1957–58, the International Geophysical Year

The International Geophysical Year (actually a year and a half, from July 1957 to December 1958) saw the beginning of the “space race,” and the collection of a huge amount of valuable data. The science books I grew up with as a child were constantly referring to the results of the event.

The IGY, as it was abbreviated, included several solar eclipses (23 Oct 57, 19 Apr 58, 12 Oct 58) as well as the record-breaking solar maximum of 1957/58. In fact, February 11, 1958 turned out to be a very good night for Aurora chasers.

The IGY incorporated, among other activities:


Perhaps the world can use more collaborative efforts like the IGY.

The South Australian Museum

South Australian Museum exterior

The South Australian Museum in Adelaide is one of the best museums I’ve seen in cities with populations under 1,500,000. It holds its own against London and Washington in terms of quality (if not quantity), so I enjoyed my recent visit very much. And it’s free!

Part of the mineral collection

The strength of the museum lies in the large anthropological collection (Australian Aboriginal and Pacific Islander) and in well-curated mineral and biodiversity collections.

An interesting touch is the life-size model of a giant squid, mounted vertically in a four-storey-high shaft, as part of a deep-sea-ecosystem display.

Antarctic penguin from Mawson exhibition, seagrass display, and waterhole exhibit

As with the equally good art gallery next door, I can strongly recommend this museum to anyone visiting Adelaide (allow several hours). Some of the collection can also be seen in the online Atlas of Living Australia, as the result of ongoing digitisation projects.

Pacific Cultures Gallery

All photos in this blog post were taken by me during a visit to the Museum in December 2013.

Fly or swim?

Uria lomvia, the Thick-billed Murre

A recent study of the wing-propelled diving bird Uria lomvia shows that it has the highest recorded flight cost among vertebrates. That is, this bird (which consumes 146 watts/kg while flying) is so well-adapted to using its wings for diving that its flying suffers. In other words, the Thick-billed Murre is half-way to becoming a penguin.

Spheniscus humboldti (the Humboldt Penguin) swimming (photo: “Joccay”)

More penguins

Having mentioned Emperor Penguins once before, here is another photograph of them, by Paul Nicklen:

This superb shot won Paul the title of Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year, ahead of 48,000 other entries. Now, I might be biased in favour of penguins, but that is a great photograph. There are also some other photographs from the competition here at New Scientist and some other Nicklen penguin photographs here at National Geographic.

Penguins in the cold

A recent article in Wired shows some fabulous infrared images of Emperor Penguins. Somewhat surprisingly, large sections of an Emperor Penguin’s body surface are cooler than the surrounding air. Their eyes, their flippers, and the tops of their feet stand out as hot spots.

Emperor Penguins survive the long Antarctic winter by huddling together, in temperatures that can drop to −40° — a theme I explored in my children’s book Penguin, which was so beautifully illustrated by Marion & Steve Isham.