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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Nov 2013 (11)

Goodbye, Comet ISON

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
29 November 2013
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Comet ISON has not survived its close encounter with the Sun. Time-lapse from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory shows the comet's head fading away, leaving only a dusty tail. A few hours later something - perhaps a small fragment or stream of debris - emerges from behind the Sun. Updates are continually being posted on http://spaceweather.com/.


Final views of Comet ISON from NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, taken on the morning 29 November (AEDT).
Source: NASA/SOHO consortium


The environment of the Sun is a tough place for comets. ISON has been bombarded by heat and radiation, buffeted by the solar wind and also stretched by the Sun's gravity (think of a micro-version of a black hole's spaghettification). It's a love-hate relationship because comets need the Sun if they are to produce an impressive tail and put on a good show.

Comet ISON was discovered in September last year from Russia, by astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok. Two things made this comet special - it would be the first time the comet would travel in towards the Sun from the outer solar system but, what's more, it would be a sungrazer, coming within 1.6 million kilometres of our star.

Northern hemisphere observers have been particularly interested, because if the comet had survived its passage, they would've had the best seats. From here in the south, the comet would not have been visible, unless it had erupted brightly enough to be seen during the day.

Comet ISON - 15 November Comet ISON photographed on 15 November from the UK. Amateur astrophotographer Damian Peach used a 17-inch telescope for 12 minutes of combined exposures.
Image: Damian Peach
Source: Damian Peach


NASA's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) captured the solar wind buffeting Comet ISON and Comet Encke on 21 November.
Image: Karl Battams
Source: NASA, STEREO, CIOC

Where the locals know best

Author
by Paing Soe
Publish date
26 November 2013
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Paing Soe is a Master of Environment student at the University of Melbourne.

This is the third post of an MV Blog mini-series celebrating the past, present and future of exploration on planet Earth and commemorating the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace who died 100 years ago.

Dr. Kevin Rowe and Dr. Karen Rowe give their unreserved credit to the local people—the guides, the village heads and the Indonesian scientists—for the discoveries that they've made together in Sulawesi. But it took a bit of work to get them on side, according to Kevin. "They were not convinced that you can make a living doing what we do. So they were suspicious that we probably had a hidden agenda," he says.

Sulawesi field team A photo opportunity with the local team in Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, May 2012.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

"On these mountains, only the local people really know what's there," says Kevin. The locals in Mamasa, a mountain town on the island of Sulawesi, had a name for almost every species, including animals that have not been described by science. Such knowledge was essential in the scientific discovery of an almost toothless rodent, Paucidentomys vermidax.

Man holding rodent Gherzhon, a local guide from Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, holding the recently described Paucidentomys vermidax he helped collect.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On the last day of a trip in 2012, local guides caught a rare rat that in local tradition is believed to safeguard homes from fire. While some of the guides wanted to keep the rat for this reason, one guide argued how important it could be to the expedition and made sure it was shared with the scientists. The specimen turned out to be the only record of the species at the site. "That kind of support depends on building trust and relationships with local people," says Kevin.

"It's just impossible really, to go in there without a local partner," agrees Karen. Local scientists understand the cultural context, the bureaucracy, and are much more effective with exploration and conservation when it comes to biodiversity on these islands. Working with Anang Achmadi, Curator of Mammals, and Tri Haryoko, Curator of Birds, at the national museum of Indonesia, Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, their research programs have led to a strong collaboration between Museum Victoria and MZB.

The more that local scientists can work independently, the better. Kevin and Karen Rowe take this approach despite the fact that their own expeditions are going so well. "The future of biodiversity research in Indonesia lies with local scientists. Our hope is that we can promote their training and success," says Kevin.

Anang Achmadi, curator of mammals Anang Achmadi, Curator of Mammals at Museum Zoologicum Bogorinese in camp on Mount Gandangdeata near Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Check out the other posts in this mini-series: The Age of Exploration continues and Exploration of Sulawesi, Indonesia

Flags for Melbourne

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
25 November 2013
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Two new flags are flying above the Royal Exhibition Building for On Top of the World: Flags for Melbourne. This public art project takes the NGV’s new exhibition, Melbourne Now, outside the gallery and to flagpoles across the City of Melbourne.

