By Will Dunham
(Reuters) – A vast trove of fossils unearthed in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region is offering the oldest-known evidence that some dinosaurs thrived in a complex and well-organized herd structure, with adults caring for the young and sharing a communal nesting ground.
Scientists said on Thursday the fossils include more than 100 dinosaur eggs and the bones of about 80 juveniles and adults of a Jurassic Period plant-eating species called Mussaurus patagonicus, including 20 remarkably complete skeletons. The animals experienced a mass-death event, probably caused by a drought, and their bodies were subsequently buried by wind-blown dust, the researchers said.
“It is a pretty dramatic scene from 193 million years ago that was frozen in time,” said paleontologist Diego Pol of the Egidio Feruglio Paleontological Museum in Trelew, Argentina, who led the research published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Mussaurus, which grew to about 20 feet (6 meters) long and about 1.5 tons, possessed a long neck and tail, with a small head. It was bipedal as an adult but newborns were quadrupedal. Mussaurus lived early in the Jurassic, the second of three periods comprising the age of dinosaurs. It was a relatively large beast for its time – much bigger than contemporaneous meat-eating dinosaurs. Dinosaurs became true giants later in the Jurassic.
“The site is one of a kind,” Pol said. “It preserves a dinosaur nesting ground including delicate and tiny dinosaur skeletons as well as eggs with embryos inside. The specimens we have found showed that herd behavior was present in long-necked dinosaurs since their early history. These were social animals, and we think this may be an important factor to explain their success.”
The animals were found to have been grouped by age at the time of their deaths, with hatchlings and eggs in one area while skeletons of juveniles were clustered nearby. The eggs were arranged in layers within trenches. Adults were found alone or in pairs.
This phenomenon, called “age segregation,” signals a complex social structure, the researchers said, including adults that foraged for meals and cared for the young. The researchers suspect that members of the herd returned to the same spot during successive seasons to form breeding colonies.
“The young were staying with the adults at least until they reached adulthood. It could be that they stayed in the same herd after reaching adulthood, but we don’t have information to corroborate that hypothesis,” said paleontologist and study co-author Vincent Fernandez of the Natural History Museum in London.
Herd behavior also can protect young and vulnerable individuals from attack by predators.
“It’s a strategy for the survival of a species,” Fernandez said.
The oldest previous evidence for dinosaur herd behavior was from about 150 million years ago.
The nesting ground was situated on the dry margins of a lake featuring ferns and conifers in a warm but seasonal climate. The eggs are about the size of a chicken’s, and the skeleton of a hatchling fits in the palm of a human hand. The adults got as heavy as a hippo.
A scanning method called high-resolution X-ray computed tomography confirmed that the embryos inside the eggs indeed were of Mussaurus.
Mussaurus was a type of dinosaur called a sauropodomorph, which represented the first great success story among herbivorous dinosaurs. Sauropodomorphs were an evolutionary forerunner to a group called sauropods known for long necks and tails and four pillar-like legs.
The largest land animals in Earth’s history were the sauropod successors of sauropodomorphs, as exemplified by a later denizen of Patagonia called Argentinosaurus that reached perhaps 118 feet (36 meters) in length and upwards of 70 tons.
(Reporting by Will Dunham in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
The International Space Station just swerved to avoid space junk – Deseret News
- “Five minutes ago, the ISS avoided a conjunction with the U.S. space debris, the Pegasus carrier rocket remnants,” Rogozin said, per the report.
- According to Sky News, the mission control specialists “calculated how to correct the orbit” of the 100-meter wide space station to protect it from the collision.
- The engines of Russia’s expendable Progress cargo spacecraft, which is currently docked on the station, will be used to boost the station 1.2 km higher, per the report.
Earlier this week, NASA postponed a spacewalk, originally planned for Tuesday, when it received a space debris warning from ISS.
- “Due to lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available,” the agency said via Twitter.
NASA received a debris notification for the space station. Due to the lack of opportunity to properly assess the risk it could pose to the astronauts, teams have decided to delay the Nov. 30 spacewalk until more information is available. https://t.co/HJCXFWBd3Y pic.twitter.com/swj5hqusSo
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) November 30, 2021
According to Sky News, NASA tracks more than 23,000 pieces of space junk, though there is much more debris too small to track but large enough to threaten human spaceflight.
And these debris travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph. “Even tiny paint flecks can damage a spacecraft when traveling at these velocities,” said NASA.
Newly Discovered Dinosaur Had A Unique Weaponized Tail – IFLScience
A newly discovered species of ankylosaur protected itself from predators with a tail weapon that is unlike anything in the paleontological record. Indeed, in an effort to describe it, the best comparison dinosaur describers could find was the Mesoamerican war club, the macuahuitl. The advantages and disadvantages of this slashing blade compared to the spikes and maces developed by other armored dinosaurs remain a mystery, but the discovery proves Gondwanan Cretaceous species were in need of as much protection as their northern hemisphere counterparts.
Faced with the fearsome predators of the era, many herbivorous dinosaurs found armor insufficient developing tails that could do serious damage to the shins, and possibly soft underbellies, of anything that tried to eat them. Some may have also found these useful in mating conflicts with their own species.
