Scientists had nicknamed it “The Thing” — a mysterious football-sized fossil discovered in Antarctica that sat in a Chilean museum awaiting someone who could work out just what it was.
Now, analysis has revealed that the mystery fossil is in fact a soft-shelled egg, the largest ever found, laid some 68 million years ago, possibly by a type of extinct sea snake or lizard.
The revelation ends nearly a decade of speculation about the fossil, and could change thinking about the lives of marine creatures in this era, said Lucas Legendre, lead author of a paper detailing the findings, published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
“It is very rare to find fossil soft-shelled eggs that are that well-preserved,” Legendre, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, told AFP.
“This new egg is by far the largest soft-shelled egg ever discovered. We did not know that these eggs could reach such an enormous size, and since we hypothesise it was laid by a giant marine reptile, it might also be a unique glimpse into the reproductive strategy of these animals,” he said.
The fossil was discovered in 2011 by a group of Chilean scientists working in Antarctica. It looks a bit like a crumpled baked potato but measures a whopping 11 by seven inches — 28 by 18 centimetres.
For years, visiting scientists examined the fossil in vain, until in 2018 a paleontologist suggested it might be an egg.
A MAMMOTH FIND
It wasn’t the most obvious hypothesis given its size and appearance, and there was no skeleton inside to confirm it.
Analysis of sections of the fossil revealed “a layered structure similar to a soft membrane, and a much thinner hard outer layer, suggesting it was soft-shelled,” Legendre said.
“This was also confirmed by chemical analyses, which showed that the eggshell is distinct from the sediment around it, and was originally a living tissue.”
But that left other mysteries to unravel, including what animal laid such an enormous egg — only one bigger has been found, produced by the now-extinct elephant bird from Madagascar.
The team believe this egg wasn’t from a dinosaur — the types living in Antarctica at the time were mostly too small to have produced such a mammoth egg, and the ones large enough laid spherical, rather than oval-shaped, ones.
Instead they believe it came from a kind of reptile, possibly a group known as mosasaurs, which were common in the region.
Bolstering this theory, the egg was found at a site where skeletons of baby Mosasaurs and other marine reptiles called Plesiosaurs have been found.
SOFT-SHELLED DINOSAUR EGGS
The paper was published in Nature along a separate study that argues that it wasn’t only ancient reptiles that laid soft-shell eggs — dinosaurs did too.
For many years, experts have believed dinosaurs only laid hard-shelled eggs, based on those found in the fossil record.
But Mark Norell, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, said the discovery of a group of fossilised embryonic Protoceratops dinosaurs in Mongolia made him revisit the assumption.
“Why do we only find dinosaur eggs relatively late in the Mesozoic and why only in a couple groups of dinosaurs,” he said he asked himself.
“And why have we not found ceratopsian egg shells, since ceratopsian dinosaurs are the most common animals at many sites in Asia and North America, which preserve dinosaur eggs?”
The answer, he theorised, was that early dinosaurs laid soft-shell eggs that were destroyed and not fossilised.
To test the theory, Norell and a team analysed the material around some of the Protoceratops skeletons in the fossil and another fossil of two apparently newborn Mussaurus.
They found chemical signatures showing the dinosaurs would have been surrounded by soft, leathery eggshells.
“The first dinosaur egg was soft-shelled,” Norell and his team conclude in the paper.
How To See Comet NEOWISE, Earth’s Most Spectacular Comet Since 2007 – Forbes
Every once in a while, large, icy objects pass through the inner Solar System.
When they near the Sun, the ices sublimate, emitting volatile gases.
Both dust and ions are blown off, creating spectacular cometary tails.
From Earth, these comets typically appear brightest during closest approach.
Bright, naked-eye comets are rare, with 1997’s Hale-Bopp serving as our most recent “great comet.”
Since then, only 2007’s Comet McNaught was comparable, primarily to southern hemisphere observers.
But in July of 2020, Comet NEOWISE will put on Earth’s greatest cometary show in 13 years.
With a 6,800 year orbital period, it last appeared before the wheel was invented.
On July 3, 2020, it reached perihelion, surviving a perilous encounter with the Sun.
Since then, it’s graced our pre-dawn skies, but relative motion changes everything.
On July 12/13, 2020, Comet NEOWISE finally becomes visible after sunset.
Although it’s brighter than all but around 20 stars, its extended, diffuse nature makes it a challenge for human eyes.
It’s easiest to first locate with binoculars, below the Big Dipper in the northwest skies.
It will peak on July 23: reaching its closest approach to Earth.
For many skywatchers, it’s already humanity’s best comet since 1997.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.
SpaceX rocket set to smash NASA Space Shuttle reuse record – Teslarati
A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster is on track to smash an orbital-class rocket reuse record set by a NASA Space Shuttle orbiter in 1985 – and in more ways than one.
