Amgueddfa Blog: Collections & Research

This weekend our Curators open online doors to our fascinating meteorite and space rock collections. Join them on Saturday and Sunday for free behind the scenes tours, streamed on our National Museums Wales website, as part of our Amazing Astronomy Weekend. Then on Sunday, our museum curators will be joined by expert astronomers to take your questions in a live, bookable event. See Amazing Astronomy for full details.

Here, Andrew Haycock, Curator Mineralogy & Petrology, Natural Sciences shares a little of his thoughts on one of our space treasures, a rock from Mars. 

There are 77 meteorites in the Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum of Wales collection, which have been found in localities the World over. Some of these are permanently on display in our Evolution of Wales Gallery. They include a 260kg iron meteorite, which fell in Namibia, Africa; and a slice of a stony meteorite which fell in Beddgelert in 1949. This meteorite is one of only two known meteorites from Wales.

The vast majority of meteorites in the collection are held in climate-controlled storage, so they do not decay, but are often used for our Space-themed outreach events and teaching. Every specimen, however small or big, visually stunning or insignificant looking, has an interesting story to tell. One such unremarkable looking specimen is a stony shergottite meteorite collected in Libya in 1998.

The Mars meteorite is a shergottie (NMW 2010.17G.R.26). The surface of Mars may be red but the rocks that we have are grey, it is only the surface dust of the planet that gives the distinct orange colour.

Around 95% of meteorite finds are classified as ‘stony’, mainly made-up of minerals commonly found on Earth, and most (99.8%) are about 4,560 million years old, and originated in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. That is impressively old, but a casual observer may be forgiven to think that this shergottite meteorite was ‘just another stony meteorite’, but it is actually rather special, it is a part of Mars.

Of the 65,000 or so meteorites, which have been collected, examined and named, just 292 are considered to originate from Mars. They can be classified as 3 different rock types, all igneous in origin (formed from magma or lava). They are much younger than the meteorites from the Asteroid belt, and were formed by volcanic activity on Mars between 165 and 1,340 million years ago.  Only one known meteorite, found in the Allen Hills of Antarctica, is thought to be around 4,500 million years old, and was part of the initial Martian crust when the planet formed.

Mars has been in the news a lot recently (February 2021), with the landing of the NASA Perseverance rover. The rover’s main job is to seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth.

Launch of Mars Perserverance rover, 30 July 2020

Prior to the landing of the Perseverance Rover, four other rovers have successfully been sent to Mars sending valuable data back to scientists on Earth; Sojourner (1997), Spirit and Opportunity (2004); and Curiosity (2012). The first space craft to successfully land on the planet was part of the Viking 1 and Viking 2 missions (Obiter and Lander) which reached Mars in 1976.

So, how do scientists know that these meteorites are from Mars?  By studying the composition of meteorites similar to this one, and comparing it to data sent back by spacecraft on Mars. The meteorites were found to have elemental and isotopic compositions very similar to some Martian rocks. The Shergottite group of Martian meteorites are very similar to basalt rocks found on Earth, but the oxygen isotopes are different to those of Earth rocks.

Conclusive evidence for a Martian origin was provided in 1983, when tiny bubbles of gas trapped in inside the glassy fragments of a shergottite meteorite from Antarctica were analysed. The trapped gasses matched perfectly with the signature of the Martian atmosphere as reported by NASA’s Viking 1 and 2 landers in 1976.

No astronauts have been to Mars, and no material from Mars has been sent back to Earth. So how did a rock from Mars get to Earth? The only known mechanism to eject a rock from Mars is a massive meteorite impact event. The impact would have smashed into Mars with enough force to eject debris out into Space, away from the gravitational pull of the planet, which is much less than that of Earth. At some point the meteorites were deflected from their orbit and pulled into the Earth’s gravitational field. Some of this debris then fell to Earth as meteorites.

The 3-million-year-old crater Mojave, is 58.5 km in diameter and the youngest crater of its size on the planet, has been identified as a potential source of most Mars meteorites.

Unlike the Moon, when it comes to Mars, scientists don't have rocks collected by astronauts to study. But they do have the next best thing, and they are Martian meteorites.

 

Have you seen the footage of a meteorite fire ball passing through our atmosphere on 28 February? Our team have been working to help scientists find where it made landfall in Gloucester: on a suburban driveway! Since 2019, Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales has been part of the SCAMP (System of Asteroid and Meteorite Paths) UK network, part of UK Fireball Alliance which spots, tracks and helps to locate meteorite falls. Jana Horak our Head of Mineralogy & Petrology explains how and invites you to join her and some of her curatorial colleagues for a behind the scenes, online tour of our meteorite collection during our Amazing Astrology weekend 20-21 March.

