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New ‘reaper of death’ tyrannosaur is the oldest found in Canada

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Thanatotheristes degrootorum, seen in this artist’s impression, is the first new tyrannosaur species named in Canada in 50 years. (Submitted by Julius Csotonyi)

 

A new species of tyrannosaur — the oldest ever found in Canada — has been discovered in Alberta.

Thanatotheristes degrootorum was as long as two cars lined up bumper to bumper and would have towered over an adult human. It stood about 2.4 metres tall at the hips, said Jared Voris, a University of Calgary PhD candidate who led the research identifying it as a new species.

The animal would have been a fearsome predator 79 million years ago during the late Cretaceous period, likely preying on herbivores such as the horned dinosaur Xenoceratops and the dome-headed dinosaur Colepiocephale.

Those are the only two other dinosaur species identified from the same location — a fossil site called the Foremost Formation — and the same period of time. At the time, it was coastal plain with swampy areas near an inland sea called the Western Interior Seaway that extended from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

Researchers who discover a new species have the privilege of naming it, so Voris canvassed his colleagues for suggestions.

The winner for the first part of the new dinosaur’s name translates roughly to “reaper of death” — coming from the Greek god of death Thanatos and the Greek word “theristes,” which means “reaper” or “harvester.” It was suggested by Amanda Hendrix, a master’s student in the same research group, which is led by Prof. Darla Zelenitsky, who co-authored the study.

“This animal would have absolutely been an imposing creature in the ecosystem that it lived in and it would very likely have been the apex predator,” Voris said. “It was really nice to have some sort of name that encapsulated that kind of behaviour.”

 

Darla Zelenitsky, Jared Voris and Francois Therrien, co-authors of the study, pose with the actual fossils of the species. (Submitted by Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology)

 

Found by members of the public

The second part of the animal’s name honours the two ranchers who discovered the fossil, John and Sandra De Groot of Hays, Alta., as they were walking along the shoreline of the Bow River in 2010. They alerted the Royal Tyrell Museum, which labelled the partial jaws and teeth as belonging to a tyrannosaur and filed it to the appropriate drawer in their collection.

About eight years later, Voris came across it while doing research on a different species of tyrannosaur, Gorgosaurus, during his master’s degree.

He noticed that it came from a rock formation where no tyrannosaurs had been positively identified before. On closer examination, he realized it was like no other tyrannosaur he had ever seen.

“I started to realize, ‘Well, this could actually be a new species,'” Voris said.

 

An artist’s impression shows how the new species of tyrannosaur discovered in southern Alberta, might have looked. (Submitted by Julius Csotonyi)

 

It’s the first new tyrannosaur species found in Canada in 50 years.

One of the unique features that helped prove that was some unusual ridges on the specimen’s upper jaw. Those helped identify a second, very broken specimen found by Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrell Museum, another co-author, in 2018.

The researchers published their description of the new species Monday in the Journal of Cretaceous Research.

Unfortunately, there weren’t a lot of bones to go on — mostly fragments of its jaws with broken teeth. By looking at the impressions on both sides of the rock it came from, it appears the skull was originally intact, Voris said.

Sadly, it appears the entire skull fell out of the riverbank, and most of the bones were washed away before the De Groots stumbled upon what was left.

Rare find

Still, it’s a lucky find, Zelenitsky said. It is only the third dinosaur species identified in southern Alberta from this time period, and the first top predator.

“They were relatively rare in the ecosystems,” she said. In the Cretaceous, as now, there were far more herbivores than predators. “These were probably only a few per cent of the animals.”

Finding one helps build a picture of what the ecosystem was like in southern Alberta at this time, she said.

 

There wasn’t much fossil material from the new tyrannosaur to study — mostly parts of its jaws and broken teeth. (Submitted by Jared Voris)

 

Thanatotheristes is most closely related to the other tyrannosaurs found in Alberta and northern Montana about 2.5 million years later, Gorgosaurus and Daspletosaurus, and quite different from tyrannosaurs found in the southern U.S. in the same time period.

The most well-known tyrannosaur, T. rex, lived around 11 million years after Thanatotheristes. At the time that Thanatotheristes roamed, T. rex’s closest relatives were still in Asia.

Voris and Zelenitsky both think there are more Thanatotheristes specimens out there, and hope to find more complete specimens.

“One of my goals now is to see if we can find more of another individual and see how to see exactly how different it is from some of the other tyrannosaurs in Alberta,” Voris said. “I have a hunch that it might be pretty different.”

The research team hopes to do some more exploration in the Foremost Formation.

While only three dinosaur species have been identified there, lots of teeth hint at unidentified species of bird-like and duck-billed dinosaurs, Voris said.

“There’s just a whole bunch of new discoveries waiting to be made.”

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Russian actor, director arrive back on earth from ISS – Euronews

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A Soyuz space capsule carrying a cosmonaut and two Russian filmmakers has returned to Earth after leaving the International Space Station (ISS) earlier on Sunday.

The capsule landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan carrying Russian actor Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko, who returned to Earth after filming scenes for the world’s first movie in orbit – a project the Kremlin said would help burnish the nation’s space glory.

