Palaeontologists at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) have uncovered the remains of a huge new fossil species belonging to an extinct animal group in half-a-billion-year-old Cambrian rocks from Kootenay National Park in the Canadian Rockies. The findings were announced on September 8, 2021, in a study published in Royal Society Open Science.
Named Titanokorys gainesi, this new species is remarkable for its size. With an estimated total length of half a meter, Titanokorys was a giant compared to most animals that lived in the seas at that time, most of which barely reached the size of a pinky finger.
“The sheer size of this animal is absolutely mind-boggling, this is one of the biggest animals from the Cambrian period ever found,” says Jean-Bernard Caron, ROM’s Richard M. Ivey Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology.
Evolutionarily speaking, Titanokorys belongs to a group of primitive arthropods called radiodonts. The most iconic representative of this group is the streamlined predator Anomalocaris, which may itself have approached a metre in length. Like all radiodonts, Titanokorys had multifaceted eyes, a pineapple slice-shaped, tooth-lined mouth, a pair of spiny claws below its head to capture prey and a body with a series of flaps for swimming. Within this group, some species also possessed large, conspicuous head carapaces, with Titanokorys being one of the largest ever known.
“Titanokorys is part of a subgroup of radiodonts, called hurdiids, characterized by an incredibly long head covered by a three-part carapace that took on myriad shapes. The head is so long relative to the body that these animals are really little more than swimming heads,” added Joe Moysiuk, co-author of the study, and a ROM-based Ph.D. student in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto.
Why some radiodonts evolved such a bewildering array of head carapace shapes and sizes is still poorly understood and was likely driven by a variety of factors, but the broad flattened carapace form in Titanokorys suggests this species was adapted to life near the seafloor.
“These enigmatic animals certainly had a big impact on Cambrian seafloor ecosystems. Their limbs at the front looked like multiple stacked rakes and would have been very efficient at bringing anything they captured in their tiny spines towards the mouth. The huge dorsal carapace might have functioned like a plough,” added Dr. Caron, who is also an Associate Professor in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Earth Sciences at the University of Toronto, and Moysiuk’s Ph.D. advisor.
All fossils in this study were collected around Marble Canyon in northern Kootenay National Park by successive ROM expeditions. Discovered less than a decade ago, this area has yielded a great variety of Burgess Shale animals dating back to the Cambrian period, including a smaller, more abundant relative of Titanokorys named Cambroraster falcatusin reference to its Millennium Falcon-shaped head carapace. According to the authors, the two species might have competed for similar bottom-dwelling prey.
The Burgess Shale fossil sites are located within Yoho and Kootenay National Parks and are managed by Parks Canada. Parks Canada is proud to work with leading scientific researchers to expand knowledge and understanding of this key period of earth history and to share these sites with the world through award-winning guided hikes. The Burgess Shale was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 due to its outstanding universal value and is now part of the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site.
The discovery of Titanokorys gainesi was profiled in the CBC’s The Nature of Things episode “First Animals.” These and other Burgess Shale specimens will be showcased in a new gallery at ROM, the Willner Madge Gallery, Dawn of Life, opening in December 2021.
900-year-old Chinese supernova mystery points to strange nebula – Space.com
In the year 1181 AD, a new bright point of light as luminous as the planet Saturn appeared to Chinese and Japanese skygazers for a little more than six months before disappearing. Hundreds of years later, researchers believe they have finally found the source of this mysterious appearance.
The event, like the famous Crab Nebula-forming stellar explosion of 1054, is one of just a handful of bright nearby flashes noted in historical records, but unlike the Crab Nebula, the 1181 spectacle was tricky to pin down.
The historical record leaves a few clues that have been useful to modern astronomers. First, the timing: this “guest star” shined for 185 days, from Aug. 6, 1181, to Feb. 6, 1182. The record also indicates its place in the sky, which was a spot located between two Chinese constellations, Chuanshe and Huagai, near the modern Cassiopeia.
These cosmic puzzle pieces led a research team to the ancient flash’s likely culprit: a supernova whose remnants now form a fast-expanding nebula called Pa30. The nebula’s clouds move so quickly that, in the new research, scientists from Hong Kong, the U.K., Spain, Hungary and France found that Pa30’s dust and gas could travel the distance from Earth to the moon in a whopping five minutes. By using that speed and calculating backward, the researchers determined that the nebula would fit a supernova that exploded around 1181.
