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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Oct 2012 (6)

The truth is in the tooth

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
30 October 2012
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Leopard seals have jagged, three-lobed postcanine teeth at the backs of their jaws that fit together closely, almost like pieces of a jigsaw. These teeth were long presumed to allow these seals to sieve krill from the water, but the exact mechanism remained a mystery until now.

Leopard seal with mouth open A leopard seal at Taronga Zoo showing its teeth. The leopard seal has large canine teeth at the front of its jaw, and sieve-like cheek teeth at the back.
Image: Erich Fitzgerald
Source: Museum Victoria
 

skull and tooth of leopard seal The skull and postcanine tooth of the leopard seal. This detail comes from a working drawing in pencil, watercolour and indian ink that Becker made in preparation for Prodromus of the Zoology of Victoria.
Image: Ludwig Becker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

David Hocking and Dr Alistair Evans of Monash University, and Dr Erich Fitzgerald of Museum Victoria, have shown for the first time exactly how leopard seals can eat large prey, like penguins and seal pups, as well as small prey like krill. By observing live leopard seals at Taronga Zoo, their ingenious study reports that leopard seals use suction to draw small prey items into their mouths, then expel seawater out through the 'sieves' of their peculiar cheek teeth.

In this video, these scientists report their findings, as published last week in the journal Polar Biology.

 

Links:

David P. Hocking, Alistair R. Evans & Erich M. G. Fitzgerald. 'Leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx) use suction and filter feeding when hunting small prey underwater' in Polar Biology, published online 29 October 2012.

Caught and Coloured: Leopard seal

New exoplanet in our neighbourhood

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
29 October 2012
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Comments (1)

Alpha Centauri is one of my favourite stars and it just got even more interesting. Astronomers from the European Southern Observatory have found a planet orbiting around it.

These days finding another exoplanet, that is a planet that orbits a distant star, isn’t so unusual. We know of over 800 exoplanets and the Kepler spacecraft has spied 2,000 more that are waiting confirmation.

But this one is special because of its star. Here’s why…

Alpha Centauri is lovely and bright, the third brightest star in the night sky, and it is prominent in our southern sky. It is the brighter star of the Two Pointers, which lead us to the Southern Cross.

Southern Cross and Two Pointers Alpha Centauri (yellow star on the far left) and Beta Centauri (blue star to the right of Alpha Centauri) point towards the Southern Cross.
Image: Akira Fujii
Source: Akira Fujii
 

Alpha Centauri is also great to look at through a telescope. What appears as a single bright star in the night sky, becomes two stars when seen through even a modest telescope. Both of the Sun-like stars – Alpha Centauri A and Alpha Centauri B – are quite similar so it looks like you’re seeing double. (A fair distance away there’s a third star too, Alpha Centauri C or Proxima Centauri, a faint red dwarf star).

At just over four light years away (or roughly 40 million million km) Alpha Centauri is the closest star to our Sun. If ever we manage to develop the capability for space travel, this is sure to be the star system we set our sights on.

And now it has a planet! The planet is orbiting Alpha Centauri B and it was hard to find, taking over four years of observations. Many follow up investigations will now begin so as to be absolutely certain.

Artistic impression of planet around Alpha Centauri B Artistic impression of the planet around Alpha Centauri B.
Source: ESO/L. Calcada/Nick Risinger
 

The new found planet has a mass similar to Earth, but takes only 3.2 days to orbit the star. It’s a scorched world, with temperatures soaring over 2000°C.

But finding one planet in this star system is really encouraging and there just might be others. If a planet was found at a more reasonable distance from this Sun-like star, it would be very interesting as far as life is concerned.

Any night sky talk I’ve ever given always includes Alpha Centauri. It’s exciting after all these years to learn something new about it.