Having failed to develop a more scientific term, paleontologists adopted the name “the thagomizer” after a Gary Larson cartoon. A paper in Nature describes a newly identified late Cretaceous ankylosaur from Chile, whose defining feature is its thagomizer, which even the paper’s headline calls “bizarre”.
The discovery is different enough from anything known it needs a new genus, and the authors have called it Stegouros, which confusingly has nothing to do with the famous Stegosauruses. The name comes from the Greek words for “roof” and “tail”; Stegouros lived 80 million years later and on the other side of the world from its near namesake. The species name is elengassen.
Only one Stegouros fossil has been found – another major contrast to the common Stegosaurus – but that one is almost complete. At 180-200 centimeters (6-7 foot) long, tail included, it is believed to have been fully grown.
The tail was relatively short by the standards of armored dinosaurs and ended in seven pairs of flat bony deposits that form a shape somewhat like a fern frond, for those unfamiliar with ancient Aztec weaponry. It could probably slice deep into any perceived threats.
S. elengassen had a skull and teeth similar to other ankylosaurs, including the much more common representatives in the northern hemisphere. The rest of its body, however, looks like a throwback to earlier times, including some features that do indeed resemble stegosauruses.
S. elengassen was found in a layer dated between 74.9-71.7 million years old from Magellanes as the southern tip of Chile. The site was a delta at the time in which many dinosaurs and other animals were trapped. At the time South America was still connected to Antarctica and Australia as part of the supercontinent Gondwana. It’s nearest known relatives appear to be the larger Antarctopelta and Australia’s Kunbarrasaurus, but Stegouros had several noticeable differences from each. The authors propose a new clade called Parankylosauria (“next to the ankylosaurs”) to combine these. ““The Parankylosauria lack many features of the ‘true’ ankylosaurs that were already present in the middle Jurassic, about 165 million years ago. Therefore, the roots of Parankylosauria must be very old , before that date ” said Dr Alexander Vargas of the University of Chile said in a statement.
The authors still believe ankylosaurs were genuinely less common in the southern hemisphere than in the north, but our limited knowledge of the Gondwana species also partially reflects the amount of exploration done there. No dinosaurs from Chile were described before 2011, Stegouros is the fourth in ten years.
Although they may not have been common, the fact the southern hemisphere ankylosaurs represented a line that stretched back almost 100 million years suggests tanks of the animal kingdom might still be around today, were it not for a meddling asteroid.
Total solar eclipse: How and where to watch – CTV News
For a few brief moments on Saturday, things will go dark in Antarctica as a total solar eclipse crosses over.
According to NASA, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow onto Earth. When this happens it fully or partially blocks light from the sun in some areas.
NASA said on Saturday, some people in the southern hemisphere will be able to experience a total or partial eclipse of the sun. For parts of the world where the eclipse won’t be visible, such as Canada, NASA will live stream the event if the weather allows.
“For a total solar eclipse to take place, the sun, moon and earth must be in a direct line,” the NASA website reads.
The agency says people located in the centre of the moon’s shadow when it hits Earth will see a total eclipse. This time, that will be people in Antarctica.
The agency said the sky will become very dark, “as if it were dawn or dusk.”
According to NASA, depending on the weather, those in the path of a total solar eclipse may also be able to see the sun’s corona or outer atmosphere “which is otherwise usually obscured by the bright face of the sun.”
While people outside of Antarctica won’t be able to see a total solar eclipse, some may still see a “partial” solar eclipse.
This occurs when the sun, moon and Earth are “not exactly lined up,” NASA said.
When this happens the sun will look like it has a dark shadow on a part of its surface.
According to NASA, people in parts of Saint Helena, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, South Georgia, and Sandwich Islands, Crozet Islands, Falkland Islands, Chile, New Zealand and Australia will be able to see a partial eclipse.
“In many of these locations, the eclipse will occur before, during, and after sunrise or sunset,” the website reads. “This means that viewers will need to get a clear view of the horizon during sunrise or sunset in order to see the eclipse.”
Astronaut Chris Hadfield shared a photo on Twitter, showing which areas can expect to see what during the eclipse.
Time and Date has also released an interactive eclipse map, where viewers can type in their location to determine what they will be able to see, and when.
In order to safely view the eclipse, NASA said solar viewing glasses — not regular sunglasses — or a pinhole projector must be used.
“It is never safe to look directly at the sun,” the website reads. “Even if the sun is partly or mostly obscured.”
HOW TO WATCH IN CANADA
For those who won’t be able to see the eclipse in-person, NASA said it will be livestreaming the event on its website and YouTube channel, weather permitting.
The agency said the event will begin at 1:30 a.m. EDT, with totality expected at 2:44 a.m. EST.
If you can’t stay up that late, you’re in luck.
While these events don’t happen that often, NASA said in October 2023, an annular solar eclipse will cross North America, and a total solar eclipse is expected to cross the continent on April of 2024.
This story has been updated to reflect that a pinhole projector, not a pinwheel projector should be used to safely view solar eclipses.
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