Peresild and Shipenko rocketed into orbit in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on October 5 for a 12-day stint on the station to film segments of the movie titled “Challenge,” in which a surgeon played by Peresild rushes to the space station to save a crew member who needs an urgent operation in orbit.

The pair returned to Earth on Sunday with another Russian cosmonaut, Oleg Novitskiy, who also stars as the ailing cosmonaut in the movie.

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VIDEO: NASA’s asteroid hunter Lucy soars into sky with diamonds – Abbotsford News

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A NASA spacecraft named Lucy rocketed into the sky with diamonds Saturday morning on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.

Seven of the mysterious space rocks are among swarms of asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit, thought to be the pristine leftovers of planetary formation.

An Atlas V rocket blasted off before dawn, sending Lucy on a roundabout journey spanning nearly 4 billion miles (6.3 billion kilometers). Researchers grew emotional describing the successful launch — lead scientist Hal Levison said it was like witnessing the birth of a child. “Go Lucy!” he urged.

Lucy is named after the 3.2 million-year-old skeletal remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia nearly a half-century ago. That discovery got its name from the 1967 Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” prompting NASA to send the spacecraft soaring with band members’ lyrics and other luminaries’ words of wisdom imprinted on a plaque. The spacecraft also carried a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its science instruments.

In a prerecorded video for NASA, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr paid tribute to his late colleague John Lennon, credited for writing the song that inspired all this.

“I’m so excited — Lucy is going back in the sky with diamonds. Johnny will love that,” Starr said. “Anyway, if you meet anyone up there, Lucy, give them peace and love from me.”

The paleoanthropologist behind the fossil Lucy discovery, Donald Johanson, had goose bumps watching Lucy soar — “I will never look at Jupiter the same … absolutely mind-expanding.” He said he was filled with wonder about this “intersection of our past, our present and our future.”

“That a human ancestor who lived so long ago stimulated a mission which promises to add valuable information about the formation of our solar system is incredibly exciting,” said Johanson, of Arizona State University, who traveled to Cape Canaveral for his first rocket launch.

Lucy’s $981 million mission is the first to aim for Jupiter’s so-called Trojan entourage: thousands — if not millions — of asteroids that share the gas giant’s expansive orbit around the sun. Some of the Trojan asteroids precede Jupiter in its orbit, while others trail it.

Despite their orbits, the Trojans are far from the planet and mostly scattered far from each other. So there’s essentially zero chance of Lucy getting clobbered by one as it swoops past its targets, said Levison of Southwest Research Institute, the mission’s principal scientist.

Lucy will swing past Earth next October and again in 2024 to get enough gravitational oomph to make it all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit. On the way there, the spacecraft will zip past asteroid Donaldjohanson between Mars and Jupiter. The aptly named rock will serve as a 2025 warm-up act for the science instruments.

Drawing power from two huge circular solar wings, Lucy will chase down five asteroids in the leading pack of Trojans in the late 2020s. The spacecraft will then zoom back toward Earth for another gravity assist in 2030. That will send Lucy back out to the trailing Trojan cluster, where it will zip past the final two targets in 2033 for a record-setting eight asteroids visited in a single mission.

It’s a complicated, circuitous path that had NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, shaking his head at first. “You’ve got to be kidding. This is possible?” he recalled asking.

Lucy will pass within 600 miles (965 kilometers) of each target; the biggest one is about 70 miles (113 kilometers) across.

“Are there mountains? Valleys? Pits? Mesas? Who knows? I’m sure we’re going to be surprised,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Hal Weaver, who’s in charge of Lucy’s black-and-white camera. “But we can hardly wait to see what … images will reveal about these fossils from the formation of the solar system.”

NASA plans to launch another mission next month to test whether humans might be able to alter an asteroid’s orbit — practice in case Earth ever has a killer rock headed this way.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press


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Russian actor and director making first movie in space return to Earth after 12-day mission

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A Russian actor and a film director making the first move film in space returned to Earth on Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soyuz MS-18  Space capsule carrying Russian ISS crew member Oleg Novitskiy, Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko landed in a remote area outside the western Kazakhstan at 07:35 a.m. (0435 GMT), the Russian space agency Roscosmos said.

The crew had dedocked from the ISS three hours earlier.

Russian State TV footage showed the reentry capsule descending under its parachute above the vast Kazakh steppe, followed by ground personnel assisting the smiling crew as they emerged from the capsule.

However, Peresild, who is best known for her role in the 2015 film “Battle for Sevastopol”, said she had been sorry to leave the ISS.

“I’m in a bit of a sad mood today,” the 37-year-old actor told Russian Channel One after the landing.

“That’s because it had seemed that 12 days was such a long period of time, but when it was all over, I didn’t want to bid farewell,” she said.

Last week 90-year-old U.S. actor William Shatner – Captain James Kirk of “Star Trek” fame – became the oldest person in space aboard a rocketship flown by billionaire Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin.

Peresild and Shipenko have been sent to Russian Star City, the home of Russia’s space programme on the outskirts of Moscow for their post-flight recovery which will take about a week, Roscosmos said.

 

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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