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Dinosaurs grew feathers differently from birds, fossil of a 'dancing dragon' shows – The Japan Times

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An exquisite fossil of a fierce little Chinese dinosaur dubbed the “dancing dragon” that lived 120 million years ago — an older cousin of the Velociraptor — is showing scientists that feathers grew differently on dinosaurs than on birds.

The two-legged Cretaceous Period dinosaur, called Wulong bohaiensis, was a bantamweight meat-eater — a bit bigger than a crow — residing in a lakeside environment, researchers said. It possessed a scaly face, a mouth full of pointy teeth and one particularly dangerous toe claw, and probably hunted small mammals, lizards, birds and fish.

Wulong’s fossil, unearthed in Liaoning Province in northeastern China, includes a complete skeleton as well as soft tissues like feathers rarely preserved in such detail. Its long arms and legs each had sets of feathers that looked similar to those on bird wings, while most of the rest of its body was covered by fluffy filaments.

At the end of its long, bony tail — fused into a stiff rod — were two very long feathers.

“The specimen of Wulong is a gorgeous fossil. With the feathers and claws, I think it would have been beautiful and just a little bit scary. I’d love to see one alive,” said San Diego Natural History Museum paleontologist Ashley Poust, who led the research, published in the Anatomical Record journal.

“I don’t think we know yet how it used its feathers,” Poust said. “It seems likely that they helped with temperature regulation and signaling to other animals, but what this would have looked like and how much these functions mattered remains unclear.”

Birds evolved from small feathered dinosaurs roughly 150 million years ago. But there were many feathered dinosaurs that did not fly, like Wulong. Scientists are eager to understand the plumage differences between birds and these feathered dinosaurs.

A close examination of bones showed this Wulong individual was about a year old, a juvenile still growing.

“Living birds shoot up to adult size very quickly, mainly as a way of getting strong enough to fly as soon as they can. But they may delay getting their adult feathers for a long time. Gulls, for example, don’t look like adults for three or four years even though they learn to fly in only three months,” Poust said.

The young Wulong appeared to have an adult’s plumage.

“Here is an animal that has all kinds of signals of being a juvenile, outside its bones, inside its bones, in its joints,” Poust said. “And it has long, isolated plumes extending from its already-very-long tail. This is quite different from living birds and tells us that these decorative feathers preceded adulthood in dinosaurs. Of course, perhaps they’re using these feathers in a very different way from living birds, too.”

Wulong means “dancing dragon,” so named because of its fossilized skeleton’s active-looking pose. It belongs to a group of meat-eaters called dromaeosaurs, which also includes Velociraptor. That dinosaur lived 75 million years ago in Mongolia and appears in the “Jurassic Park” films.

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Stargazer in Italy spots NASA's DART asteroid impact probe in night sky after launch – Space.com

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An Italian telescope captured NASA’s asteroid-smashing mission shortly after its launch into space this week. 

A new image and video, taken by the Elena telescope located in Ceccano, Italy, shows NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, also known as DART, separated from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket which launched the spacecraft from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Tuesday (Nov. 23 PST, or early Nov. 24 EST) . The mission sent DART on a 10-month-long journey to a binary asteroid system called Didymos

Both DART and the booster can be seen in this image (above), which was taken remotely with a single 30-second exposure, astronomer Gianluca Masi said in a statement. Masi runs the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0, which includes the Elena telescope.

The image was taken remotely 10 hours after DART lifted off, Masi said.

Related: NASA’s DART asteroid-impact mission explained in pictures

NASA’s DART spacecraft and a Falcon 9 second stage booster that launched it can be seen as two small dots at the center of this image capture a few hours after the mission’s launch. (Image credit: The Virtual Telescope Project)

The robotic Elena telescope automatically tracked DART and the booster, both of which are visible at the center of the image as bright dots. The short white lines surrounding those two dots are stars in the background. When the image was taken, DART was about 93,000 miles (150,000 kilometers) from Earth, about half the distance between our planet and the moon, Masi said. 