Every year curators in the Museum examine, numerous samples of possible meteorites, found by the public. Scientists estimate that around 44,000 kilograms of rock fall from space and land on Earth every day, this may sound a lot, but this equates to a cube just 2.3 meters across. Within the UK alone, it is estimated that 10-20 meteorites a year reach the ground, although the last one to be found was in Cambridgeshire in 1991. In Wales, just two meteorites have been collected to date, as both fell close (or through!) human habitation, both in North Wales. Look at our Mineralogy of Wales pages for more information.

But if we don’t see a meteorite fall, how do we know where to look for them? In arid regions, such as the Sahara Desert, the dark outer layer of a meteorite contrasts with the paler stony desert surface, making the meteorite relatively easy to spot. In Wales, however, our temperate climate produces a well-developed soil and vegetation cover, so a falling stone is easily lost.

The SCAMP camera on the Museum Roof in Cardiff, which records fireball activity, It recorded the Gloucester fireball (28th February 2021) and has contributed to helping to find samples.

When a space rock hurtles towards Earth, pulled by Earth’s gravity, the glow of the fireball or ‘shooting star’ alerts us to this intruder. If we can record the direction (or path) of the fireball, we may be able to pin-point where the meteorite falls. Since 2019, Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales has been part of the SCAMP (System of Asteroid and Meteorite Paths) UK network, part of UK Fireball Alliance (https://www.ukfall.org.uk/) which does just that. A special camera on the roof at National Museum Cardiff, records the motion of any passing fireball. From this data the rate and direction of travel can be determined, and by combining information from other UK cameras, can calculate the location where the meteorite hits the ground.

Since we have had the camera installed, we have recorded several fireballs, but only two are calculated to have resulted in a meteorite fall. The first, near Salisbury in November 2020, was considered too small to attempt to recover, but the recent larger one near Gloucester (28th February 2021) will be a test of the system, as it is estimated to include a piece about the size of an orange.  Should you encounter a recently fallen meteorite it is best to wrap it in some clean aluminium foil or place it in a bag without handling it. It is really important not to test it with a magnet as this may destroy valuable information. You can make contact with us here at the Museum to confirm anything you find.

A sample of the Chelyabinsk meteorite which fell in the Russian Federation in February 2013.

So how might you know if you have found a meteorite, if you don’t see it fall? Although the internal texture of meteorites may vary, the most characteristic feature of them is a fusion crust. This is the dark outer layer, a few millimetres thick, produced by friction melting as the rock as it sped through the atmosphere. When hot and travelling fast, the melt layer is stripped away, reducing the size of the rock, and smoothing its outline. As it slows down, cools and stops glowing the melt layer cools and solidifies, to produce a typically dark and smooth outer surface, which may be crossed by a series of small cracks. The Chelyabinsk meteorite which fell in western Siberia, in February 2013, has a very fresh and well-developed fusion crust .

The most common specimens we see which might be confused with a meteorite are; hematite, particularly where it has a smooth bulbous form, marcasite nodules from the Chalk of the southern England, and samples of slag, a product of Wales’ industrial past. Slag commonly has rounded gas bubble cavities on the surface, something that is uncommon or absent from meteorite fusion crusts.

If you think you have found a meteorite contact the Department of Natural Sciences 

Amazing Astronomy, 20 - 21 March 2021

Full information about our AMAZING ASTRONOMY weekend here

 

BBC broadcasting in Wales began on 13 February 1923, with the first public radio broadcast from Cardiff. Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales in partnership with BBC Wales are planning an exhibition to illustrate how the BBC has played a part in the everyday lives of people in Wales ‘informing, educating and entertaining’ over the last 100 years. 

We will be delving into the BBC’s extensive archive and trawling through our stores at Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales for images, film clips and objects, but we need more.

We want to hear YOUR stories and memories. What are the BBC moments that have stayed with you and why? What channels or radio stations do you most enjoy? What are your memories of BBC TV and radio over Christmas?

As well as your stories, we’d like to hear from you if you have any BBC memorabilia; toys from your favourite TV programmes, stickers, badges, posters, T-shirts.

Get in touch by emailing - collecting@museumwales.ac.uk

How to Name Nature

My Professional Training Year placement in the Natural Sciences Department at National Museum Cardiff has been going for a few months now and we are making great progress! We have gotten to the stage where it is time to name the new species of shovel head worm (Magelonidae) that we have spent many months describing and drawing. Shovel head worms are a type of marine bristle worm.

Shovel head worm 

So, the big question is, how exactly do scientists name the new species they discover? 

All species are named using a system called binomial nomenclature, also known as the two-term naming system. This system is primarily credited to Carl Linnaeus in 1753 but there is evidence suggesting the system was used as early as 1622 by Gaspard Bauhin. You will know them as the Latin names for organisms or scientific names. These names are firstly formed of a generic name, identifying the genus the species belongs to and a specific name, identifying the species. For example, the binomial name for humans is Homo sapiensHomo is the genus, which also includes our ancestors like the Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) but if you want to specifically refer to modern humans you add the species name, sapiens. So, Homo sapiens is what you get.