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
23 October 2012
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Four men in 19th century costume Four characters from the new production of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab that will screen on ABC on 28 October. Left to right: Charlie Cousins as Roger Moreland, Oliver Ackland as Brian Fitzgerald, Marco Chiappi as Duncan Carlton and Felix Williamson as Detective Kilsip.
Image: Stills photography by Bill Bachman and Arsineh Houspian
Source: Burberry Entertainment / ABC
 

"Whereas, on Friday, the 27th day of July, the body of a man, name unknown, was found in a hansom cab. AND WHEREAS, at an inquest held at St. Kilda, on the 30th day of July, a verdict of wilful murder, against some person unknown, was brought in by the jury. The deceased is of medium height, with a dark complexion, dark hair, clean shaved, has a mole on the left temple, and was dressed in evening dress. Notice is hereby given that a reward of 100 pounds will be paid by the Government for such information as will lead to the conviction of the murderer, who is presumed to be a man who entered the hansom cab with the deceased at the corner of Collins and Russell Streets, on the morning of the 27th day of July."

So begins Chapter III of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, a very early detective novel set in Melbourne. Written by English-born and NZ-raised Fergus Hume, this 1886 tale of mystery and murder in the young colonial city became an unexpected international smash. On Sunday 28 October at 8:30 PM, a telemovie based on the novel will screen on ABC TV.

Three characters from Mystery of a Hansom Cab A scene from the new telemovie of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Left to right: Marco Chiappi as Duncan Carlton, Jessica De Gouw as Madge Frettlby and Felix Williamson as Detective Kilsip
Image: Stills photography by Bill Bachman and Arsineh Houspian
Source: Burberry Entertainment / ABC
 

Filmed on location around the city, and steered carefully by the production designer Otello Stolfo, 1880s 'Marvellous Melbourne' has been meticulously recreated by a talented team of researchers, builders and other craftspeople. The props and the costumes were made and sourced with a keen eye to authentic period detail. The cream of the Australian acting community, including John Waters, Marco Chiappi, Shane Jacobson, Jessica De Gouw, Oliver Ackland, Chelsie Preston, Felix Williamson and Helen Morse, bring the story to life, through the faithful script adaptation by Glen Dolman, directed by Shawn Seet, produced by Margot McDonald and executive producer Ewan Burnett. The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was developed and produced with the assistance of Film Victoria.

Costumes, jewellery, costume drawings and other documentation from this telemovie have just been acquired by the museum from the production company, Burberry Entertainment. Curator Michael Reason explains the significance of the costumes: "This acquisition represents television production in Melbourne, particularly how the city’s history has been presented, and it's also a way for us to record literary Melbourne. The costumes were all locally made so they represent bespoke tailoring in the city and even the Phillips Shirts factory which has operated for 60 years. It is an honour to preserve these wonderful costumes, created by costume designer Wendy Cork and costume supervisor Christiana Plitzo, as very few items of Australian film and television wardrobe have survived, particularly in museums." 

Two female characters from Mystery of a Hansom Cab Costumes acquired by Museum Victoria from the production of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Left: Jessica De Gouw as Madge Frettlby. Right: Chelsie Preston Crayford as Sal Rawlins.
Source: Burberry Entertainment / ABC

Two male characters from Mystery of a Hansom Cab Costumes acquired by Museum Victoria from the production of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. Left: Felix Williamson as Detective Kilsip. Right:Shane Jacobson as Samuel Gorby.
Source: Burberry Entertainment / ABC
 

The Mystery of a Hansom Cab predates Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in print in 1887. Part of its appeal in the US and UK was its location in a faraway and mysterious location: a developing Melbourne that was only five decades old. "The book was true to the city and includes places like the Melbourne Club, St Kilda and Little Bourke St," says Michael. "It's an intriguing story of people reinventing themselves by coming to Melbourne and leaving behind their past." The characters of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab cover the class spectrum of Melbourne colonial society, from the well-to-do to residents of the young city's notorious slums.

Hansom cab Hansom cab made by Simmons & Sons, South Yarra, 1880s. Hansom cabs were horse-drawn vehicles for hire, like a Victorian-era taxi. They were fast, light and agile. The driver sat at the rear and could control the doors to prevent passengers from fleeing without paying their fare. (ST 029057)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As for its author Hume, sadly he never achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a playwright. Having sold the rights to The Mystery of a Hansom Cab for 50 pounds, he never profited from its phenomenal success, and his subsequent 100+ novels and short stories were never particularly popular and he died in relative obscurity in England in 1932.

