first time, it’s remarkable to think that this completes a 50 year task.

It has been NASA that has provided the first close-up views of all these worlds. Here’s the rundown:

  • Mercury: Mariner 10 (1973)
  • Venus: Mariner 2 (1962)
  • Mars: Mariner 4 (1965)
  • Jupiter: Pioneer 10 (1973)
  • Saturn: Pioneer 11 (1979)
  • Uranus: Voyager 2 (1985)
  • Neptune: Voyager 2 (1989) and
  • Pluto: New Horizons (2015)

But science never stays still. When New Horizons left Earth in January 2006, Pluto was a planet. Later that year an important reassessment was made of the Solar System and Pluto became the first of the dwarf planets.

The ‘Not-Planets’

The Planetary Society’s Senior Editor, Emily Lakdawalla, has teamed together the ‘Not-Planets’. These are the close-up views, shown to scale, that have been captured of the largest moons, asteroids and dwarf planets.

image of non-planets in the solar system Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. The Moon: Gari Arrillaga. Other data: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/SwRI/UCLA/MPS/IDA. Processing by Ted Stryk, Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla, and Jason Perry.

It clearly shows that there are many diverse and interesting worlds to explore beyond the eight planets of our solar system.

New Horizons is the first spacecraft to start exploring the Kuiper Belt, an icy realm of objects orbiting 5 billion kilometres or more beyond the sun. It’s the chance to observe a dwarf planet, something distinct from the terrestrial planets and the gas giants.

It was in 1992 that astronomers discovered Pluto was not alone. The first Kuiper Belt Object, designated 1992 QB1, is a 100-kilometre sized object that orbits well beyond Pluto.

Now more than 1,000 objects have been detected in this realm, and the belt likely contains many more. Most are small compared to Pluto, but there are some stand-outs such as Quaoar, and the dwarf planets Eris, Makemake and Haumea.

Don’t forget to phone home

The suspense of the mission has certainly been high. To maximise the amount of data that New Horizons could collect, the spacecraft did not communicate with Earth for the duration of the flyby. As described by Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, it was the moment when you let your child free.

The team had prepared New Horizons, told it what work needed to be done and in that radio silence they had to trust that all would go to plan.

Just before 11am today (AEST), New Horizons checked in – showing it to be the perfect child to the relief of its many anxious “parents”. It was only a brief phone home, but in that short time the scientists confirmed that all telemetry was spot-on, the spacecraft followed the path that had been set for it and there were no error messages recorded on any of the systems.

No data was transferred in that brief connection, but it was established that the main computer system, which records all the data collected by the spacecraft, showed the expected number of segments had been used. In other words, data had been collected.

We will soon see Pluto and Charon in even higher resolution. Their geology will be mapped, the surface compositions and temperatures will be measured, atmospheres will be probed and new discoveries will be made.

A love note from Pluto

It’s also been wonderful to see the public become so enthralled with the latest image from Pluto. Humans are incredibly good at spotting patterns and it seems that Pluto wears his heart on his sleeve for us.


I’m also equally intrigued to discover that the smooth part of Pluto’s heart is made of carbon monoxide ice. This was already known from ground-based observations, except never before seen in such detail. It’s reassuring to have a good match between the old and new data.

But look again … is it a heart or something entirely different stealing the show?



Tanya Hill is Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy) at Museum Victoria.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Honourable Joan Kirner

Dr Greene is the CEO of Museum Victoria.

Museum Victoria mourns Joan Kirner, the former Premier of Victoria, who served as a member of the museum's governing body from 2003 to 2012.

Joan Kirner speaking at the Joan Kirner speaking at the celebration of the 21st birthday of Scienceworks.
Source: Museum Victoria

Joan's first involvement with the museum occurred during her time as Premier of Victoria when she opened Scienceworks, an investment in the scientific life of the State that proved very forward-thinking.