In addition to the static image, the telescope also captured a short video sequence, which shows the separated second-stage booster blinking. This blinking, Masi said, is caused by the booster spinning. 

The pioneering DART mission will conduct a first-of-its-kind test that will show if and how a spacecraft can change the path of an asteroid by smashing into it. In September of next year, the spacecraft will ram into a 525-foot-wide (160 meters) asteroid “moonlet” known as Dimorphos, which orbits the larger space rock Didymos. The goal of the experiment is to alter Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos, shortening it by several minutes, to prove that such an intervention could divert the trajectory of a large asteroid if, in the future, one were to be on a path that threatened planet Earth.

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DART also carries a small cubesat called LICIACube, from Italy’s space agency, which will be released 10 days ahead of DART’s self-destructive impact and film the aftermath of the crash. 

In 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) will also send a larger surveyor spacecraft called Hera to the asteroid system that will analyze the crater and gather data about Didymos’ and Dimorphos’ physical structure and chemical composition. By then, astronomers will have known whether DART deflected Dimorphos, thanks to ground-based observations. 

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

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Russia’s new module on ISS to offer docking opportunity for foreign spacecraft in future – TASS

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KOROLYOV /Moscow Region/, November 26. /TASS/. NASA and Roscosmos have begun talks on harmonizing technical standards of Crew Dragon spaceships with the Russian module and Russian spacecraft with the US segment on the International Space Station (ISS), Roscosmos Chief Dmitry Rogozin said at the Flight Control Center on Friday.

“NASA and Roscosmos have launched talks on harmonizing technical standards that will allow not only Crew Dragon or Russian spaceships to dock with the American segment but, in general, this docking is possible and will require an adapter,” Rogozin said, replying to a question about whether US spacecraft would be able to dock to Russia’s new Prichal nodal module.

The Prichal module’s docking completed the formation of the ISS Russian segment, the Roscosmos chief said.

The Prichal nodal module will also serve as a prototype for similar modules for the future Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS) that will be the ‘joints’ of its space body, Rogozin said.

“This is one of the most important prototypes for creating the ROSS whose architecture will differ from the ISS. It should employ the principle of eternal service life: modules that use up their potential will be detached from the station and it will be augmented in a different direction with the help of such nodal modules that will serve as some joints of a new and large metal design engineering body,” Rogozin said.

A Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket with the Progress M-UM space freighter and the Prichal nodal module blasted off from Launch Pad No. 31 (‘Vostok’) of the Baikonur spaceport to the orbital outpost at 16:06 Moscow time on November 24. The flight to the orbital outpost took two days. The Prichal module docked with the Russian Nauka research lab on November 26.

The new module will boost the capabilities of Russian spaceships, including the latest Oryol spacecraft, to dock with the ISS. Overall, the new module will have five docking ports. The first docking of a manned spacecraft with the Prichal module is scheduled for March 18.

The spacecraft-module also delivered about 700 kg of various cargo to the ISS, including equipment and consumables, water purification, medical control including sanitary and hygienic supplies, maintenance and repair tools, as well as standard food rations for the 66th Main Expedition crew.

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Italy and France sign agreement on space launchers

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 Italy and France clinched an accord on Friday to strengthen their cooperation on space launchers as part of a broader bilateral treaty.

Among the goals laid out in the bilateral treaty were pledges to reinforce military connections, including at an industrial level, and work together in the space sector.

The two countries agreed to work together on liquid and solid propulsion and press ahead with the development of launchers Ariane 6 and Vega C, Italy’s innovation minister and France’s economy minister said in a joint press release.

Launchers are the second largest area of space-manufacturing activity in Europe after commercial satellites, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

For the development of Ariane 6, ESA is working with more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, led by prime contractor ArianeGroup, which is a joint venture of Airbus and Safran.

ESA is overseeing procurement and the architecture of the overall Vega-C launch system, while industry is building the rocket with Italy’s Avio as prime contractor.

 

(Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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