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Astronomers find 'alien' asteroids living in our solar system – CTV News

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Scientists In the last few years have studied the first observed interstellar visitors to our solar system. They include a comet called 2I/Borisov, spotted in 2019 and still passing through, and an asteroid called ‘Oumuamua that zipped through quickly in 2017.

Now, astronomers have identified a more permanent outsider presence in our solar system. It’s a group of interstellar asteroids that checked in a long time ago and never left. And they’ve been hiding in plain sight for billions of years, according to a new study published this week in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

These asteroids were likely around when our solar system was forming 4.5 billion years ago. They originated in a different star system. And when our solar system was forming, it was likely closer to other baby star systems as well.

“The close proximity of the stars meant that they felt each others’ gravity much more strongly in those early days than they do today,” said Fathi Namouni, researcher at the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur and lead study author, in a statement. “This enabled asteroids to be pulled from one star system to another.”

Namouni and fellow researcher Maria Helena Moreira Morais at the Universidade Estadual Paulista in Brazil used numerical modeling to simulate the infancy of our solar system and pinpoint the location of the asteroids billions of years ago.

The simulation placed the asteroids moving in a perpendicular orbit to the plane where the solar system’s planets and asteroids orbit the sun. The asteroids were also very distant from the original disk where the planets formed around the sun.

This suggested that the asteroids were actually captured from another star system as the planets were forming in our solar system.

The 19 asteroids have been hiding in plain sight ever since, orbiting the sun along with asteroids called Centaurs that can be found in between Jupiter and Neptune.

Centaurs are unusual because they resemble and act like both asteroids and comets. This dual nature is why they’re named centaurs, after half-horse, half-human creatures from mythology. According to NASA estimates, two-thirds of Centaurs came from the freezing outskirts of the solar system.

Centaurs also have orbits that are difficult to understand or predict.

“The discovery of a whole population of asteroids of interstellar origin is an important step in understanding the physical and chemical similarities and differences between solar system-born and interstellar asteroids,” Morais said in a statement.”This population will give us clues about the sun’s early birth cluster, how interstellar asteroid capture occurred and the role that interstellar matter had in chemically enriching the solar system and shaping its evolution.”

 

Alien residents

 

Morais also identified an interstellar “immigrant” living in our solar system in 2018.

For billions of years, it lived in our solar system without us even knowing it was there. But this object couldn’t remain hidden around Jupiter forever. It was just peculiar enough to be noticed by researchers.

The researchers call this exo-asteroid 2015 BZ509. It’s known as an exo-asteroid because it originated outside our solar system.

At first glance, 2015 BZ509 is just one of many objects orbiting the gas giant Jupiter in a stable configuration called a resonance. Though all of the planets and most of the objects in our solar system orbit the sun by moving in the same direction, the exo-asteroid is going its own way. With its retrograde orbit, 2015 BZ509 moves in the opposite direction.

“The asteroid and Jupiter take the same amount of time to complete one orbit around the Sun, but one moves clockwise and the other counter-clockwise so they pass by each other twice per each full orbit,” Morais wrote in 2018. “This pattern is repeated forever — it is a stable configuration — in a simplified model with only the Sun, Jupiter and the asteroid. We saw that when we include the other planets it is still very stable, over the solar system’s age.”

That orbit is the same path the object has always followed, meaning it could not have formed in our solar system. If it were native to our solar system, it would have inherited the direction from the gas and dust that formed all of the other planets and objects. Morais believed that, like the newly discovered alien asteroids, this one was captured during the early stages of our solar system as well.

The exo-asteroid serves as a warning for objects that may enter our solar system.

“If they pass by then they may also be captured in a stable orbit as it is the case of 2015 BZ509,” Morais said.

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Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – Lethbridge News Now

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The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterward.

It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.

It then took 5 1/2 years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.  

But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”

It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.

“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.

The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.  

“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.

There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.

About 80 per cent of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.

There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.

Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.

That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.

“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”

Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?

The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.

“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.

More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.

“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said. 

The fossils tell individual stories, too.

Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.

“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020

— Follow at @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – CANOE

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Fresh ferns, loaded with spores, lightly dusted with leaves and twigs and perfectly seasoned with locally sourced charcoal.

Sound good? It did to an ankylosaur about 110 million years ago, as evidenced by amazingly complete fossils of what was certainly the tank-like dinosaur’s last meal.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Caleb Brown, a curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and co-author of a paper published Tuesday on what is one of probably only three fossilized dinosaur stomachs discovered.

“We can start reconstructing the life histories and ecologies of these animals.”

The dining dinosaur was first unearthed in 2011 in a northern Alberta Suncor oilsands mine, where many excavators have learned to look for fossils as they dig. When this one turned up, a crew from the Tyrrell followed shortly afterwards.

It was an amazingly well-preserved ankylosaur from the early Cretaceous period. Low but large — the species could reach eight metres long and weigh eight tonnes — the fossil took two weeks to remove.

It then took 5 1/2 years for technician Mark Mitchell to clean and prepare it, which is why the species now bears the Latin name markmitchelli. The restored specimen, complete with body armour and outer skin, was remarkable enough for a 2017 National Geographic magazine feature.

But for paleontologists, the fun was just starting. They began looking at a fossilized structure that co-author Jim Basinger of the University of Saskatchewan described as looking like a “squashed basketball.”

It was in the right place for a stomach and it held gastroliths, small stones dinosaurs used to help digest their food, much as some birds do today.

“There’s a great mess of them and they’re quite distinctive,” said Basinger.

The scientists eventually compiled 16 pieces of evidence that the squashed basketball was, in fact, a stomach.