Joan was an enthusiastic supporter of Museum Victoria. Just last week she was talking about ways in which she might help with one of the museum's current projects that is providing visibility to the role of women on farms in Australia. Her enthusiasm for efforts to recognise and encourage women in all aspects of public and personal life extended to many other aspects of social justice, including the rights of Aboriginal Australians. She was a member of the museum's Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee, and the development of the First Peoples exhibition in Bunjilaka was dear to her heart.

Joan's passions extended to wildlife, and particularly birds. She and Ron, her husband, went on camping trips that would bring them to places rich in birdlife until ill-health curtailed that activity. She was a great advocate for opportunities for the museum to display its rich collections of natural science specimens, culminating in the opening of the award-winning Wild: Amazing animals in a changing world at Melbourne Museum. As someone who placed the education of young people high on any agenda, the museum's ability to reach and inspire hundreds of thousands of children was a source of considerable pleasure. Joan was also on the Immigration Museum Advisory Committee and was a strong advocate for youth engagement which resulted in the Talking Difference project.

I enjoyed working with Joan Kirner enormously during her nine years (the maximum term) as a Board member. Her enthusiasm was matched by her keen intellect: she was a constant source of wisdom. When she stepped down from the Board, Joan was appointed an Honorary Life Fellow of Museum Victoria and she continued to take a close interest in its progress. Her insights into the politics and personalities of Victoria were always valuable and frequently amusing. She was held in high regard by everyone associated with Museum Victoria and we will miss her greatly.

Junior Dino Experts

by Kate C
Publish date
28 May 2015
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The very young are most susceptible to dino fever. In children, the symptoms are very clear: compulsive recitation of dinosaur names, a predilection for dinosaur motifs on every surface, a hyper-alert state anytime they 're near a fossil. In extreme cases, kids can reel off all the scientific inaccuracies in Jurassic Park. Fortunately, some kids never shake dino fever and they grow up to be palaeontologists.

Wayne Gerdtz curated two Melbourne Museum exhibitions that draw in lots of visitors: 600 Million Years: Victoria evolves and Dinosaur Walk. A chronic case himself, Wayne recalls a childhood filled with lurid dinosaur books. Since he grew up in remote country Victoria, his visits to the museum in Melbourne were infrequent and much anticipated. One prized souvenir from the 1970s exhibition Dinosaurs from China still hangs in his house. His palaeontological interests moved on to extinct mammals but dino fever still beats strongly in his heart.


Another trained palaeontologist, science educator Priscilla Gaff, thanks her Nana for fostering her interest in dinosaurs. From the age of 5 or 6, her Nana took her to the old museum every holidays. Cilla is still so afflicted by dino fever that she planned her upcoming overseas trip to include a visit to Mary Anning's old fossil-collecting grounds in Lyme Regis. (Anning herself hunted for fossils from a very young age and uncovered the first complete ichthyosaur skeleton when she was just 12, soon after her brother found the beast's skull.)

Mary Anning Portrait of Mary Anning with her dog Tray and the Golden Cap outcrop in the background. The painting is at the Natural History Museum, London.
Image: Credited to 'Mr. Grey'
Source: Public domain via Wikimedia

Now we seek the next generation of palaeontologists through the Junior Dino Expert Competition at Scienceworks. We are looking for children between the ages of 3–12 years of age who have a severe case of dino fever and a passion for sharing their dinosaur knowledge with others.  Applicants need to submit an application form and a creative response that demonstrates their love of dinosaurs. This could be a video, piece of writing, slide show, collage or anything else.

Junior Dino Expert Competition promo Junior Dino Expert Competition
Image: MV
Source: Museum Victoria

For details on how to enter, and a list of excellent prizes, visit the Junior Dino Expert Competition page. Be sure to have your entries in by Monday 8 June!


Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family at Scienceworks

Roaming T-rex

by Krystal
Publish date
21 May 2015
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Scotty the Tyrannosaurus rex got lost on his way to Scienceworks!

