Connect with us

Science

Hubble telescope delivers stunning 30th birthday picture – BBC News

Published

on


It’s 30 years ago to the day that the Hubble telescope was launched – and to celebrate its birthday, the veteran observatory has produced another astonishing image of the cosmos.

This one is of a star-forming region close to our Milky Way Galaxy, about 163,000 light-years from Earth.

The larger object is the nebula NGC 2014; its companion is called NGC 2020.

But astronomers have nicknamed the scene the “Cosmic Reef” because it resembles an undersea world.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Famously blighted by blurred vision at the outset of its mission in 1990, Hubble was eventually repaired and upgraded.

The remarkable pictures it has taken of planets, stars, and galaxies have transformed our view of the cosmos.

Indeed, there are those who think Hubble is the most important scientific tool ever built.

It’s still far from retirement.

The US space agency (Nasa), which runs the observatory in partnership with the European Space Agency (Esa), says operations will be funded for as long as they remain productive.

Last year, its data resulted in almost 1,000 scientific papers being published – so it continues to stand at the forefront of discovery.

The BBC is broadcasting a special programme called: Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed. It goes out at 2100 BST on BBC Two. It contains some fascinating visualisations. Read about how they were made here.

Engineers obviously keep a watching brief on the health of Hubble’s various systems. Pleasingly, all four instruments onboard – the two imagers and two spectrographs – work at full tilt.

In the past, the telescope’s Achilles heel has been the six gyroscopes that help turn and point the facility, maintaining a rock-steady gaze at targets on the sky.

These devices have periodically failed down the years, and during their final servicing mission in 2009 space shuttle astronauts were tasked with replacing all six.

Three have subsequently shut down again, but Nasa project scientist Dr Jennifer Wiseman says this is not yet an issue for serious concern.

“Nominally, we need three gyroscopes, but we can operate on just one due to the ingenuity of the engineers,” she asserted.

There’s a quiet confidence that Hubble can keep working well into the 2020s. Its supposed “successor” – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – is due for launch next year, but the presence in orbit of this more modern observatory will in truth merely just extend capability; it won’t make Hubble redundant.

That’s because the new facility has been designed to see the cosmos at longer wavelengths of light than Hubble. The duo will be complementary and will on occasion actually pursue targets together to get a fuller perspective.

This is an exciting prospect for astronomers everywhere – but especially for those in Europe where Hubble has been such a rewarding endeavour, says Esa project scientist Dr Antonella Nota.

“From the memorandum of understanding there was a guarantee that European astronomers would get 15% of observing time for the duration of the mission. If I look back at how much time European astronomers got – on average it’s 22%. And it is a peer-reviewed process so we never needed to put a finger on the scales. European astronomers are creative; they’re smart; they’re doing leading-edge science,” she told BBC News.

What has Hubble contributed to science?

It’s a bit of a cliche, but Hubble has truly been a “discovery machine”.

Before the telescope launched in 1990, astronomers didn’t know whether the Universe was 10 billion years old or 20 billion years old.

Hubble’s survey of pulsating stars narrowed the uncertainty, and we now know the age extremely well, at 13.8 billion.

The observatory played a central role in revealing the accelerating expansion of the cosmos – a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough – and it provided the definitive evidence for the existence of super-massive black holes at the centre of galaxies.

It’s amazing to think that when Hubble launched, scientists had yet to detect the first exoplanet, the name given to a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. Today, Hubble is pioneering the study of these far-off worlds, examining their atmospheres to try to gauge their nature.

And although the sparkling eight-metre-class ground-based telescopes can now match – and even exceed – Hubble’s skill in certain fields of study, the space telescope remains peerless in going super-deep.

Its so-called Deep Field observations in which it stared at a small patch of sky for days on end to identify the existence of very distant, extremely faint galaxies is one of the towering achievements in astronomy.

These studies have shown us what the Universe was like just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Only JWST, with its finely-tuned infrared detectors, will go deeper still.

Kathryn Sullivan was one of the astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery when it released Hubble into its 612km-high orbit on 25 April, 1990 – a day she recounts in a recent book, Handprints On Hubble.

“Hubble’s scientific impact has just been immense. But what I had not really appreciated until I started writing my book was the extent to which Hubble – because of its gorgeous images and their mind-bending implications – has really permeated popular culture,” she told BBC News.

“I see Hubble on the side of U-Haul (rental) trailers, on tattoos, on lunchboxes, on shirts, in advertisements, almost ubiquitously.

“And I think part of that is down to Hubble coming into service just as the internet was becoming the thing we now know it to be.