“It’s unquestionable,” Basinger said.

There are only two other fossilized stomachs in the world that scientists are this sure about. Neither opens doors to the past the way this one does.

About 80% of this last meal was a particular species of ferns. The fossils are so well preserved their spores identify them.

There are bits of other plants and twigs so immaculate that their growth rings are being used to estimate weather at the time. And there is charcoal from burned woody material.

Brown points out ferns aren’t that nutritious. A beast this size would need digestion capable of getting the most from them.

That means this dinosaur may have fermented its food, much like many animals today.

“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”

Which raises other interesting questions: How much fermented fern does it take to move an eight-tonne lizard? How much energy might it need? Where might that much fodder be found?

The charcoal provides a clue. It probably came from an ancient forest fire where ferns would have been abundant in the first flush of new growth, much as they are today.

“(The dinosaur) was taking advantage of a charred landscape,” Basinger said. Many modern animals do the same, chowing down on tender, nutritious and low-hanging new growth that follows the flames.

More than just reassembling skeletons, modern paleontology is starting to rebuild ecosystems that haven’t existed for millions and millions of years.

“That’s something we can start playing with,” Brown said.

The fossils tell individual stories, too.

Basinger said, given the undigested contents of its stomach, this ankylosaur died quickly. It was surrounded by marine fossils, and researchers believe it slipped or fell into a large river, where it drowned and was swept out to sea.

“Whatever happened to the poor dinosaur, it would have happened pretty fast after it had eaten.”

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Armour-Plated Dinosaur's Last Meal Found Beautifully Preserved, 110 Million Years Later – ScienceAlert

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The last meal of a huge armour-plated dinosaur has been found 110 million years later, still in its fossilised belly, in what is now northern Alberta.

First described in 2017, this thorny, 1,300-kilogram nodosaur (some 2,800 pounds) unearthed in 2011, is said to contain the best-preserved dinosaur stomach found to date.

After five years of careful work, exposing the dinosaur within the marine rock, the soccer-ball sized mass in tummy has now bestowed us with the first definitive glimpse into what large, plant-eating dinosaurs once munched on all those millennia ago.

“When people see this stunning fossil and are told that we know what its last meal was because its stomach was so well preserved inside the skeleton, it will almost bring the beast back to life for them, providing a glimpse of how the animal actually carried out its daily activities, where it lived, and what its preferred food was,” says geologist Jim Basinger from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

That’s something we’ve never really known about any herbivorous dinosaur. While this dinosaur represents just one species of one ankylosaur family – known as Borealopelta markmitchelli and without the archetypal ‘club’ tail of its closest relatives – it could help us better understand dinosaur digestion and physiology, especially since ankylosaurs are found on every continent, including Antarctica.

Some might even remember these dinosaurs from their brief cameo in the animated Land Before Time, in which the lumbering character Kosh does little more than munch on fruit and contentedly belch. In real life, however, some families of ankylosaurs might be pickier and prefer their vegetables.

Just before the Borealopelta in Alberta kicked the bucket and was washed out to sea, perhaps by a flood, scientists say it was nomming on stems, twigs and particular species of fern, while largely ignoring conifer and cycad leaves, which were abundant at the time.

In fact, of all the chewed leaf material found in its guts, 88 percent were deemed fern leaves and just 7 percent were stems and twigs.

“When we examined thin sections of the stomach contents under a microscope, we were shocked to see beautifully preserved and concentrated plant material,” says biologist David Greenwood from Brandon University in Canada.

“In marine rocks we almost never see such superb preservation of leaves, including the microscopic, spore-producing sporangia of ferns.”

Altogether, the team found 50 types of plant microfossils, including six types of moss or liverwort, a wide variety of ferns, several types of conifers, and two flowering plants.

Among the edible contents, researchers also found gizzard stones – deliberately swallowed rocks animals ingest to help with the digestion of tough materials (crocodiles and seals do this, for example).

But perhaps the most intriguing discovery was the presence of burnt vegetation, which may have been eaten by accident, or potentially on purpose.

“[T]here is considerable charcoal in the stomach from burnt plant fragments, indicating that the animal was browsing in a recently burned area and was taking advantage of a recent fire and the flush of ferns that frequently emerges on a burned landscape,” says Greenwood.

“This adaptation to a fire ecology is new information.”

If that interpretation is correct, this would represent the earliest evidence of large-bodied herbivores capitalising on the regrowth of vegetation after a fire. And while that might sound incredibly niche, this affects a lot of other life on Earth.

Today, across modern ecosystems, large herbivores are thought to be crucial to the landscapes they occupy. In fact, they are often termed ‘keystone’ species because they help support the ecosystem at large.

“Like large herbivores alive today, such as moose and deer, and elephants in Africa, these nodosaurs by their feeding would have shaped the vegetation on the landscape, possibly maintaining more open areas by their grazing,” explains Greenwood.

The researchers are pretty sure the exceptionally preserved dinosaur died soon after its last meal, but whether or not that meal is indicative of what other herbivorous dinosaurs of its time ate remains unclear.

This is, after all, only a single specimen, and its diet may not reflect the typical or average diet of either the individual or the taxon.

Especially when you consider this dinosaur is thought to have died in late spring to mid-summer, and diet is often tied to seasonal changes and landscape variation in food availability.

“These caveats aside,” the authors write, “these data do represent the best available direct evidence of diet in an herbivorous non-avian dinosaur.”

The chances of us finding something like this again are extremely rare.

The fossilised stomach is now on display alongside the dinosaur’s skeleton at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta.

The study was published in Royal Society Open Science (link not yet live at time of publishing).

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