A shipping container holding this ancient predator and two baby dinosaurs has turned up on the Swanston Street Forecourt of Federation Square on its way to the Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family exhibition.

Detail of T.rex puppet's teeth Scotty's teeth
Source: Erth Visual & Physical Inc

The dinosaurs will need to be let loose before being taken back to their family at Scienceworks. Come down and meet these incredible creatures as they roam around Federation Square on the afternoon of Saturday 23 May.

Follow Scotty’s movements on the Scienceworks Facebook page and through the hashtag #trexontherun on Twitter and Instagram.

T.rex puppet with a man and a girl Scotty looks scary, but he's pretty friendly.
Source: Erth Visual & Physical Inc

Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family opens at Scienceworks on Saturday 23 May 2015. Dinosaur puppets by Erth Visual & Physical Inc.

Happy birthday field guide apps!

by Nicole K
Publish date
30 April 2015
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One year ago today we launched eight very special apps – field guides to the fauna of every state and territory in Australia. What makes these apps so special? They were produced collaboratively by Australia's seven leading natural history museums. 

The suite of 8 Field Guide to Australian Fauna apps. The suite of 8 Field Guide to Australian Fauna apps.
Source: Museum Victoria

Together the seven museums produced descriptions and sourced images for over 2100 animals from terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments. The result was a suite of pocket-sized identification guides, that could be used by everyone, everywhere – and they're free.

It's been a big year for the field guide apps. They have won two international awards, a Best of the Web award and a Muse award, as well as the Northern Territory Chief Minister's award for Excellence in the Public Sector.

The apps are also highly regarded by the app stores. All 8 apps appear in iTunes' Education Collections, which feature their hand-picked recommendations for "students, teachers, parents and lifelong learners". iTunes calls these apps "indispensable tools that will inspire students in every classroom".

MV Collection Manager, Katie Smith, using the Field Guide app. MV Collection Manager, Katie Smith, using the Field Guide app.
Source: Museum Victoria

Over the past year, the apps have been used by the museums in school holiday activities, education programs, teacher training, community outreach and biological surveys. But we're most excited about how the public are using them – to identify animals and to learn more about Australia's amazing wildlife.

Students using Museum Victoria's app in the Forest Gallery at Melbourne Museum. Students using Museum Victoria's app in the Forest Gallery at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Mirah Lambert
Source: Museum Victoria

The apps have received glowing praise from their users and, since the launch, have been downloaded over 78,000 times. We're absolutely thrilled that the apps have been so well received and look forward to what the next year will bring.

The National Field Guide Apps Project was funded by an Inspiring Australia Unlocking Australia's Potential Grant. The project was a 2-year collaboration between: 

First Machines in Action Day for 2015

by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
10 April 2015
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Matilda swapped a life working as an engineer for a life curating the museum’s historical Engineering collection. She’s very curious about how stuff works, how it’s made and why. If a machine’s got a switch, she’ll definitely flick it.

This is not the most awkward photograph I’ve ever taken, but definitely uncomfortable. I am lying under our Cowley Steam Roller, having just put back the fire grate bars, one by one. A great workout for the upper arms and the muscles around the belly.

Beneath the Cowley roller. Beneath the Cowley roller.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

Every two years some of us are lucky enough to get this view.  Our restored and working steam vehicles, the Cowley Traction Engine, the Cowley Road Roller and the Sentinel Steam Wagon, were due for their biennial boiler inspections. So back in February, the crew removed all the boiler fixtures and cleaned the firebox and fire tubes, ready for inspection. The cleaning is a dirty job but it is a great way to get a closer look at how they are made.

All three boilers passed their inspection and last month we put them back together again, steamed them up and checked that there were no leaks. All clear and ready to roll this Sunday at our first Machines in Action Family Day for the year.

Cowley traction engine and the Sentinel steam wagon The Cowley traction engine and the Sentinel steam wagon, ready for action on the Scienceworks arena.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

About this blog

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