Fossils paint the picture of gorilla-sized penguins that once roamed New Zealand
Fifty million years ago, New Zealand was home to penguins that stood as tall as humans and weighed as much as adult gorillas.
Scientists have discovered fossils of the largest penguin known to date, thought to have weighed between 148 and 160 kilograms (300 and 340 pounds).
“It totally blew me away the first time I saw it,” lead study author Daniel Ksepka told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. “This thing was gigantic. It makes an emperor penguin look kind of like a little tiny robin.”
In a new study published in the Journal of Paleontology, scientists identified two new species of penguins based on fossils embedded in rocky formations on the Otago beaches of New Zealand’s South Island: Kumimanu fordycei and Petradyptes stonehousei.
Both species are thought to have existed around 55 to 59 million years ago during the Paleocene era.
Researchers compared the fossils to the bones of 20 modern penguin species to learn more about the ancient water birds. “We probably would recognize it as a penguin, but it would have been quite distinct from the little fellows we see in zoos and aquariums today,” said Ksepka, who is a curator at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Conn.
Only a couple of bones belonging to the giant K. fordycei — named after New Zealand paleontologist Ewan Fordyce — were discovered. But they were enough to give researchers a clue about its appearance.
“We measured hundreds of penguin bones from modern species to try to estimate the body mass [of the ancient penguins]. And we arrived at a total of about 340 pounds, which is just kind of mind-blowing. I mean, imagine a penguin the size of a gorilla,” Ksepka said.
Emperor penguins, the largest species alive today, weigh about 40 kilograms (90 pounds) which makes K. fordycei nearly four times heavier.
The smaller of the two newly discovered species P. stonehousei — named after biologist Bernard Stonehouse — also outweighs the modern emperor penguin, weighing in at 50 kilograms.
Mystery of the vanishing penguin giants
According to Ksepka, the Paleocene birds’ flippers more closely resembled the wings of flying birds, which made them less efficient swimmers than their modern counterparts. But their impressive size would have helped them dive deeper and keep warm in the water for longer periods of time.
But being gorilla-sized also came with disadvantages. “If resources are scarce, a smaller penguin will be able to get a day’s meal much easier than a gigantic species,” Ksepka said.
This is our best guess at height for Kumimanu fordycei (we have a good mass regression, but height is tricky without any leg bones so we did not estimate it in the paper). These cutouts will be available for selfies when we open the <a href=”https://twitter.com/thebrucemuseum?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@thebrucemuseum</a> Penguins exhibit this spring! <a href=”https://t.co/ajRiYFCHGH”>pic.twitter.com/ajRiYFCHGH</a>
He points to resource competition as a likely reason why penguins today are much smaller. Fossil records point to giant penguins starting to vanish around 15 million years ago, the time when pinnipeds like seals and sea lions were spreading widely throughout the southern hemisphere.
“They could be competing for food. They could be bothering the penguins — eating them is one very good way to bother them. But also monopolizing breeding grounds,” Ksepka said.
“You imagine one of these giant penguins trying to lay eggs and then, all of a sudden, two elephant seals are fighting over territory and just crushing everything around them.”
There’s still much to learn about the giant Paleocene penguins. Scientists haven’t found the skulls of either of K. fordycei or P. stonehousei, so they can only guess what their heads would have looked like based on previously discovered bones of penguin species in the same era.
But one thing is certain for Ksepka. “These would have been a breathtaking sight when they were alive,” he said.
Written and produced by Olsy Sorokina.
NASA’S JWST measures the temperature of a rocky exoplanet – Tech Explorist
An international team of researchers has used the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope to measure the temperature of the rocky exoplanet TRAPPIST-1 b. The measurement is based on the planet’s thermal emission: heat energy given off in the form of infrared light detected by Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). The result indicates that the planet’s dayside has a temperature of about 500 kelvins (roughly 230°C), and suggests that it has no significant atmosphere. This is the first detection of any form of light emitted by an exoplanet as small and as cool as the rocky planets in our own solar system. The result marks an important step in determining whether planets orbiting small active stars like TRAPPIST-1 can sustain atmospheres needed to support life. It also bodes well for Webb’s ability to characterise temperate, Earth-sized exoplanets using MIRI.
“These observations really take advantage of Webb’s mid-infrared capability,” said Thomas Greene, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center and lead author on the study published today in the journal Nature. “No previous telescopes have had the sensitivity to measure such dim mid-infrared light.”
Rocky planets orbiting ultra cool red dwarfs
In early 2017, astronomers reported the discovery of seven rocky planets orbiting an ultracool red dwarf star (or M dwarf) 40 light-years from Earth. What is remarkable about the planets is their similarity in size and mass to the inner, rocky planets of our own solar system. Although they all orbit much closer to their star than any of our planets orbit the Sun – all could fit comfortably within the orbit of Mercury – they receive comparable amounts of energy from their tiny star.
TRAPPIST-1 b, the innermost planet, has an orbital distance about one hundredth that of Earth’s and receives about four times the amount of energy that Earth gets from the Sun. Although it is not within the system’s habitable zone, observations of the planet can provide important information about its sibling planets, as well as those of other M-dwarf systems.
“There are ten times as many of these stars in the Milky Way as there are stars like the Sun, and they are twice as likely to have rocky planets as stars like the Sun,” explained Greene. “But they are also very active – they are very bright when they’re young and they give off flares and X-rays that can wipe out an atmosphere.”
Co-author Elsa Ducrot from CEA in France, who was on the team that conducted the initial studies of the TRAPPIST-1 system, added, “It’s easier to characterise terrestrial planets around smaller, cooler stars. If we want to understand habitability around M stars, the TRAPPIST-1 system is a great laboratory. These are the best targets we have for looking at the atmospheres of rocky planets.”
