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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Jun 2012 (12)

Seeing the Transit

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
29 June 2012
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It may just have been a little dot – but what a dot it was!

Breakfast with Venus was held at the Melbourne Planetarium as a special event for the Transit of Venus, selling out in just three weeks.

We were treated to a glorious morning, which was a great surprise as the days leading up to the event were dreadful, with constant cloud and rain.

Visitors watched Venus move onto the Sun via a live feed from Mauna Loa in Hawaii, made possible through a partnership with the Exploratorium, San Francisco. It was incredible to have a room full of silent people in our planetarium foyer, just waiting for the moment to see Venus' dark shadow appear. And it was just so brilliant when it did!

We then moved out to the Scienceworks arena where five telescopes were set up, including one projecting a large screen image. Everyone was able to see the moment again, but this time directly for themselves. We all had our eclipse glasses too and we were surprised at how easy it was to see Venus through them.

After getting our fill of Venus and some light breakfast, we headed into the Planetarium for a presentation describing the geometry of the transits – particularly why they come in pairs before having to wait over a century for the next one – followed by the highs and lows of previous transit expeditions.

Path of Venus across the Sun Transits of Venus come in pairs, one either side of the "sweet spot" where Venus' orbit crosses the ecliptic plane. By 2020, when Venus and the Sun are lined up again, Venus will fall short and miss the Sun.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The human stories drew much collective laughter and sighs from our audience. Over the centuries astronomers have dedicated years of their lives to see this event. None more so than Jean-Baptiste Chappe d'Auteroche who saw the Transit of 1769 from a Spanish Mission in Baja California (what is now part of Mexico) but then passed away six weeks later as an epidemic spread through the area.

In the lead up to the 2012 transit, Guillaume Le Gentil became a bit of a 'poster boy' for the event. He was the one who saw a brilliant transit in 1761, but because he was stuck out at sea, he wasn't able to make any meaningful measurements. He managed to set up an observatory in India for the 1769 transit ...

"only to be the spectator of a fatal cloud which came to place itself before the Sun at the precise moment of my observation, to carry off from me the fruits of my pains and fatigues."

Fortunately for our transit, we were able to continue viewing the event throughout the day. A few hundred people saw Venus, with many commenting that they had taken time off work or kept children home from school to do so. I joined in too, and two of my sons were able to get out of school for a short while to share the moment with their mum.

Tanya with her sons A happy astronomer shares the Transit of Venus with her sons.
Source: Tanya Hill
 

I was amazed by the dedication of our visitors who were happy to wait for just another clear patch of sky so they could catch one more glimpse of Venus. And my final thought – what will the world be like when Venus next meets up with the Sun, in that far off December of 2117?

Koorie Voices returns

Author
by Jennifer Mattiuzzo
Publish date
28 June 2012
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Jen is an exhibition manager working on the Bunjilaka redevelopment project.

Earlier this year the much loved exhibition Koorie Voices closed as part of the preparations for the redevelopment of Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

Original Koorie Voices exhibition The original Koorie Voices exhibition in Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Koorie Voices had been on display since Melbourne Museum opened in Carlton Gardens in 2000 and was one of the original permanent exhibitions in Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. The exhibition told stories of life on missions, early encounters with Europeans around Port Phillip Bay, the dispossession of Koorie people after invasion and the forcible removal of children from their families.

The main feature was the photographic display that included over 400 portraits of Victorian Aboriginal people that celebrate the richness and diversity of Koorie culture. The images were a mixture of historic and recent photographs and showed connections to Ancestors and country.

For many, visiting Koorie Voices meant being surrounded by Ancestors, relatives and friends and was like walking through a giant family album. It was also a way for community to connect with their Ancestors and family through the photographs that are held in Museum Victoria's collections and an important way for non-Aboriginal visitors to learn about Koorie culture and identity.

detail of Koorie Voices display A detail of the display, showing portraits of Victorian Aboriginal people.
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Koorie Voices was one of the most popular displays in Bunjilaka and has kept people coming back time and time again. Its closure was met with a feeling of sadness both at the museum and by the community. It was this feedback that drove the decision to put the images of Koorie Voices back on display.

