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Huge new pterosaur ID'd from Alberta fossils – CBC News

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A huge, flying reptile that weighed as much as several adult humans combined and had the wingspan of a small plane soared over Alberta during the Age of Dinosaurs — and researchers have now identified it as a new species.

The species, Crydrakon boreas, means “frozen dragon of the north wind,” said David Hone, lead author of a paper published Tuesday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The species was identified from fossils collected by paleontologists and local residents over several decades in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Hone, a paleontologist at Queen Mary University of London, himself has looked for pterosaur fossils in the park annually for seven years, but hasn’t yet found any. Those trips, did, however, help inspire his name for the new species.

“It’s a beautiful, stark landscape in winter, but dear God it’s cold and snowy,” Hone told CBC News. “We wanted to try and evoke that.”

The study describes an animal that would have been about as tall as a giraffe, with similarly long legs on a short body, a mass of up to around 250 kilograms and wings that stretched about 10 metres from tip to tip. It’s not much smaller than the largest pterosaur ever found, excavated in Germany, which had a wingspan of about 12 metres. That’s longer than the 11-metre wingspan of a Cessna Skyhawk four-seater plane.

One of the fossil bones of the new species found in Dinosaur Provincial Park: a humerus or upper arm bone. (David Hone)

“These things have great, big long necks as well,” said Hone. He said that in addition to flying, they would have walked and run on all fours, likely with a giraffe-like gait that moves both legs on one side at the same time to avoid tripping.

The new pterosaur lived about 77 million years ago, during the Cretaceous period, when Dinosaur Provincial Park was the swampy, subtropical home to dinosaurs like Albertasaurus and Chasmosaurus. Cryodrakon probably preyed on lizards, small mammals and perhaps even baby dinosaurs..

The new species belongs to a group of huge pterosaurs called Azhdarchids that had large legs and feet, and lived inland.

The most well-known among them is Quetzalcoatlus, first named from fossils in Texas in the 1970s. The problem, Hone said, was that for a long time it was never properly described, making it impossible for others to confirm whether other fossils were the same or different.

Now, with access to many Quetzalcoatlus and other pterosaur fossils from around the world, he and paleontologists at the University of Southern California and the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta were able to carefully compare fossils from about a dozen individuals collected at the museum. They ranged from a baby with a wingspan of just 1.5 metres to an adult with a wingspan of more than 10 metres.

Stories behind the bones

The oldest among them was a toe bone collected by a woman referred to as Mrs. Olafus Johnson of Ralston., Alta., in Dinosaur National Park and described by Dale Russell of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Ottawa in 1972.

The pterosaur would have been similar to a giraffe in size and proportions, with long legs and a long neck, as shown in this illustration. It lived about 77 million years ago. (David Maas)

But the most scientifically valuable were the neck, leg, shoulder and wing bones of a single young pterosaur found by legendary dinosaur hunter Wendy Sloboda in 1992. It had been eaten by a velociraptor-like carnivorous dinosaur that had left tooth marks and even got one of its teeth stuck in one of the bones. The researchers who described it, though, suspected it was scavenged rather than hunted, as the pterosaur already had a wingspan of about five metres, and the meat eater was likely less than two metres long.

By examining those fossils, the researchers noted some unique features compared to other pterosaurs, including a different number of holes in their back bones, which were hollow like bird bones to make them lighter for flight.

In addition, Crydrakon’s neck, though still enormously long, is “a little bit shorter and fatter” than Quetzalcoatlus’s, Hone said.

Crydrakon may not have been the only species of pterosaur in Canada.

Two pterosaur fossil discoveries were previously reported on Hornby Island, B.C. One of them was originally named as a new pterosaur species based on part of a jaw, but later identified as belonging to a fish, not a reptile. The other, an arm bone found in 2008, was confirmed as a pterosaur in 2016, but the cat-sized creature hasn’t been formally identified as a species.

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Billionaire Bezos unveils plans to land humans on Moon, with a little help from some old friends – The Register

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Blue Origin and industry vets eye a slice of NASA’s lunar lander largesse

Richest person in the world, Jeff Bezos, yesterday pitched NASA a team mostly made up of the usual suspects to build a lunar lander for the agency’s ambitious 2024 boots-on-Moon goal.

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Washington, Bezos announced the “national team”, of which his Blue Origin would be the prime contractor (naturally). The members consist of Lockheed Martin for the Ascent Stage, Northrop Grumman for the Transfer Element and Draper providing the guidance and navigation systems.

