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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Feb 2013 (10)

Tale of two comets

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
28 February 2013
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It’s quite rare for two comets to be found in the same patch of sky, but right now Comets Lemmon and PANSTARRS are both in the south. Unfortunately they are very faint, and even from a lovely dark sky, they are only just barely visible. But they are putting on a show for those with binoculars or a small telescope.

During February, astro-photographer, Alex Cherney captured the two comets from the Mornington Penisula. He has also produced a wonderful time-lapse video of the comets together in the sky. You can check it out on the Terrastro blog.

Comets Lemmon and PANSTARRS During February Comets Lemmon and PANSTARRS have travelled across the southern sky.
Image: Alex Cherney
Source: http://www.terrastro.com/
 

There’s a chance that the comets may brighten a little as they continue to head towards the Sun, but you never can tell with comets. After all, comets are called ‘dirty snowballs’ and how brilliantly (or disappointingly!) they will melt is hard to predict.

Comet PANSTARRS is currently the brighter of the two and it reaches perihelion (closest to the Sun) on the 10th March. The problem for us, is that we can only see the comet in the twilight sky and after perihelion it will move too far north for us to see it at all. However, northern hemisphere observers are hopeful that the comet might be fairly easy to see once it travels north.

Comet Lemmon can be found low in the south-west at sunset or low in the south-east before sunrise. It will reach perihelion on the 24th March, and photographs of the comet have shown it to have an eerie greenish glow. The comet contains carbon (or C2 gas) and the Sun is making the gas fluoresce and turning it green.

9pm, 28 February For the next couple of days, Comets Lemmon and PANSTARRS can be found in the south. This chart is for Melbourne at 9pm, 28 February.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Setting camp in the forests of Mount Dako

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
27 February 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

Greetings from the province of Sulawesi Tengah (Central Sulawesi). Last Friday (22 Feb), my colleague, Anang S. Achmadi, and I returned to the city of Palu. Over the past week we hiked into forests around Mount Sojol and Mount Dako along the western coast of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi.

river in Sulawesi Kuala Besar river east of Malannga Selatan in the foothills of Mount Dako. Our low camp is set along this river.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our hike into Mount Sojol led us to exceptional lowland rainforest in the river valley, but we were uncertain about where we would set a high camp along the steep slopes of the mountain. After three days of hiking into the forests around Mount Dako, near the city of Toli Toli, we found a low camp in lowland rainforest along the river, Kuala Besar, at 300 metres elevation. We also found a high camp on the Mount Dako plateau at 1600 metres. The vast plateau stretching for several kilometers north and east of Mount Dako is covered in old growth rainforest.

Lowland rainforest in Sulawesi Lowland rainforest near 1000 metres on the trail up to our high elevation camp Mount Dako plateau.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

sky and mountains in Sulawesi The view west towards Toli Toli Bay from the trail up Mount Dako at near 700 metres elevation.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We returned to Toli Toli on Sunday after collecting supplies and the rest of our field team. We are now a party of ten, including scientists and students from Museum Victoria, Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, Padang University in Sumatra, the University of California, Berkeley, and McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. On Monday, we reported to the local police and purchased food and supplies from the Pasar (market).

Three guides in Sulawesi Our guides on our third day of hiking around Mount Dako. Left to right: Heri, Jamudin and Madi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Field team in Palu Part of our assembled team in Palu, Sulawesi Tengah, before heading to Toli Toli and our hike into camp. Left to right: Jake Esselstyn (McMaster University), Karen Rowe (Museum Victoria), Jim Patton (UC Berkeley), Carol Patton (UC Berkeley), and Wayne Longmore (Museum Victoria).
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On Tuesday, we met in the village of Malangga Selatan that is the last village before the western foothills of Mount Dako. Assisted by the strength of 60 local men we began the hike from the village at 200 metres into our camps. The team at low elevation reached their camp at 400 metres by Tuesday evening. To reach the high camp, we climbed all day to reach 1200 metres elevation and stopped for the night on the only patch of flat ground before the plateau. On Wednesday, we continued climbing for several more hours to reach our camp on the plateau at 1600 metres elevation. We will remain in camp until 16 March when we will hike back down to the village. Over the next 18 days we will document all the birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians we encounter.


View Sulawesi Field Team in a larger map

Field team reaches Mount Sojol

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
20 February 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

Greetings from the province of Sulawesi Tengah (Central Sulawesi). Last Friday 15 Feb, I flew from Jakarta to the city of Palu near the base of the northern peninsula of Sulawesi. I am accompanied by my colleague, Anang S. Achmadi, curator of mammals at Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense.

