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Backyard Scientist -

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Backyard Scientist (21/08/2008)

Topics: Fossils, Space

CommentsReporter: Dr Maryanne Damasi


Narration: When it comes to backyard scientist, Trevor Barry a retired mine worker from Broken Hill
is, well, a bit of a star.

Trevor Barry: I was on the mine for 34 years.

I started on the mine as an apprentice fitter and machinist in 1969 January and after about twelve
years did the electrical fitting trade from the ground up so I was a dual trade tradesman.

I'll never forget it, it was the middle of winter so it got dark early and I went and saw this
telescope, my wife said how long will you be I said well 20 minutes tops how long can it take to
look at a telescope.

So I walked up looked in the eye piece and there's Saturn, unbelievable, as you'd see it in a text
book, better actually, full ring system, Cassini division, subtle banding in the atmosphere and
five moons.

Knocked my socks off, eight hours later I left. And it just changed my life.

Narration: A few nights a week Trevor just can't wait to fire up his telescope to check out the
unfolding action in the sky above his home.

Trevor: Broken Hill is so well suited for astronomy because of its isolation; it's so far inland
that the levels of water vapour in the atmosphere at typically very low so the sky is generally
very steady.

Narration: What started as a part time hobby for Trevor has grown into an all-consuming passion. A
passion that led to an exciting discovery.

Trevor: I know what Saturn looks like back in February the 23rd I imaged and I processed the images
as I normally would and there was the barest hint of something different, some structure within the
atmosphere that I'd never seen before, that should not be there.

Narration: Trevor was right; the spot he'd noticed on Saturn was indeed unusual.

Trevor: It was a storm and there it is: that tiny white dot? That tiny white dot is a storm
thousands of kilometres in diameter with lighting 10,000 times more powerful than the lighting in
electrical storms on earth.

I didn't know what it was initially when I reprocessed it and actually accentuated the contrast
between the storm and the atmosphere I knew that it was a storm.

Narration: Trevor's discovery led to formal recognition from NASA.

Trevor: I became a member of the team and at this stage they only had one image taken by the space
craft, only one. So the stream of amateur data was vital, vital to the mission.

Narration: Trevor is now part of a team of amateur astronomers located in Australia the
Philippines, the Netherlands and France who have become involved with the Cassini project sending
their images to scientists located at the University of Iowa.

Dr Maryanne Demasi: There the team compared the amateur images with Cassinni's observations and
since the camera on the probe can't track the storm every day the amateur data has become

Narration: And for Trevor, astronomy It's an obsession that he's more than happy to share with

Trevor: You hear on TV programs people say how things happen that changed their lives that they
feel like they're living a dream. I'm living my dream.

Maryanne: From the far reaches of space to some mysteries a little closer to home... I'm standing in
the Darling Downs not far from Toowoomba in southern Queensland.

Narration: Ian Sobbe is a grain and beef farmer whose family have farmed here for generations. And
like Trevor Barry, Ian is making an enormous contribution to science.

Trevor: It started as a young child really or so my parents tell me and basically went on from
there, even when I went to school my teachers tell me I used to take rocks and fossils to them and
annoy them immensely.

Narration: Ian's obsession has now become a serious palaeontological exploration... When time
allows this amateur palaeontologist hunts for fossils. He is particularly interested in Pleistocene
vertebrates, fossils dating from 1.6 million to 10,000 years ago.

Ian: Well I think anyone can do this it's just a matter of being interested in a hobby and wether
you're a farmer or whoever you are I thinks it's just a matter of being passionate about what you
do and the rest comes after that.

Narration: Ian has made some amazing scientific discoveries, but by far his most exciting is a huge
Diprotodon skull.

Ian: Maryanne this is the skull of the worlds largest marsupial Diprotodon, it's massive, this was
found in the local area here. Do you think we could find another one like this? I think so, why not
lets go and have a try.

Maryanne: OK let's.

Ian:What you need to find is a location where a current creek channel crosses a 40,000-year-old
creek channel and that's where we'll discover them...You right?...

Maryanne this is the locality where we found the large skull and it's an old creek channel and you
can see the various flooding layers that have been in this wall here and they contain all the
fossil bones, so we carefully dig through there extract those bones and take them away for study.

Narration: There's probably farming work to be done but Ian would much rather be digging up bones.
On a site discovered by Ian, 10 new fossil species were found. One of then was named after him.

Ian: It was a fossil Bandicoot named Peramales sobbei, and Gilbert actually added me as co-author
to some of his scientific papers after that it was really quite something for me actually. I think
that I am contributing to science in as much as the material that we're finding is going to be used
by scientist to answer a whole range of questions.

Narration: Well we haven't found a Diprotodon skull yet, but this area is so rich in fossils even
I've found something.

Maryanne:What about this Ian, this looks alright!

Ian: Well Maryanne that actually looks like something quite new, perhaps it might even be new to
science. See It's not that hard...we might name this after you! Peramales Demasi. Yeah it's got a
ring to it, I like it.