“We could not ask for better partners,” intoned the billionaire, which is fair enough. After all, elements of all the companies in the team-up worked on the Apollo program back in the day (although those engineers will have long been put out to pasture.)

The Transfer Element will guide the stack from lunar orbit to close to the Moon, from whence the Descent Element will conduct a powered descent. Lockheed Martin’s ascent module will then send the freshly minted Moonwalkers back into space.

Blue Origin will also be building the descent element of the lander, which uses the company’s BE-7 engine. The powerplant, Bezos said, is fuelled by liquid hydrogen and oxygen and as well being “highly throttleable” and developing 10,000 pounds of thrust.

The BE-7, of course, has yet to actually leave the test stand. Bezos told the audience that to date, the company had managed 13 minutes of test time, including a three-minute continuous firing.

That same engine, Bezos added, would be used by Northrop Grumman in the transfer element of the lunar lander stack.

Bezos unveiled the Blue Moon lander back in May and the announcement of the National Team is an indicator that it will take more than one company to meet the 2024 goal. It will also reassure those within NASA nervous about flinging cash at a company that has yet to even make Earth orbit, let alone do anything in deep space.

And NASA has lots of experience in giving money to Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman after all.

Grumman, of course, built the original Apollo Lunar Module back in NASA’s glory days while Draper provided the guidance systems for the Moon missions.

These days, Northrop Grumman provides NASA with ISS cargo services and is working on both the boosters for the eternally-delayed Space Launch System and the habitat for the agency’s Lunar Gateway.

Draper has continued to work on precision guidance, although there is a delightful hole to tumble down in researching the Apollo guidance units, particularly efforts to fire up the old things once more. Naturally, the hand-woven circuitry of the Apollo era won’t feature this time around.

NASA is due to select two contractor teams in late 2020 to actually build the lander, having asked for proposals (and deleted certain reusability requirements in the rush to 2024). ®

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Bezos's Blue Origin partners with Lockheed, others on moon lander – Financial Post

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WASHINGTON — U.S. billionaire Jeff Bezos said on Tuesday his space company Blue Origin has signed agreements with Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and research and development organization Draper for development of its lunar lander designed to help NASA put humans on the moon by 2024.

Blue Origin’s so-called Blue Moon lunar lander, unveiled by Bezos in May, is in development and sits at the center of the space company’s ambition to ferry humans into deep space and land key contracts from the U.S. space agency for space exploration.

“I’m excited to announce that we put together a national team to go back to the moon,” Bezos, founder and CEO of online retail giant Amazon, said at the International Astronautical Congress.

The four companies, with Blue Origin as the lead contractor, plan to submit a proposal for the lander to NASA under its Artemis lunar program, an accelerated mission to the moon kickstarted in March by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.

Bezos called the partnerships a “national team” whose history in space exploration fits the Blue Moon’s mission. Lockheed is separately developing the moon-bound astronaut capsule named Orion. Northrop helped NASA build the Apollo lunar landers in the 1960s. Draper, a not-for-profit research and development organization, built NASA’s navigation computers for Apollo lunar landers. (Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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A giant full beaver moon set to dazzle Metro Vancouver skies – Vancouver Courier

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While it is getting darker earlier in Metro Vancouver, this month’s full beaver moon promises to illuminate the night sky.

The November full moon is thought to have derived its funny name because it occurred during the optimal time to trap the furry creatures. In fact, both colonial Americans as well as the Algonquin tribes referred to it as such.

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“Why this name? Back then, this was the month to set beaver traps before the swamps froze, to ensure a supply of warm winter furs,” reports Farmer’s Almanac.

While it is commonly known as the beaver moon, it was also called the Full Frost Moon by other North American Tribes.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the moon will be fullest during the day on Tuesday, Nov. 12. However, Vancouver stargazers will still be able to see the nearly-full moon in all her celestial glory the night before (Nov. 11) as well as later that night (Nov. 12).

What’s more, this full moon casts long, hauntingly beautiful shadows in the Northern Hemisphere. They are similar to those cast by the midday summer sun, as the moon is extremely high in the sky during this time.

Stargazers should opt to travel as far away from city lights as possible in order to avoid light pollution that will obscure the clarity of heavenly bodies. While this works best the in more remote places, anywhere that has a higher elevation will also provide more ideal viewing conditions.

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