Man at airport Anang S. Achmadi prepares to board the flight from Jakarat to Palu.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On Saturday, Anang and I hired a driver in Palu and drove 200 km up the west coast along the Trans-Sulawesi Highway to villages around Mount Sojol (3050 m) where we are seeking a suitable field camp. An ideal camp will be set in healthy forest, have access to water, and as much flat ground as possible (steep ridges do not make for the best trapping). Our objective is to find two camps, one at low elevation (<1000 m) and a second at high elevation (>1000 m). Different species live at different elevations so to maximise the diversity of species in our surveys we try to run two camps concurrently.

Saturday afternoon we arrived in the villages west of Mount Sojol. We met with local elder Pak Waasire's son-in-law who arranged for a guide to take us into the forests that surround the mountain. On Sunday morning we met Sam, our guide, in the cacao plantations west of Mount Sojol. We hiked for three hours through cacao plantations and reached the last house at the end of trail in a thicket of ferns. Sam cut our way through ferns and we descended steeply into lowland rainforest. A hundred metres down the slope the rain began to fall and two of Sulawesi's crested black macaques, Macaca nigra, protested in the trees above us.

Men walking through Sulawesi forest Our guide, Sam, followed by Anang S. Achmadi and our driver, Aziz, start the hike towards the forests of Mount Sojol.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We continued down the slope for another hour and reached a flat area at the confluence of the two large rivers of the valley. We stopped and ate lunch while the rain poured down and we sheltered under a rock. We left our lunch and followed the river down stream hiking through intact rainforest for an hour and a half before reaching cacao plantations. The forest here is spectacular, a rare example of lowland forest left on Sulawesi and there is ample room for a camp. However, we are uncertain about the location of a high camp. Sam suggests that an additional full days hike uphill will bring us to another camp. We returned to the village and bid farewell to Sam.

Two men at river crossing Stopping at a river crossing, Sam points out a Sulawesi hornbill, Pnelopides exarhatus, to Anang S. Achmadi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Before we can start our camp in Sojol we must wait for the arrival of the remainder of our team who just arrived in Jakarta on Saturday (16 Feb) from Australia, Canada and the USA. On Monday, they began the paperwork that we started last week with RISTEK, Imigrasi, Polri and Dalam Negeri. While we waited for their arrival, Anang and I drove another 250 km north to the town of Toli-Toli to scout the forests around Mount Dako (2240 m) on the north coast of Sulawesi just where the northern peninsula turns east. On Monday afternoon we arrived in Toli-Toli and continued north to Kecamatan Galang where we turned east towards the mountains. We followed the road to the end where we met two locals and arranged for a guide to take us up the trail the next morning. On Tuesday we hiked several hours into lowland forest and will post the results of our hike when we are next in contact.

Sulawesi rainforest River where we stopped for in lowland rainforest on the west slopes of Mount Sojol.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We will decide which site is most suitable for our team before this weekend (23 Feb) when we will rendezvous with them in Palu. Together we will drive back up the coast and hike into our field camp for nearly 3 weeks of remote surveys. We will post more photos next week and you can track our movements on the Sulawesi Field Team Google map.


View Sulawesi Field Team in a larger map 

The problem with Pluto

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
18 February 2013
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On 18 February 1930, Clyde Tombaugh achieved an amazing feat - he discovered Pluto. It’s said that he was a meticulous astronomer and I’m sure he must have needed all that mettle to have stumbled upon the tiny speck that was Pluto.

Over six years ago, Pluto grabbed headlines when astronomers famously ‘demoted’ the planet and designated it as the first of the dwarf planets. Some were disappointed by this – but I have to say that Pluto has always been a bit of an odd-ball. It was something we had explored a year earlier with the release of our planetarium show, The Problem with Pluto, in 2005.

The Problem With Pluto In this planetarium show, Lucy is on a research craft with her mother Lillian, a scientist, and together they are gathering data to discover just what Pluto’s status should be.
Image: Melbourne Planetarium
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A fellow astronomer shared with me his interesting way to explain it. Imagine, as a child, having a case full of pencils. The pencils came in all different colours but at their heart they were the same; except for one. It was a bit odd, still good for colouring-in just like a pencil, but there was something different about it. Nonetheless, it was the only one you’d even seen and it had always been in the pencil case, so you called it a pencil along with all the others. Then, one day at a friend’s house, you opened their pencil case and it was filled with something called crayons. Your eyes lit up with recognition. That odd-ball pencil you’d been worried about wasn’t odd after all, it was in fact a crayon.

When Pluto was discovered, it was one of a kind at the edge of the Solar System. It wasn’t a terrestrial planet, it wasn’t a gas giant, but it did orbit the Sun. Seventy years on, we now know of thousands of objects orbiting alongside Pluto. They are the icy worlds that make up the Kuiper Belt. Pluto, because it is big enough to be round, is still a bit special and so it now goes by the new label of dwarf planet.

On Pluto Day, I’ll be celebrating that Pluto has now found its rightful place in the Solar System.

New Horizons spacecraft Right now, a real research craft is on its way to Pluto. Called New Horizons it will fly by Pluto in July 2015 and journey on to discover more about the Kuiper Belt.
Source: NASA
                       

Links

The Problem with Pluto will be showing at the Melbourne Planetarium at 2pm, 18 February to 4 March.

Sponge love

Author
by Blair
Publish date
14 February 2013
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Love is in the ocean not in the air this Valentine’s Day. Just ask this romantic heart-shaped sponge.

red sponge Heart-shaped sponge just below the surface at Flinders. And yes, that shape is the live animal, no Photoshop, just a quirky growth form.
Image: © John Gaskell

Imagine spending Valentine's Day dinner sifting through a mouthful of muddy silt. You're joined by several friends nearby to hug or hold hands with, but the only kiss on offer is from a fish that tries to eat you. And sex after dinner? Not tonight, unless you happen to be skilful enough to catch a comrade's passing sperm in the water. That's the life for many a sponge.

The photographer at the heart of the sponge image is John Gaskell. He’s a local diver, consultant and author of the popular local marine guide Beneath Our Bay. He also collaborates with Reef Watch to spread word on our interesting marine life. He caught this one at Flinders last week truly romancing the reef as it grows.

“Maybe the sponges are trying to tell us something,” Gaskell told Reef Watch, “reduce effluent or love our underwater reefs more”.

Keeping in the spirit of sponge love, Museum Victoria is producing Sponges, the next book in the science field guide series. Written by local expert Lisa Goudie, it celebrates not only sexual and asexual reproduction in sponges (Phylum Porifera), but also the diversity of species in Victorian waters and their amazing shapes and colours.

6 different sponges Diversity of shape and colour of sponges in Victorian waters.
Image: Mark Norman and Julian Finn
 

The non-love sponge information:

Household sponges were once made of skeletal remains of true sponges from the ocean, although modern times replace the natural form with synthetic products. Not all sponges are soft; some are prickly, crumbly or slimy. Most species are marine, but a few live in freshwater. Sponges are not colonies of individual animals, but rather collections of cells that have specialised functions. Fossils indicate that this animal group has existed for at least 600 million years. They are some of the longest-lived animals in the world, with individuals of a tropical species being estimated at age of 2000 years. Other species are short lived and die back each year.

Links:

 Museum Victoria Science books 

 Sponges on the Port Phillip Bay Marine Life website

Preparing for Sulawesi fieldwork

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
13 February 2013
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Kevin is our Senior Curator of Mammals. He investigates the systematics, evolution and conservation biology of mammals with a particular interest in rodents.

Greetings from Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (the national zoological museum of Indonesia) in the Indonesian province of Jawa Barat (West Java). This week my colleagues and I are preparing for our expedition to the island of Sulawesi. As always, I am hosted by my friend and collaborator, Anang S. Achmadi, curator of mammals at MZB.

In addition to packing gear, I need to visit several government offices this week to obtain travelling permits. On Monday, I reported to the Indonesian office of research permits, RISTEK, in Jakarta.

Kevin Rowe with RISTEK team in Jakarta Kevin C. Rowe (fifth from left) and Anang S. Achmadi (third from left) with the RISTEK team in their Jakarta office on Monday, 11 February.
Image: Jacob Esselstyn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

RISTEK is my official sponsor while I am in Indonesia and they approved my proposed research prior to my departure from Melbourne. On Monday RISTEK provided letters of support to take to Imigrasi (Immigration), Polri (National Police), and Dalam Negeri (Ministry of Home Affairs). Each of these offices will provide documents to allow our travel in Indonesia on research activities.

Man in office Anang S. Achmadi reviews the permit procedures at the Polri office in Jakarta.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On Monday, we successfully submitted our paperwork at both Imigrasi and Polri (Polri PICS). This is my fourth trip to Indonesia for research and the improvement in efficiency over this time has been dramatic. Imigrasi and Polri have seen major renovations and the experience this year is remarkably stress free.

On Tuesday, I moved to Bogor (about an hour south of Java) to work at the museum with Anang while Imigrasi and Polri process my paperwork. Here Anang and I inventoried our gear and reviewed specimens to help us with identifications in the field.

Kevin outside MZB, Jakarta Kevin in front of Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

Kevin holding rat specimen Kevin examines a specimen of the spiny, lowland Sulawesi shrew-rat, Echiothrix centrosa, collected in 1975 and held in the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense collection. The species has hardly been seen since, and is a primary target for the expedition.
Image: Anang Achmadi
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Wednesday I returned to Jakarta and collected my travelling documents from Imigrasi and Polri. I also visited Dalam Negeri to apply for my travelling permits from their office. By Friday, my paperwork should be complete and Anang and I will fly to the city of Palu in Sulawesi Tengah (central Sulawesi) where the next stage of our expedition begins.

The team are sending us daily GPS coordinates to let us track their progress on a Google map of the expedition.


View Sulawesi Field Team in a larger map 

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

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