Today, binomial nomenclature is primarily governed by two internationally agreed code of rules, the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) and the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants (ICNafp). Across the two codes the rules are generally the same but with slight differences. As my work focuses on naming animals, I will focus on the rules set out by the ICZN.

The first step in naming a new species is figuring out exactly what to name it after. There are generally 3 main ways to pick a name.

Firstly, you can pick a physical trait of the animal. This trait usually makes it stand out from the other species in its genus. This is my preferred method of naming because it gives people an impression of what it is like just by its name. For example, European robins are given the binomial name Erithacus rubecula and rubecula is derived from the Latin ruber, meaning red which emphasises the robin’s iconic red breast.

A robin, Erithacus rubecula from our collections

An example of a shovel head worm with a name like this is Magelona cepiceps, translating from the Latin cepa for onion and ceps referring to the head. This relates to the shape of the ‘head’ (prostomium) of the worm resembling an onion!

Shovel head worm, Magelona cepiceps

Secondly, you could name the new species after the place it was discovered. It’s not as descriptive as naming the animal after a physical feature but tells you where you may find it. The binomial name for the Canada Goose is Branta canadensis, displaying that although the bird is a common sight in many places thanks to its introduction, it is originally from Canada.

Canadian Goose, Branta canadensis (photo: Cindy Howells)

A shovel head worm with a regional scientific name is Magelona mahensis, indicating that it is from the island of Mahé in the Seychelles.

Shovel head worm, Magelona mahensis

The Island of Mahé in the Seychelles where Magelona mahensis was first described

 

 

 

 

Lastly, you can name it after someone. Of course, a person’s first instinct might be to try and name a species after themselves. The ICZN doesn’t have a rule explicitly against this but it is seen as a sign of vanity. But perhaps if you name enough species in your field, eventually someone may name a species after you. This is my least favourite way to name species because it may not tell you anything about the species at all, but it is nice to give honour to those that are important to us or those who have put in a lot of work in the field. For example, in honour of Sir David Attenborough’s 90th birthday a dragonfly was named after him, taking the name Acisoma attenboroughi. Attenborough has inspired so many scientists that he has around 34 species named after him currently. There is a shovel head worm named Magelona johnstoni which is named after Dr George Johnston, one of the first scientists to describe shovel head worms.

Shovel head worm, Magelona johnstoni named after George Johnston (Photo: Andy Mackie)

While the names can be taken from words in any language they must be spelt out in the Roman alphabet, ensuring they can be universally read. Many binomial names are formed of words from ancient Greek but have been Latinised. Typically, if you have selected a physical feature it is translated into Greek or Latin. There are several books specifically written for helping scientists translate and create new species names.

Brown's Composition of Scientific Words - a book used when deciding on names for species

To Latinise the name, you have selected you have to make sure it follows the rules of Latin grammar. This is where it gets a little complicated as you have to start considering the genus name of the species. Latin has masculine, feminine and neutral words, you can tell this by how the word ends. The gender of the genus name will affect the ending and gender of your species name.

And with that information you are just about ready to name your species!

It might seem like a lot of things to consider when you are naming a new species, believe me I never expected to know this much about Latin grammar! But these rules are incredibly important to ensure we can orderly name and keep track of each of the fascinating organisms that are discovered and allows everyone to universally understand which animals scientists are talking about. Especially when you consider that there are over 12,000 known marine bristleworms globally and that number is increasing.

Once all of the drawings and descriptions are complete, the scientific paper goes through a peer-reviewed process where other experts in the field consider your decision to describe and name the new species. If the reviewers agree the species is formally described and those that were involved are now the species authorities. In scientific journals the species name will be written down followed by the names of those who described it and the year it was described. So, while you might not name a species after yourself, whenever the species is mentioned you will get recognition for the work you have done.

So, what will our new species be called?........Well, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out........

It's National Storytelling Week!! To mark it, we're inviting you to create and tell us a story....about this wedding dress! We'll tell you more about it's real story at the end of the competition, as we don't want it to limit your creativity or influence your ideas, but you might be interested to know that it is made from fine flannel cloth, purchased in 1974, when our museum was still a working woolen mill known as Cambrian Mills.

The winner will receive a beautiful double Welsh wool blanket, made on our museum site by Melin Teifi. A number of colour choices are available.

 

The best story weaver will win a beautiful, traditional double Welsh blanket, made by Melin Teifi on our museum site. These blankets were traditionally given as a wedding gift, and continue to be valued and collected the world over.