Melbourne Now flag John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flag flying above the Royal Exhibition Building.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The first of the flags was unfurled at Princes Hill on Tuesday in tribute to Ivor Evans, a Princes Hill student who was one of the five winners of a public competition to design the current Australian flag in 1901. This design was first flown at the Exhibition Building, which was the seat of the federal parliament at the time. On 3 September this year, the Royal Exhibition Building celebrated the 112th anniversary of flying the Australian flag, while the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander flags have been permanent fixtures since restoration of the flagpoles at either end of the building in August this year.

Each of the art project's sixteen flags were designed by local artists; those flying from the Royal Exhibition Building are by designer John Warwicker. In his artist’s statement, Mr Warwicker explains his design as an acknowledgement of the connection of Aboriginal people to the land, with the sun shared between the traditional owners of Australia and the immigrants who settled here, guided by the Southern Cross. Mr Warwicker sought permission from Harold Thomas to adapt his iconic Aboriginal flag design, and Mr Thomas is expected to visit for a viewing early in the new year.

John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flags John Warwicker's Melbourne Now flags flying above the Royal Exhibition Building, with the Australian Flag up above.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The flags will be in place until the Melbourne Now exhibition ends on 23 March 2014.

Museum Victorious soccer team

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
21 November 2013
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In the tradition of company sports teams, the museum's finest sportsmen are strapping on the shin guards at the Australian Corporate Games this weekend. We trust that the Museum Victorious Soccer 6 team's lineup will be as upstanding as the gentlemen of H.V. McKay's Sunshine Harvester premiership team.

HV McKay soccer team, 1947 Premiership soccer team comprising employees of the Sunshine Harvester Works, 1947. (MM 021692)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Museum Victorious players were in fine form this afternoon at their final practice match upon their hallowed training ground, Carlton Gardens.

Men playing soccer Veegan demonstrating his fearsome left foot in action.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Men playing soccer Herb keeps his eyes on the ball.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

If you'd like to cheer the men in MV green - Veegan, Nicholas, Peter, Herb, Paul, Andrew, Henry, George, Chris and Tony - come watch them play at Albert Park Indoor Sports Centre, Aughtie Drive, Albert Park on Sunday 24 November. Their games are tentatively scheduled for 9:35 AM, 10:45 AM and 12:30 PM on external playing fields 3 and 4.

Team captain Veegan suggests you "bring a picnic, extra carbo-loading food or oxygen tanks."

Restaging old photos

Author
by Simon C
Publish date
20 November 2013
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Simon is a presenter with MV’s Outreach Program. He travels all over metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria in one of our two Outreach vans with a dinosaur sticker on the side. You should give the vans a toot if you see them.

There is a photography saying that claims that the best camera is the one you have with you.

Outreach van in the stars The Museum Victoria Outreach Program van under the stars.
Image: Simon Conlon
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It seems obvious, then, to take my best camera with me when traveling around Victoria delivering the museum's Outreach Program. First I took some pictures of our Outreach van against the starry sky and then our team had the great idea of searching our collections for objects connected to the regions we were going to. With a quick search of MV Collections Online I would be armed with a handful of photographs from yesteryear to re-stage.

Castlemaine Post Office, 1894 Castlemaine Post Office, 1894. (MM 004334)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Castlemaine Post Office, 2013 Castlemaine Post Office, 2013
Image: Simon Conlon
Source: Museum Victoria
 

These photographs are from my recent trip to Castlemaine and they proved tricky to find. During my hunt I approached a local gentleman, Brian Cornish, who looked over all the photos but could only place one - the State Electricity Commission building. Directions memorised, I jumped in the van and found it straight away. I had just taken my first picture when Brian reappeared in his car. He had remembered the locations of the other pictures and beckoned me to follow him in convoy. Half an hour later, handshakes and thanks were exchanged and I was on my way with three pictures in the bag - or at least in-camera, on-card. 

State Electricity Commission building, Castlemaine, 1949. State Electricity Commission building, Castlemaine, 1949. (MM 011468)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Castlemaine State Electricity Commission Castlemaine State Electricity Commission building in 2013. The Outreach Van is parked around the corner.
Image: Simon Conlon
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The original pictures were taken on glass plate negatives using a large-format box camera, just like the one you might imagine: on a tripod with the photographer under a heavy black cloth at the back, only without the handheld puff of flash powder. Both the tripod and box would have been weighty and cumbersome,  and in addition, the light-sensitive, heavy glass plates would be carried in a sealed box of their own. Not like our own pocket-sized versions. All this would make the photographer very picky about what they photograph. 

Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, 1894 Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, 1894.(MM 004338)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, 2013 Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, 2013
Image: Simon Conlon
Source: Museum Victoria
 

(Speaking of picky, this is the closest I could get to the original photo as the geography has changed since.)

You can catch the some of the Outreach team and their treasures at the RACV Energy Breakthrough Festival on Saturday 23 November in Maryborough.

Alpine Bioscan

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
19 November 2013
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Nearly 30 museum scientists, staff and associates left Melbourne Museum early yesterday morning, headed for the Alpine National Park. They’re embarking on the next major Parks Bioscan – a program of intensive biodiversity surveys that MV performs, in partnership with Parks Victoria, of some of the state’s most wildlife-rich national parks. Volunteers from 4WD Victoria are providing additional help with access to the more remote and rugged parts of this cold and mountainous area.

Scientists at Bairnsdale sign Lunch stop at Bairnsdale for the MV scientists on the trip up the the Alpine National Park.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As the team was packing up last week, I talked with Dr Karen Rowe about the gear the crews are taking into the field – namely nine iPads that will be used to collect data about the observations, samples and specimens taken by our experts.

iPad data collection system Karen's iPad ready to collect field data.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Using iPads will allow the scientists and collection managers to upload the data directly into the museum’s collection database, EMu. This replaces the time-honoured tradition of recording data with pens and paper… followed by hours of painstaking transcription. Almost inevitably, transcription errors, bad handwriting, rain-sodden paper and other data disasters affect information brought back from the field this way.

The tablets have other benefits, too: an on-board GPS means that every observation is linked with a location, and the data collected for each location is standardised across the scientific disciplines. They also link to topographical maps, vegetation maps, and other useful field tools like the iPad’s camera and audio recording functions. In the case of alpine frogs, there are species that can only be distinguished by their calls so audio recording is vital to correct identification.

But why do the scientists collect all this data? Surely a biodiversity survey is just a big checklist of species? Karen explained that if you collect a specimen (or make an observation) without recording all the other information about that collection event, you "might as well have not collected the critter. We have a lot of specimens in the museum that have no provenance or location data. It’s useful as an exercise to help you understand that particular species but not the context in which it lives." Careful notes about the exact location (under a rock, up a tree), time of day (dawn, midday), and other factors help to flesh out the ecology and behaviour of a species.

"Particularly in areas that are hard to get to – and Sulawesi is a prime example – a lot of the species listed in the IUCN Red List are data deficient," continued Karen. "We don’t know anything about them or the habitats they’re in." Without that information, biologists can’t be sure of the scarcity of the species; a little-known tree-dwelling rat could seem extinct if you’re only looking for them on the ground.

The iPad will also help the museum photographers to attach species information to photographs taken in the field, which makes the images much more useful for research and reporting what we’ve found. Plus, teams can make accurate observations about animals outside their field of expertise – the entomologists can record the calls of birds, for example – for verification by the ornithologists later. That means a more thorough survey of the region.

Of course, in case of technical malfunction, Karen has a backup plan: the folders, clipboards and data sheets of yore. They’re charmingly labelled ‘Old fashioned iPads’ and to be used only in case of emergency.

box of field notebooks Old-school: the back-up field notebooks packed and ready to to to the Alps Bioscan.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In addition to traps and sampling equipment, these field scientists have packed gear for extreme weather, including four-season tents, sleeping bags, thermal underwear and more. And of course, the field gear most important for maintaining morale after 12-hour days in hilly wilderness: comfort snacks!

  Supplies for the biodiversity survey Field supplies packed up for the Alps Bioscan. Left: bait for the mammal traps include cat food and vanilla essence. Right: while the bush rats are drawn to fishy and floral scents, the scientists prefer chocolate.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

If you live in the Victorian Alps, come along to our Science at the Pub event at the end of the Bioscan at Omeo's Golden Age Hotel, Friday 29 November 6:30 PM. Meet the scientists and see what they've found in the park.

Links:

Parks Victoria media release about the Alps Bioscan

Wild: Victorian Alps

MV Blog posts from the 2011 Prom Bioscan and 2012 Grampians Bioscan

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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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