Detecting an atmosphere (or not)
Previous observations of TRAPPIST-1 b with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, as well as NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, found no evidence for a puffy atmosphere, but were not able to rule out a dense one.
One way to reduce the uncertainty is to measure the planet’s temperature. “This planet is tidally locked, with one side facing the star at all times and the other in permanent darkness,” said Pierre-Olivier Lagage from CEA, a co-author on the paper. “If it has an atmosphere to circulate and redistribute the heat, the dayside will be cooler than if there is no atmosphere.”
The team used a technique called secondary eclipse photometry, in which MIRI measured the change in brightness from the system as the planet moved behind the star. Although TRAPPIST-1 b is not hot enough to give off its own visible light, it does have an infrared glow. By subtracting the brightness of the star on its own (during the secondary eclipse) from the brightness of the star and planet combined, they were able to successfully calculate how much infrared light is being given off by the planet.
Measuring minuscule changes in brightness
Webb’s detection of a secondary eclipse is itself a major milestone. With the star more than 1,000 times brighter than the planet, the change in brightness is less than 0.1%.
“There was also some fear that we’d miss the eclipse. The planets all tug on each other, so the orbits are not perfect,” said Taylor Bell, the post-doctoral researcher at the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute who analysed the data. “But it was just amazing: The time of the eclipse that we saw in the data matched the predicted time within a couple of minutes.”
Analysis of data from five separate secondary eclipse observations indicates that TRAPPIST-1 b has a dayside temperature of about 500 kelvins, or roughly 230°C. The team thinks the most likely interpretation is that the planet does not have an atmosphere.
“We compared the results to computer models showing what the temperature should be in different scenarios,” explained Ducrot. “The results are almost perfectly consistent with a blackbody made of bare rock and no atmosphere to circulate the heat. We also didn’t see any signs of light being absorbed by carbon dioxide, which would be apparent in these measurements.”
This research was conducted as part of Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) program 1177, which is one of eight approved GTO and General Observer (GO) programs designed to help fully characterise the TRAPPIST-1 system. Additional secondary eclipse observations of TRAPPIST-1 b are currently in progress, and now that they know how good the data can be, the team hopes to eventually capture a full phase curve showing the change in brightness over the entire orbit. This will allow them to see how the temperature changes from the day to the nightside and confirm if the planet has an atmosphere or not.
“There was one target that I dreamed of having,” said Lagage, who worked on the development of the MIRI instrument for more than two decades. “And it was this one. This is the first time we can detect the emission from a rocky, temperate planet. It’s a really important step in the story of discovering exoplanets.”
How to watch 5 planets in rare celestial event tonight – The Indian Express
This is not a true planetary alignment where they will appear in a straight line, but NASA scientist Bill Cooke told CBS News that the planets will be visible on March 28 and that the “alignment: will look “very pretty.”
How to watch the 5 planets
While the five planets should technically be visible along with the waxing crescent moon in most parts of the world, you will not be able to see it unless you are in a location with an unobstructed view of the horizon.
According to Rick Feinberg, senior contributing editor at Sky & Telescope magazine, Venus and Mars should be easy to spot. Venus is the brightest planet in the solar system and will be high in the sky, and Mars will shine brightly next to the waxing Moon. But on the other hand, Uranus, which will appear near Venus, will appear faint and will only be visible next.
“Wait until the sun has set and then go out and look low in that bright part of the sky where the sun has just set with binoculars, and you should see brighter Jupiter next to fainter Mercury,” said Fienberg to NPR.
In order to get the best view of this rare celestial event, go to a location with as little light pollution as possible and a clear horizon with not obstructions. Once there, you should be able to spot most planets, apart from Jupiter and Mercury, without the use of binoculars.
Is this a rare event?
While tonight is not an everyday event, it is not truly a five-planet alignment since the planets will not appear as if they form a single straight line.
If you were looking for an actual alignment of five planets, that time has passed. A true 5 planet alignment happened in June last year when Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn stretched across the sky from low in the east to higher in the south in the order of their distance from the Sun.
Even discounting the rare coincidence where they appeared in that particular order, the planetary alignment in June was the first one in nearly eighteen years, with the last time being on December 2004. Such an event is not expected to happen again until 2040, according to NPR.
Uncrewed Russian spacecraft that leaked coolant lands safely – CTV News
A Russian space capsule safely returned to Earth without a crew Tuesday, months after it suffered a coolant leak in orbit.
The Soyuz MS-22 leaked coolant in December while attached to the International Space Station. Russian space officials blamed the leak on a tiny meteoroid that punctured the craft’s external radiator. They launched an empty replacement capsule last month to serve as a lifeboat for the crew.
The damaged capsule safely landed Tuesday under a striped parachute in the steppes of Kazakhstan, touching down as scheduled at 5:45 p.m. (7:45 a.m. EDT) 147 kilometres (91 miles) southeast of Zhezkazgan under clear blue skies.
Space officials determined it would be too risky to bring NASA’s Frank Rubio and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin back in the Soyuz in March as originally planned, as cabin temperatures would spike with no coolant, potentially damaging computers and other equipment, and exposing the suited-up crew to excessive heat.
The three launched in September for what should have been a six-month mission on the International Space Station. They now are scheduled to return to Earth in September in a new Soyuz that arrived at the space outpost last month with no one on board, meaning the trio will spend a year in orbit.
Also on the station are NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, the United Arab Emirates’ Sultan Alneyadi, and Russia’s Andrey Fedyaev.
A similar coolant leak was spotted in February on the Russian Progress MS-21 cargo ship docked at the space outpost, raising suspicions of a manufacturing flaw. Russian state space corporation Roscosmos ruled out any defects after a check and concluded that both incidents resulted from hits by meteoroids.
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