HOW TO ENTER:

The art of storytelling is an ancient one here in Wales. It was practiced by Cyfarwyddion, storytellers at the courts of kings and lords as well as at forge fires and in parlours by the fire. To honour this tradition, for storytelling week, we're asking you to TELL us a story, rather than write one down. You are welcome to submit your entry in Welsh or Englisng. So,

1. Dream up, imagine and think through a short, original story inspired by this wedding dress from our collection. You may find it easy to jot down a few notes to help you get a bit of a structure.

2. Practice TELLING the story out loud, and time yourself to make sure it's UNDER 2 MINUTES IN LENGTH. We will not accept stories that go over time.

3. When you feel confident, film yourself telling the story in under 2 minutes. It doesn't need to be fancy, just a film using a phone camera will do. Alternatively, you could record yourself speaking the story (no more than 2 minutes in length) and send us the recording. However, please do not just READ us a story. There's a big difference between spontaeously speaking a story and reading it.

4. When you've got a film / audio recording you're happy with, email it to us at: stori@museumwales.ac.uk

These blankets were traditionally given as wedding gifts, and continue to be heirlooms and collectors items worldwide.

COMPTETITION CLOSING DATE: WEDNESDAY 10 FEBRUARY at 15:00. For competition terms and conditions, see below

We'll be sharing the top 5 stories through our social media channels on Valentine's Day, and announcing the winner that afternoon.

 

 

 

TOP TIPS FOR RECORDING YOUR STORY USING MOBILE PHONE / TABLET / LAPTOP / DESKTOP COMPUTER

Lighting

- Use natural light: outside or beside window with the light on your face.

- Avoid backlighting, e.g. window, lamps, TV behind you.

 

Framing and Positioning 

- Film in landscape, not portrait, position.

- Keep your phone as still as you can by using a tripod or resting it on a steady surface. Avoid hand-held filming.

 

Recording on Laptop or Desktop

- Start up Zoom, Teams, Skype, FaceTime etc and ensure you can see yourself, then start QuickTime Player.

 

Using screen capture with QuickTime Player

- Within the application: File, “New Screen Recording”, press red record button to start capture.

- Press stop button to end the recording.

- Saving the file: File, “Export As”, 1080p, title the video, select file location, “Save”.

 
Terms & Conditions
· The Promoter is: Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru / the National Museum of Wales (Charity Registration number: 525774) whose registered office is at Cathays Park, Cardiff, CF10 3NP.
· Employees of the National Museum of Wales or their families, or anyone else connected in any way with the competition, shall not be permitted to enter the competition.
· There is no entry fee to the competition and no purchase necessary to enter this competition.
· The promoter will only consider one entry per participating email, Facebook or Twitter account.
· Entries which put entrants, staff or any other persons at risk will not be eligible for this competition
· The Promoter is not responsible for any physical injury or harm to entrants or any other persons in the course of participating in this competition
· It is the Entrant’s responsibility to ensure that they take necessary precautions to guard their own safety, and the safety of any other persons present, while participating in this competition
· Closing date for entry will be Wednesday 10 February at 15.00. After this date no further entries to the competition will be permitted.
· No responsibility can be accepted for entries not received for any reason. 
· The Promoter reserves the right to cancel or amend the competition and these terms and conditions without notice in the event of any event outside of the Promoter's control. Any changes to the competition will be notified to entrants as soon as possible by the Promoter.
· The Promoter is not responsible for inaccurate prize details supplied to any entrant by any third party connected with this competition.
· No cash alternative to the prizes will be offered. The prizes are not transferable. Prizes are subject to availability and we reserve the right to substitute any prize with another of equivalent value without giving notice.
· Winners will be chosen on merit by a representative of the Promoter.
· The winners will be notified via email Facebook or Twitter by 15 February. If the winners cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 72 hours of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner.
· The Promoter will notify the winner when and where the prize can be collected, or to where it should be posted
· The Promoter's decision in respect of all matters to do with the competition will be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
· The competition and these terms and conditions will be governed by UK Law and any disputes will be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the UK.
· By entering this competition, an entrant releases Facebook and twitter from any or all liability in connection with this contest
· All entrants agree that National Museum of Wales can display and share their entries on their website and social media channels, with name credit where the information is available. Submitted entries will remain the intellectual property of the entrants.
· Winners agree to post an acknowledgement Facebook or twitter, mentioning @amgueddfacymru in their message.
· The winner agrees to the use of their name, likeness and entry in any publicity material.
· Any personal data relating to the winner or any other entrants will be used solely in accordance with current UK data protection legislation and will not be disclosed to a third party without the entrant's prior consent.
· Entry into the competition will be deemed as acceptance of these terms and conditions.
· This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook or any other social network. You are providing your personal information to the Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales and not to any other party. The information provided will be used in conjunction with the Data Protection Act.