“That’s put the pictures right in front of people.”

Hubble: The Wonders of Space Revealed is broadcast on BBC Two at 2100 BST on 24 April.

Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – Lethbridge News Now

Published

on


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

— Follow at @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – CANOE

Published

on


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 reconstructing 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 afterwards.

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% 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.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Science

Armour-Plated Dinosaur's Last Meal Found Beautifully Preserved, 110 Million Years Later – ScienceAlert

Published

on


The last meal of a huge armour-plated dinosaur has been found 110 million years later, still in its fossilised belly, in what is now northern Alberta.

First described in 2017, this thorny, 1,300-kilogram nodosaur (some 2,800 pounds) unearthed in 2011, is said to contain the best-preserved dinosaur stomach found to date.

After five years of careful work, exposing the dinosaur within the marine rock, the soccer-ball sized mass in tummy has now bestowed us with the first definitive glimpse into what large, plant-eating dinosaurs once munched on all those millennia ago.

“When people see this stunning fossil and are told that we know what its last meal was because its stomach was so well preserved inside the skeleton, it will almost bring the beast back to life for them, providing a glimpse of how the animal actually carried out its daily activities, where it lived, and what its preferred food was,” says geologist Jim Basinger from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada.

That’s something we’ve never really known about any herbivorous dinosaur. While this dinosaur represents just one species of one ankylosaur family – known as Borealopelta markmitchelli and without the archetypal ‘club’ tail of its closest relatives – it could help us better understand dinosaur digestion and physiology, especially since ankylosaurs are found on every continent, including Antarctica.

Some might even remember these dinosaurs from their brief cameo in the animated Land Before Time, in which the lumbering character Kosh does little more than munch on fruit and contentedly belch. In real life, however, some families of ankylosaurs might be pickier and prefer their vegetables.

Just before the Borealopelta in Alberta kicked the bucket and was washed out to sea, perhaps by a flood, scientists say it was nomming on stems, twigs and particular species of fern, while largely ignoring conifer and cycad leaves, which were abundant at the time.

In fact, of all the chewed leaf material found in its guts, 88 percent were deemed fern leaves and just 7 percent were stems and twigs.

“When we examined thin sections of the stomach contents under a microscope, we were shocked to see beautifully preserved and concentrated plant material,” says biologist David Greenwood from Brandon University in Canada.

“In marine rocks we almost never see such superb preservation of leaves, including the microscopic, spore-producing sporangia of ferns.”

Altogether, the team found 50 types of plant microfossils, including six types of moss or liverwort, a wide variety of ferns, several types of conifers, and two flowering plants.

Among the edible contents, researchers also found gizzard stones – deliberately swallowed rocks animals ingest to help with the digestion of tough materials (crocodiles and seals do this, for example).

But perhaps the most intriguing discovery was the presence of burnt vegetation, which may have been eaten by accident, or potentially on purpose.

“[T]here is considerable charcoal in the stomach from burnt plant fragments, indicating that the animal was browsing in a recently burned area and was taking advantage of a recent fire and the flush of ferns that frequently emerges on a burned landscape,” says Greenwood.

“This adaptation to a fire ecology is new information.”

If that interpretation is correct, this would represent the earliest evidence of large-bodied herbivores capitalising on the regrowth of vegetation after a fire. And while that might sound incredibly niche, this affects a lot of other life on Earth.

Today, across modern ecosystems, large herbivores are thought to be crucial to the landscapes they occupy. In fact, they are often termed ‘keystone’ species because they help support the ecosystem at large.

“Like large herbivores alive today, such as moose and deer, and elephants in Africa, these nodosaurs by their feeding would have shaped the vegetation on the landscape, possibly maintaining more open areas by their grazing,” explains Greenwood.

The researchers are pretty sure the exceptionally preserved dinosaur died soon after its last meal, but whether or not that meal is indicative of what other herbivorous dinosaurs of its time ate remains unclear.

This is, after all, only a single specimen, and its diet may not reflect the typical or average diet of either the individual or the taxon.

Especially when you consider this dinosaur is thought to have died in late spring to mid-summer, and diet is often tied to seasonal changes and landscape variation in food availability.

“These caveats aside,” the authors write, “these data do represent the best available direct evidence of diet in an herbivorous non-avian dinosaur.”

The chances of us finding something like this again are extremely rare.

The fossilised stomach is now on display alongside the dinosaur’s skeleton at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta.

The study was published in Royal Society Open Science (link not yet live at time of publishing).

Let’s block ads! (Why?)



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending