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Carnivorous dinosaur with short snout and strong bite menaced Patagonia – National Post

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WASHINGTON — Scientists in Argentina have unearthed the well-preserved skull of a meat-eating dinosaur that roamed northern Patagonia about 85 million years ago – a beast with a short snout, keen hearing and stout bite strength that made it a daunting predator.

The dinosaur, named Llukalkan aliocranianus, measured roughly 16 feet (5 meters) long and was a member of a carnivorous group called abelisaurids that prospered in South America and other parts of Earth’s Southern Hemisphere during the Cretaceous Period, researchers said on Tuesday.

Llukalkan, meaning “one who causes fear” in the local native Mapuche language, may have competed directly against a cousin that was equally impressive and slightly larger. Only about 700 yards (meters) away from where Llukalkan’s fossilized skull was found, scientists previously had dug up the remains of another meat-eating dinosaur called Viavenator exxoni.

Both were abelisaurids, a group of two-legged predators with short skulls, sharp and serrated teeth, extremely short arms with tiny fingers and heads sometimes featuring unusual ridges and small horns. Abelisaurids generally were medium-sized compared to huge carnivorous dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex, which lived in North America approximately 15 million years after Llukalkan, and Giganotosaurus, which lived in Patagonia about 15 million years before Llukalkan.

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“Yes, it is very unusual to find two abelisaurids that lived in the same locality and at approximately the same time,” said paleontologist Federico Gianechini of Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) and the National University of San Luis, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“Llukalkan was a little smaller than Viavenator, although, if they lived together, they surely shared the same ecological niche and fed on the same prey, so they would have competed with each other and – why not – even eaten each other,” Gianechini added. “Today, predators of different species but from the same family co-exist in the same ecosystem, such as lions, leopards and cheetahs.”

Llukalkan’s skull measured about 20 inches (50 cm) long. A large percentage of the cranial bones were found, including a nicely preserved braincase.

“A peculiarity of this dinosaur is that it has cavities in the ear area that other abelisaurids did not have, which could have given this species different auditory capacities, possibly a greater hearing range,” Gianechini said.

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“The good preservation allowed us to make studies of the internal part of the braincase through tomography and thus infer the shape of the brain,” Gianechini added.

Llukalkan had a powerful bite, based on the musculature of its jaws, and its teeth could tear flesh from its prey. Unlike some abelisaurids, its skull was not bumpy.

No bones from the rest of its body were found, though the researchers have a good idea of its body plan based on other abelisaurids. They estimate Llukalkan weighed between one and five tons.

Patagonia has produced important dinosaur finds in recent decades. Llukalkan’s discovery allows for a deeper understanding of northern Patagonia’s ecosystems during the Cretaceous, the final chapter of the dinosaur age. Llukalkan inhabited a semi-arid environment with a seasonal climate, hunting a variety of plant-eating dinosaurs.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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NASA clears Boeing Starliner for July 30th test flight to ISS – Yahoo Movies Canada

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More than 18 months after its failed first attempt to make it to the International Space Station, Boeing’s Starliner is ready for a second shot. Following a flight readiness review, NASA is moving forward with the craft’s upcoming July 30th uncrewed orbital flight test. Unless there’s an unforeseen delay, the capsule will launch from the Space Force’s Cape Canaveral Station mounted on an Atlas V rocket at 2:53PM ET. Should NASA postpone the flight, it will again attempt to carry out the test on August 3rd at the earliest.

The purpose of the flight is for NASA to conduct an end-to-end test of Starliner’s capabilities. It wants to know if the capsule can handle every aspect of a trip to the ISS, including launch, docking as well as atmospheric re-entry. “[Orbital Flight Test-2] will provide valuable data that will help NASA certify Boeing’s crew transportation system to carry astronauts to and from the space station,” the agency said.

If the flight is a success, NASA will move forward with a crewed test of the Starliner. Steve Stich, commercial crew program manager at NASA, said that could happen “as soon as later this year.” Both Boeing and NASA have a lot invested in the viability of Starliner. For the aerospace company, its decision not to conduct an end-to-end test of the craft before its failed 2019 flight left the agency “surprised,” leading to questions about the project. Meanwhile, NASA is keen to have two capsules that can ferry its astronauts to the ISS. Right now, it’s limited to just SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. “It’s very important for the commercial crew program to have two space transportation systems,” Stich told reporters.

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SpaceX lands NASA launch contract for mission to Jupiter's moon Europa – Euronews

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By Steve Gorman

LOSANGELES – Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million launch services contract for NASA‘s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.

The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA‘s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said in a statement posted online.

The contract marked NASA‘s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.

In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.

The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.

NASA did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.

The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.

A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by NASA‘s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.

Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, NASA said.

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NASA’s Europa Clipper will fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy – The Verge

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NASA’s Europa Clipper will start its journey to Jupiter’s icy moon aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket built by SpaceX. NASA will pay SpaceX $178 million to launch the vehicle in October 2024.

The Europa Clipper got the green light from NASA in 2015. It will fly by the moon 45 times, providing researchers with a tantalizing look at the icy world, believed to have an ocean lurking under its icy crust. The Clipper is equipped with instruments that will help scientists figure out if the moon could support life.

For years, the Clipper was legally obligated to launch on NASA’s long-delayed Space Launch System (SLS). But with the SLS perpetually delayed and over budget, NASA has urged Congress to consider allowing the Europa Clipper to fly commercial. Switching to another vehicle could save up to $1 billion, NASA’s inspector general said in 2019.

NASA got permission to consider commercial alternatives to the SLS in the 2021 budget, and started officially looking for a commercial alternative soon after.

The SLS has powerful allies in Congress, who have kept the costly program alive for years, even as it blew past budgets and deadlines. The first flight of the SLS was originally supposed to happen in 2017. That mission — launching an uncrewed trip around the Moon — has since been pushed to November 2021, and keeping to that new schedule remains “highly unlikely” according to NASA’s Office of Inspector General, a watchdog agency.

SpaceX first launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018, and started flying satellites in 2019. Earlier this year, NASA selected the rocket as the ride to space for two parts of a planned space station orbiting the Moon.

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