Links:

Burberry Entertainment

Costumes on Collections Online

Scan of rare first edition of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (McLaren Collection, University of Melbourne)

Radio National Book Club episode discussing the book

 

Times, they are a changin’

Author
by Jo
Publish date
21 October 2012
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Things are changing down at the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre and we thought we would let you all know what you can expect after November 1st.

Visitors looking at fossil display Visitors looking at fossil display : Discovery Centre: Melbourne Museum
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Discovery Centre has operated at Melbourne Museum since the museum opened in 2000, functioning as a library, providing free computer and internet access and responding to visitor enquiries. We have operated the centre at Melbourne Museum with our onsite visitors in mind, providing access to the museum’s collection.  From November 1st, this is going to be changing...

Points from the Indigenous Cultures Department on display Points from the Indigenous Cultures Department on display
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We will soon become a five day per week operation, open from Tuesday until Saturday from 10am until 4.30pm. We will still provide access to the museum’s collections but we are shifting our focus to the online experience. Many of you who have used our service in the past know that we encourage our visitors to check out the Museum Victoria website, and explore the vast amount of information made available. We will continue this focus with our new operating hours.

Visitors looking at skeleton specimens Visitors looking at skeleton specimens: Discovery Centre: Melbourne Museum
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We are also removing some of the computers, the printer and photocopier, and unlimited internet access. We want to encourage people to explore the museum resources online using both the public access computers and their own devices. The WiFi in the Discovery Centre is available and we are moving the furniture around to make the space more accessible for visitors using their own devices. We are still available to accept your online enquiries, even if the doors are closed.

Specimens on display: Discovery Centre: Melbourne Museum Specimens on display: Discovery Centre: Melbourne Museum
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So, from November 1st 2012, the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre will be open from 10am until 4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday. We will have four public access computers, and will no longer offer free printing and photocopying. We will however continue to offer a great space to explore the museum’s areas of collection and research and encourage everyone to come down and take a look at the new Discovery Centre!

NB – In order to prepare for these changes, the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre will be closed from 2pm on 30 October and will reopen on 1 November 2012.  

Consulting with Gupapuyngu community

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
17 October 2012
Comments
Comments (1)

Bark paintings present particular conservation challenges for museums and over many years, conservators have developed low-impact techniques to stabilise objects at risk of deterioration. However these objects often have deep cultural and spiritual significance to the people who created them, and any alteration to an object – including conservation treatments – may forever affect its meaning.

This issue has fascinated MV conservator Samantha Hamilton since her Mellon fellowship at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in 2005. For around two decades, NMAI conservators have worked closely with communities to better understand the cultural implications of preservation. "Involving traditional owners provides meaningful insights into the creation and appearance of cultural materials," says Sam. "This allows conservators to make clearer ethical treatment decisions."

Two significant bark paintings in the Donald Thomson Collection needed considerable conservation treatment, which meant they were not included in the travelling exhibition Ancestral Power and the Aesthetic. Given the long-standing relationship between senior curator Lindy Allen and the Arnhem Land communities from which anthropologist Donald Thomson collected the paintings, here was an opportunity to work closely with the cultural owners of the works. Sam and Lindy began consulting with direct relatives of the original artists last year and visited Milingimbi Island to discuss these particular conservation issues. This consultation project has received funding from the University of Melbourne and the Copland Foundation.

Two men with bark painting Artist George Milaybuma Gaykamangu and his brother Dr Joseph Neparrnga Gumbula holding a small bark painting made to show traditional painting techniques.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

During the first week of October, Gupapuyngu Elder and Indigenous scholar, Dr Joseph Neparrnga Gumbula and his brother, artist George Milaybuma Gaykamangu (Milay), came to Melbourne to exchange knowledge about how the paintings were made and how they should be preserved. In return Sam demonstrated various ways to consolidate paint and stabilise bark so that Joe and Milay could decide on appropriate treatments. Says Sam, "the concept of preservation or conservation treatment is quite foreign to the Gupapuyngu because theirs is a living culture and they're actively painting these designs. Joe has said, 'if this was back at home, we'd just bury it and make another one.'"

