This experimental Rolex watch was attached to the bathyscaphe Trieste when it reached the ocean floor in the Challenger Deep, on 23 January 1960. Image: ANMM. On loan from the Smithsonian Institution.
Timekeepers of curiosity
Peering through the small porthole, Lt Don Walsh USN saw a cloud of floating silt. It had been kicked up by the bathyscaphe’s less than gentle landing, 10,916 metres below the surface of the ocean. Walsh and fellow pilot Jacques Piccard hoped the milky white soup would clear quickly so they could take photos of what lay beyond.
Outside the porthole, the experimental Rolex ‘Deep Sea Special’ wristwatch was attached to the outside of the bathyscaphe. The unusual high glass dome of the timepiece protected the face of the watch as it continued to tick away, keeping time even under immense pressure.
Twenty minutes later, the thick fog persisted, drifting in slow motion. Reluctantly, Don and Jacques decided to begin their ascent. It took three hours for the Trieste to return to the surface, completing a record-breaking journey: Don and Jacques were the first humans to reach the deepest part of the ocean, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench.
In 2012, Cameron piloted his own single person submersible, DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, to the deepest point of the ocean, the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench. He is one of only three people who have been the deepest part of the ocean. Image: Mark Thiessen, National Geographic Creative.
Science shouldn’t be kept to the realm of fiction
Four times as many people have walked on the moon than have successfully ventured to the deepest part of our own world. Humanity might be on the cusp of a second space age but we have yet to fully explore our oceans. So here are three ways to embrace your inner science nerd, from someone who has been to the alien world beneath the waves: James Cameron.
Wyatt Earp moored on the edge of Antarctic pack ice, February 1948. The little wooden ship – with a very unlikely name – pioneered Australia’s expeditions into the Antarctic as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). ANMM Collection ANMS1445.
Remembering the ‘Twerp‘
On 26 December 1947, a small, nondescript wooden-hulled motor vessel set off from Hobart, bound for Antarctica. Its silhouette resembled that of an ageing offshore fishing craft, but its weather deck was packed from stem to stern with supplies and equipment – including a single-engine Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher floatplane. At the helm was Commander Karl E Oom, an officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). He was supported by five naval officers, 22 ratings, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot and air fitter mechanic, and an Australian Department of Information photographer. The complement was rounded out by four civilian scientists who were responsible for conducting a series of experiments, and observing meteorological and other natural phenomena in the Antarctic. Their voyage would be the first to operate under the banner of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE), a series of post-war initiatives to establish Australian scientific research stations in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic territories of Heard Island and Macquarie Island. ANARE laid the foundation for the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Division, and in later years Australia’s polar research ships could trace their lineage back to the little timber craft then making its way towards the world’s southernmost continent: HMAS Wyatt Earp.
Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.
‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
Astrolabe and Zelee in a gale, in the Antarctic Circle in January 1840. ANMM collection 00032388.
It is easy, when reading accounts of early European explorers, to see only the official version they leave behind. The naval reports, detailed charts and an imposing portrait of a confident man in an impressive uniform.
But often, dig just a little deeper and a different man emerges. A man with individual oddities, unsuspected sympathies, personal tragedies and constant worries. Such is the case with the French explorer Durmont d’Urville.
Voyage out past Mer (Murray) Island. Photo: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.
Ashmore Reef is a 30 kilometre long, isolated, lagooned coral reef system located more than 950 kilometres north of Cairns, Queensland, some 250 kilometres east of Thursday Island, Torres Strait and 30 kilometres offshore from the extreme northern end of the Great Barrier Reef in the Australian Coral Sea Territory.
The northern section of what is now called Ashmore Reef was first sighted by Captain Ashmore in the brig Hibernia in 1811 and unofficially called Hibernia Reef. The southern section of the reef was named the Claudine and Mary Reef an 1818 and the entire reef system called either Jones Shoal, Ormond’s or Great Ormond’s Reef by 1826. Continue reading →
If you’re a swimmer, even though you know you’ll be fine, just the idea of being suspended above something tens, let alone thousands of metres dark and deep can cause that weird tingling combination of excitement and fear.
As part of the USA Gallery program, we’ve been negotiating with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts to bring Deepsea Challenger to the museum. This is the submersible vessel piloted by James Cameron 11kms down to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. It’s a bit like having the lunar lander from Apollo 11 on display, only in reverse!
DeepSea Challenger at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, photo: A Tarantino WHOI
What makes it extra special is that Deepsea Challenger was built (in secret) in Sydney.Continue reading →
1892 replica of Santa Maria photographed in 1904 possibly by Edward H Hart. Source: United States Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons
Many years ago when I was attending primary school we were taught The Columbus Day poem in order to remember the momentous events of 1492. The opening stanzas of the poem went something like:
In fourteen hundred and ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue
He had three ships and left from Spain
He sailed through sunshine and he sailed through rain
These three vessels, sponsored by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I Queen of Castile and Leon – made up a great voyage of exploration lead by Christopher Columbus – also known Cristofora Colombo in his native Genoa and as Christobal Colon in Spain – who had managed to convince the joint sovereigns of Spain that he had found a short cut to the famous spice islands of the Orient.
These famous ships were, of course, the caravels Pinta and Nina and the larger Galician nao (ship) Santa Maria and with them Columbus discovered, although the Native Americans would have been a bit bemused by the term, not the Orient but in fact the Bahamas, Cuba and Haiti – before returning to Spain with the Pinta and the Nina – the Santa Maria having been wrecked in Caracol Bay, Haiti in on Christmas Day, 1492. Columbus lead several other voyages of discovery to what became known as the Americas and the rest as they say is history. Continue reading →
Administrator Charles F Bolden Jr, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Photo: NASA, Bill Ingalls
Next Monday 24 March, the museum will host a talk from the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – Charles F Bolden Jr. Yep, you read correctly, that’s NASA we’re talking about! My answer was “wow”, immediately thinking of the potential this event has to excite and inspire. “When” was my next question? How long do I have to plan and organise a major event? “Two weeks”…“Ok can do, this opportunity is too good to miss!”
So why is Administrator Bolden coming to the museum? He is interested in viewing our HMB Endeavour replica. There is a wooden trunnel located in the great cabin that was on the original HMB Endeavour and then flew on the NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour, (you learn something new every day). There are natural links between the 18th century explorers and the more recent missions out to space, sometimes in more ways than we realise. Continue reading →
‘Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, Brachaluteres jacksonianus’, by Ferdinand Bauer, lent by Natural History Museum, London
There is something intriguing about natural history illustrations. The plants look as though they are sprouting from the page but the animals appear slightly on the edge of reality, with blankly staring eyes and stiffly posed limbs. Perhaps this is because the immobility of plants permit them to be drawn from life whereas animals do not generally allow the painter that luxury unless they are in a more, well, deceased state.