On July 11th, SpaceX announced that Falcon 9 booster B1058 had successfully completed a static fire ignition test a few days prior to its second launch. Built by Airbus, South Korea’s ANASIS II military communications satellite is based on a bus that means it should weigh somewhere between 4600 and 6400 kg (~10,000-14,000 lb). Even in a recoverable configuration, Falcon 9 should be more than capable of launching that satellite into a healthy geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), where ANASIS II will use its own built-in propulsion systems to reach a circular geostationary orbit (GEO) and begin operations.
While ANASIS II is undeniably significant in its own right as South Korea’s first dedicated military communications satellite, much of the mission’s public focus has shifted to the Falcon 9 rocket SpaceX plans to reuse on it.
In October 1985, Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off from Pad 39A on its inaugural orbital launch, spending four days in space before returning to Earth at Edwards Air Force Base. Just 54 days later, the very same Space Shuttle orbiter lifted off from Pad 39A again, setting a record for orbital-class launch vehicle turnaround that still stands today. It would be the second-to-last Space Shuttle launch and landing before the fatal Challenger disaster less than two months later.
Almost 35 years later, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is on the cusp of crushing Space Shuttle Atlantis’ record turnaround by as many as nine days (20%) if booster B1058 launches as planned between 5pm and 9pm EDT (21:00-01:00 UTC) on July 14th. SpaceX has had that NASA record within reach for roughly two years, so the fact that Falcon 9 is about to snag it doesn’t come as a huge surprise.
By far the most impressive aspect of Falcon 9’s imminent record is the comparison between the resources behind Space Shuttle Atlantis’ 54-day turnaround and Falcon 9 booster B1058’s ~44-day turnaround. Around the time NASA and Atlantis set the Shuttle’s longstanding record, some 5000-10000 full-time employees were tasked with refurbishing Space Shuttles and the facilities (and launch pads) that supported them. Based on retrospective analyses done after the STS program’s end in 2011, the average Space Shuttle launch (accounting for the vast infrastructure behind the scenes) ultimately wound up costing more than $1.5 billion per launch – more than the Saturn V rocket the Shuttle theoretically replaced.
According to a uniquely detailed May 2020 AviationWeek interview with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Falcon 9 booster turnaround may cost as little as $1 million apiece and can be managed from start to finish by several dozen employees at most. In other words, even though SpaceX boosters are suborbital and stressed quite a bit less than orbital Space Shuttles, Falcon 9 reuse is approximately a thousandfold more efficient that Space Shuttle reuse.
Somewhat ironically, ANASIS II likely wound up launching on Falcon 9 because Lockheed Martin was unable to built the satellite itself at the price it promised South Korea. Lockheed Martin originally designed and operated the Atlas V rocket before joining Boeing as to form the United Launch Alliance (ULA). ANASIS II exists because Lockheed Martin essentially had to sweeten the deal for a 2014 South Korean purchase of an additional 40 F-35 Lightning II aircraft valued at some ~$7 billion.
Regardless, the mission should hopefully see South Korea gain its first dedicated military communications satellite and set Falcon 9 booster B1058 up for a long and productive career of 5-10 more launches over the next few years.
Check out Teslarati’s newsletters for prompt updates, on-the-ground perspectives, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.
Researchers spotted something strange in space and can't explain it – lintelligencer
Researchers have spotted a new class of radio objects in space that has never been documented before.
Known as ‘Odd Radio Circles’ or ORC, it’s believed they may be coming from a mysterious structure from another galaxy, unseen by human eyes.
The waves take the form of blasts of colourful circular objects, which were pinpointed by cameras during a survey by the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope (ASKA).
Despite searching for an optical, infrared, or X-ray source to the pulses, none could be traced, leaving experts baffled.
Researchers have concluded it is a never before recorded phenomenon, a review in Nature Astronomy reports.
The results of the extraordinary study are still to be peer-reviewed but offer a tantalising glimpse of a deep space mystery that could one day yield answers about the mysteries of the universe.
Researchers zoomed in on the objects during a survey of the universe using the ASKA.
After three snaps of the mysterious ORCS were captured they were compared to the existing archive and found to match a similar radio wave structure located in March 2013.
The authors of the study note radio images are normally sphere space objects – like remnants of dying stars as well as proto-planetary discs
These new ORCs by contrast “appear to be a new class of astronomical objects” they said.
A team of Astrophysicists write: ” We have found an unexpected class of astronomical objects which have not previously been reported, in the Evolutionary Map of the Universe Pilot survey, using the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope.
“The objects appear in radio images as circular edge-brightened discs about one arcmin diameter, and do not seem to correspond to any known type of object.
“We speculate that they may represent a spherical shock wave from an extra-galactic transient event, or the outflow, or a remnant, from a radio galaxy viewed end-on.
“Assumed to be not in any way connected with a supernova remnant—the structure left over after a massive star burst, it was deemed as a possible result of a spherical shock wave arising from galactic winds.
“While this is a theoretical possibility, such a shock has not yet been observed elsewhere.”
They added it is possible the strange discs represent a new category of a previously unknown phenomenon, “such as the jets of a radio galaxy”.
It is not the first time weird radio signals are speculated to be coming from another galaxy. In February Fast radio bursts were documented at the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) in British Columbia.
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