Men and woman testing glue on bark Conservator Samantha Hamilton demonstrating a conservation technique on some samples of bark.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Sam had many questions for Joe and Milay. "There is a layer of meaning in each brushstroke, so if we directly apply adhesive to consolidate the paint, are we altering its cultural meaning? Is it better to document the painting with detailed photographs and leave it untouched? Also, these designs are body patterns worn only by men, so should female conservators be treating them?"

During the visit, Milay demonstrated the traditional techniques used by the original creators of the paintings. He ground and mixed charcoal, white clay and two types of ochre with water to prepare the paint. He also fashioned paintbrushes from grass stems and showed Sam and Lindy how djalkurrk (orchid stem) was used to bind only the background paint layer to the bark. Sam was particularly fascinated to learn this, as it was common understanding that the binder was used with every paint layer.

traditional Yolgnu painting materials Milay's painting kit: lumps of ochre and charcoal, grass stem paintbrushes and orchid, all brought to Melbourne from Arnhem Land.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Hands applying ochre to bark Milay demonstrating how orchid stem is used to apply a background layer of rich red ochre to the bark slab.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

After seeing Sam's demonstrations, Joe and Milay advised that a technique called misting would be acceptable to the Gupapuyngu community and that no direct application of adhesive should be performed with a paintbrush. They also approved conservation's technique of stabilising split bark and agreed that Sam was the right person to perform the treatment.

Sam hopes that this project will have lasting impact. "MV conservators have consulted with community in the past and it's becoming more common around the world. Where possible, I'd like to see it continue as an ongoing practice especially with our Victorian Indigenous objects and the Koorie community." During the Bunjilaka redevelopment project Sam has been consulting with the Yulendj reference group, and is very excited about collaborating with Yorta Yorta Elders to determine a long term preservation plan for the historic possum skin cloak.

Links:

Ancestral Power and the Aesthetic is at the Albury Art Gallery until 18 November 2012

MV Blog: Ancestral Power opens in Benalla

MV News: Ancestral Power and the Aesthetic

NMAI Conservation Outreach

Do centipedes have 100 legs?

Author
by Simon
Publish date
2 October 2012
Comments
Comments (3)

Your Question: Do centipedes really have 100 legs?

Despite a common name that means 100 legs, Australian species of centipede can have from 15 to 191 pairs of legs. Australia currently has 128 species of centipede out of a worldwide fauna of between 2,500 and 3,000 species.

Centipede fangs Centipede fangs
Image: Dr Ken Wlker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Australian species range from around 10 mm in length up to 140mm for our largest, the Giant Centipede (Ethmostigmus rubripes). The world's largest species is Scolopendra gigantea which occurs in northern South America and can reach up to 300mm in length.

Centipede - Scolopendra morsitans Centipede - Scolopendra morsitans.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Despite many people thinking that the venomous end of centipedes is at the rear, the venom claws are actually at the front end of the centipede. These claws are linked to venom glands which are used by the centipedes in hunting for prey and for defence. Centipedes can be fast-moving and voracious hunters with some species capable of catching and killing frogs, small reptiles and mice. Centipede reproduction can involve a period of antenna stroking or a ritualised dance and the eggs are guarded by the female in a number of species.

Mechanoreceptor on a centipede's antenna Mechanoreceptor on a centipede's antenna
Image: Dr Ken Walker
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Many people's experience of centipedes is to find one of the aptly named house centipedes running around in their bath. These centipedes are often an introduced species. Australia's centipedes are important predators in the invertebrate world and amazing animals to watch. Interestingly millipedes, whose common name means 1,000 legs, fall short in the legs area although some species count up to 350 pairs. Check out one of the distant relatives of centipedes and millipedes, the 100cm long Arthropleura model in the 600 Million Years exhibition at Melbourne Museum.

Got a question? Ask us!

Links:

Bugs!

CSIRO Centipedes of Australia

CSIRO. Chilopoda, centipedes

Australian Venom Research Unit, Centipedes

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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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