The team found that Pa30 formed from a rare and relatively faint type of supernova, called a ‘Type Iax supernova.’ “Only around 10% of supernovae are of this type and they are not well understood. The fact that SN1181 was faint but faded very slowly fits this type,” Albert Zijlstra, an astrophysicist at the University of Manchester in the U.K., said in a statement about the new research.
Scientists also found that Parker’s star, one of the hottest stars in the Milky Way, is also a likely counterpart to the supernova. The nebula and the star are thought to be the result of a massive collision and subsequent merger of two dim stellar corpses known as white dwarfs.
“This is the only Type Iax supernova where detailed studies of the remnant star and nebula are possible,” Ziljlstra added. “It is nice to be able to solve both a historical and an astronomical mystery.”
The study was published on Wednesday (Sept. 15) in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Follow Doris Elin Urrutia on Twitter @salazar_elin. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
SpaceX's tourist crew 'healthy, happy and resting' – Phys.org
SpaceX’s all-civilian Inspiration4 crew are “healthy, happy and resting comfortably,” the company said Thursday in its first update since the pioneering mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral the night before.
The four American space tourists “traveled 5.5 times around Earth, completed their first round of scientific research, and enjoyed a couple of meals” before going to bed, Elon Musk’s company said.
Musk tweeted that he had personally spoken with the crew and “all is well.”
After waking up, they will get their first look out of the Dragon ship’s cupola—a large observation dome that has been fitted onto the vessel for the first time, in place of a docking mechanism.
Billionaire Jared Isaacman, physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, geoscientist Sian Proctor and aerospace data engineer Chris Sembroski are orbiting the globe at an altitude that at times reaches 590 kilometers (367 miles).
That is deeper in space than the International Space Station, which orbits at 420 kilometers (260 miles), and the furthest any astronauts have ventured from our planet since a 2009 maintenance mission for the Hubble telescope.
The mission aims to raise $200 million for St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and study the biological effects of deep space on the astronauts’ bodies.
The space adventure bookends a summer marked by the battle of the billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to reach the final frontier.
But these flights only offered a few minutes of weightlessness—rather than the three full days of orbit the Inspiration4 crew will experience, before splashing down off the coast of Florida on Saturday.
© 2021 AFP
SpaceX’s tourist crew ‘healthy, happy and resting’ (2021, September 16)
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A 900-year-old cosmic mystery has been solved by astronomers – CTV News
The mystery behind the origins of a supernova first spotted by 12th-century Chinese and Japanese astronomers has been solved, according to an international team of 21st-century astronomers.
New research, published Wednesday in The Astrophysical Journal, has linked astronomical reports from more than 800 years ago with a faint, fast-expanding nebula surrounding Parker’s Star, one of the hottest stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
The nebula, dubbed Pa30, fits the profile, location and age of the supernova, which was originally documented in 1181 AD.
“The historical reports place the guest star between two Chinese constellations, Chuanshe and Huagai,” Albert Zijlstra, astrophysics professor at the University of Manchester, said in a news release. “Parker’s Star fits the position well. That means both the age and location fit with the events of 1181.”
The first astronomers to lay eyes on the supernova, referred to as SN 1181, described it being as bright as the planet Saturn and remaining visible for six months, the authors of the study said.
Previous research has suggested Parker’s Star and the Pa30 nebula may be the result of the merging of two white dwarf stars. Such events are thought to lead to a rare and faint type of supernova called a “Type Iax” supernova.
“Only around 10 per cent of supernovae are of this type and they are not well understood. The fact that SN 1181 was faint but faded very slowly fits this type,” Zijlstra said. “It is the only such event where we can study both the remnant nebula and the merged star, and also have a description of the explosion itself.”
The key to unlocking the mystery of this historical supernova was the discovery that the Pa30 nebula is expanding at a velocity of more than 1,100 kilometres per second. From this, researchers were able to calculate the nebula’s age to be around 1,000 years old, which coincides with the events of 1181 AD.
“Combining all this information such as the age, location, event brightness and historically recorded 185-day duration, indicates that Parker’s Star and Pa30 are the counterparts of SN 1181,” Zijlstra said. “This is the only Type Iax supernova where detailed studies of the remnant star and nebula are possible.”
There have been five supernovae in the Milky Way in past millennium, and up until now, SN 1181 was the only one whose origins remained unknown.
“It is nice to be able to solve both a historical and an astronomical mystery,” Zijlstra said.
The team of astronomers who made the discovery hail from Hong Kong, the U.K., Spain, Hungary and France.
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