In June 2012, the Koorie Voices images were installed in the main walk outside Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. This version focuses on the portraits with all of the photos represented as either printed panels or on screen.

Koorie Voices display outside Bunjilaka Newly-reinstated Koorie Voices display outside Bunjilaka.
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Koorie Voices display Newly-reinstated Koorie Voices display outside Bunjilaka. Judy Watson's beautiful zinc wall panels, Wurreka, can be seen in the background.
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So whether you're a first time visitor or a Koorie Voices veteran, come along and experience this special exhibition in its new location. Koorie Voices will remain on display until we open Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre's new permanent exhibition.

May 2013 update: Koorie Voices will be deinstalled in the week of 27 May 2013, because the showcases are being removed to make way for a new installation in early 2014.

Rough-toothed Dolphin

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
26 June 2012
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In late May, a Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis) was spotted circling in shallow water at Mallacoota in eastern Victoria. Despite efforts to lead it back out to sea, the dolphin died shortly afterwards. Staff from Museum Victoria and the Department of Sustainability and Environment brought the specimen back to Melbourne Museum to study why it died, and to preserve its tissues and skeleton for the state fauna collection and future research.

Dolphin in a trailer Rough-toothed Dolphin (Steno bredanensis) at Mallacoota, about to be transported to Melbourne Museum.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This unusual dolphin species is usually found in tropical waters and is poorly known from this part of the Pacific Ocean. While we'd much prefer that this individual were still swimming around in warm northern oceans, its death gives us the opportunity to learn more about this individual, and the species in general. Documenting the natural history of the state is part of Museum Victoria's mandate: dolphins are difficult to study in the wild, so much of what we know comes from necropsies, or post-mortem examinations.

people with dolphin specimen Kate Charlton-Robb talking to MV staff about the dolphin that stranded at Mallacoota.
Image: Dylan Kelly
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Before the necropsy began, staff at Melbourne Museum were invited to see the dolphin. It's a strange but wonderful perk of working in this building that every now and then, we get the chance to view rare animals up-close. Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology, and Dr Kate Charlton-Robb, a researcher at Monash University and Research Associate at Museum Victoria who studies Bottlenose and the newly-described Burrunan Dolphins, talked to staff about the species before performing the necropsy.

 

Watch this video with a transcript

The results of the necropsy showed that the dolphin – a young, large adult male – was quite unwell. First up, Kate and Erich found two large plastic bags in its stomach. The nature of a dolphin's anatomy means that plastic bags do not pass through the digestive tract, but get stuck in the main compartment of the stomach. This doesn't kill the dolphin immediately but puts a lot of stress on the immune system, making the animal susceptible to other diseases. Kate found several signs of immunosuppression: the dolphin had a very high parasite load – lots and lots of worms – and the lesions on its skin, caused by viruses that are common in cetaceans, were more extensive than would be expected in a healthy animal. Furthermore, the walls of the dolphin's heart showed some abnormalities and there were large blood clots in the heart itself. Microscopic examination of the dolphin's tissue, or histopathology, may reveal more about this animal's diseases but additional funding is needed to analyse the tissue samples.

plastic bags found in dolphin stomach These two plastic bags found in the stomach of the dolphin most likely contributed to its death.
Image: Dylan Kelly
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This is only the second specimen of the Rough-toothed Dolphin that has been collected in Victoria. The first was collected in 1869, and until recently, was incorrectly identified as the more common Bottlenose Dolphin.

 

Watch this video with a transcript

Links:

MV Blog: Leatherback Turtle found

Old Customs House

Author
by Kate B
Publish date
25 June 2012
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Comments (4)

Your Question: Does the museum hold any images of the restoration of Old Customs House?

