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 recontructing 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 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
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Check out the skies to see the brightest comet in the past 30 years – CBC.ca
There’s a new comet streaking across our skies this month — one that won’t return for thousands of years.
Comet NEOWISE, one of the brightest comets of the last 30 years, can be seen through binoculars in the early mornings, before daylight, in the eastern sky.
By early next week the comet will be in the western sky and you’ll be able to see it with the naked eye in the evening after dark.
“It’s the perfect classic comet,” Samantha Lawler, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Regina, told The Morning Edition‘s Stefani Langenegger.
“It just had its closest approach to the sun a few days ago so it’s melting nicely and putting on a very good show for us,” Lawler said.
“You can see the brighter nucleus of the comet, which is the icy ball that is melting close to the sun. And you can see a tail coming off of it. [The tail] is made up of dust and icy particles that are basically melting off of the comet and blowing off into space, so it’s really beautiful.”
Comet NEOWISE was named for the space telescope that discovered it on March 27.
Its orbit around the sun takes a few thousand years.
The last really bright comet that we could see was Comet Hale-Bopp in 1995.
Lawler’s research focuses on the orbit of small icy bodies in our solar system.
“Comets, they’re sort of leftovers from when our planets first formed, so they tell us a lot about how our solar system was put together.”
Lawler said Friday morning looks like it will be clear and Venus is at its brightest, making for a good time to get up early to see the comet.
“Find Venus and then look to the north a couple of fists, if you hold your fist out at arm’s length.”
To find Comet NEOWISE next week, Lawler said to look just below the bowl of the Big Dipper around 10:30 or 11 p.m.
“You should be able to see it without binoculars,” she said, adding, “It still just takes my breath away to see a comet with my own eyes. It’s amazing.”
To get the best views Lawler suggests getting out from the city lights.
“Try to get outside town a little ways to a nice dark spot and it should be spectacular.”
Comet NEOWISE will make its closest approach to Earth on July 22 at a distance of 103 million kilometres.
The comet should continue to brighten, though there is a chance that as it rounds the sun and warms it could break apart.
“It could continue getting brighter and more spectacular over the next couple of weeks or it might disintegrate,” Lawler said.
How Local Photographer Captured These Stunning Images Of Comet NEOWISE In Skies Over Peterborough – PTBOCanada
Comet NEOWISE has been lighting up the early morning skies around the globe this month and Peterborough photographer Jay Callaghan was up bright and early on Thursday (July 9th) to capture it.
Currently NEOWISE is roughly 141 million kilometres from Earth and is gradually making its way closer to our planet as each day passes. The best time locally to see the comet has been in the early morning hours before sunrise, so in the wee hours, around 3:30 a.m., Jay was out capturing stunning images from the top of Armour Hill of the comet as well a great shot over Little Lake with the planet Venus to the right.
“Locating the comet can be a bit of a challenge but with use of websites dedicated to the comet, such as The Sky Live as well as Sky Map app for Android phones, I was able to pinpoint when and where the comet would be when it rose at 2:59 a.m. this morning,” Callaghan tells PTBOCanada.
”Once the location is known, it was easy to find the comet and even see it with the naked eye,” he adds. “The humidity on the horizon made it a bit difficult to see at first but the camera had no issue capturing it.”
Callaghan, known for his beautiful pictures of the outdoors and wildlife in the area and for tweeting—and stormchasing—about the weather locally, used a Canon 80D and Sigma 18-35 and 70-200 lens to take the comet photos.
“The shots ranged in exposure times of anywhere from 1-6 seconds depending on the amount of light as well as other settings on the camera (ISO, aperture, etc),” he tells PTBOCanada.
For those interested in viewing the comet, here’s what Callaghan recommends:
-> As the comet gets closer to earth, the chances of seeing it after sunset will increase but unfortunately, at this time, it appears that the magnitude (or brightness) of the comet looks to be getting lower so the sooner you can get out to see it the better.
-> Make sure to visit the The Sky Live website, enter in your location and keep an eye on the rise and set times of the comet, as well as what constellation it will be residing in, for a chance to catch a glimpse.
-> Your best bet is to get away from city lights and don’t forget the binoculars and camera.
-> The comet will make its closest approach to Earth on July 23rd when it will be approximately 103 million kilometres away and then will slowly disappear from our view.
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CBC Edmonton puts your COVID-19 questions to Dr. Mark Joffe of Alberta Health Services – CBC.ca
It’s been more than 16 weeks since Alberta was plunged into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sixteen long weeks, from early spring into early summer. For many of us, that’s 16 weeks of work-from-home, school-from-home, shop-from-home — and sometimes, worry-from-home.
Restrictions are easing and there’s a semblance of a return to the way things were. But as this week’s outbreak at Edmonton’s Misericordia Community Hospital shows us, COVID-19 is still very much a threatening presence for Albertans.
Join us here at 11 a.m. MT as Edmonton News at 6 host Nancy Carlson puts your questions about COVID to Dr. Mark Joffe, an Alberta Health Services vice-president and medical director for northern Alberta.
To submit questions, tune into the broadcast on the CBC Edmonton Facebook page.
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