In 1998, the Immigration Museum opened in Old Customs House. Since its completion in 1876, considerable changes had been made to the building's interior. Customs officers vacated in 1965 and the building was used as Melbourne offices for the Commonwealth Parliament. Linoleum tiles had replaced original floors, office partitions disguised the original layout, plasterwork was cracked and paintwork peeling.

Customs House interior Customs House being renovated prior to housing Immmigration Museum
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Much work was required to restore the building and to adapt the facilities so it could function as a contemporary museum. Consequently, many of the twentieth century additions were removed and architectural features such as tiled floors, moulded ceilings and timber details were restored.

Customs House being renovated prior to housing Immmigration Museum Customs House being renovated prior to housing Immmigration Museum
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Customs House renovation: Immigration Museum Customs House renovation: Immigration Museum
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The images from the Museum Victoria collection demonstrate some of this restoration process as well as the development of some of the Immigration Museum's original exhibits (many of which have now changed).

Old Customs House exterior being renovated Old Customs House exterior being renovated
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Old Customs House exterior being renovated Old Customs House exterior being renovated
Source: Museum Victoria
 

To see the Old Customs House as it looked as the offices for the Commonwealth Parliament, the National Archives of Australia have a series of images of the building during those years. You can search for these images on Picture Australia or on the National Archives website.

Customs House being renovated prior to housing Immmigration Museum. Long Room with finished tesselated flooring Customs House being renovated prior to housing Immmigration Museum. Long Room with finished tesselated flooring
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Customs House being renovated prior to housing Immmigration Museum. Construction of The Boat in the Long Room Customs House being renovated prior to housing Immmigration Museum. Construction of The Boat in the Long Room
Source: Museum Victoria
  

Links

Old Customs House

Winter solstice

Author
by Martin Bush
Publish date
21 June 2012
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Martin is the programmer at the Planetarium at Scienceworks.

Today is the shortest day of the year, also known as the winter solstice. More correctly, it's the day on which the solstice fell, at 9:09am AEST.

Solstice means 'the Sun stands still'. Although we never see the Sun stop moving across our sky from east to west, it does stop moving in a south-north direction. Our winter solstice is the precise moment at which the Sun reaches its northernmost point in the sky, stops, then starts moving south again.

After the solstice, the Sun starts rising higher in the sky, and the points on the horizon where the Sun rises or sets start moving south.

Analemma Image of an analemma taken over the course of a year by Robert Price in Bethanga, Victoria, consisting of 48 images of the Sun superimposed on a single background image. The winter solstice occurs when the Sun is at the lowest point in this image.
Image: Robert T. Price
Source: Robert T. Price
 

Of course the Sun is not really moving south and north. Its apparent movement is a result of the Earth’s tilted axis moving around the Sun. On the winter solstice the axis is tilted away from the Sun, the Sun rises lowest in the sky and the sunlight's energy is the most diluted across the ground. You can learn more about the cause of the seasons in the Melbourne Planetarium show Tilt!

The day on which the solstice falls is the shortest day of the year, but not the day with the latest sunrise or the earliest sunset. This is because Sun time is not exactly the same as clock time.

At the winter solstice, Sun time is drifting later relative to clock time because the solar day is a little bit longer than 24 hours. For a few days after the solstice the small increase in the length of a day is not enough to overcome this drift, so the time of sunrise as measured by our clocks keeps getting later. Similarly the earliest sunset was a few days before the solstice.

Nor is the solstice the coldest day of the year. This is because of what is known as thermal inertia. It takes a lot of energy to heat up the ground and the oceans. At the moment the ground is still too warm to be heated by the amount of sunlight we are receiving, so it is continuing to cool. In around a month the balance will change. The ground will be a bit cooler and the sunlight a bit stronger, and the earth will start warming up again.

Links:

Infosheet: The Sun and the Seasons

Infosheet: The path of the Sun

Moon rock now on display

Author
by Ursula
Publish date
19 June 2012
Comments
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)
 

Links:

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

About this blog

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

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