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Researchers discover oldest material on Earth inside Australian meteorite – Global News

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A meteorite that crashed into rural southeastern Australia in a fireball in 1969 contained the oldest material ever found on Earth, stardust that predated the formation of our solar system by billions of years, scientists said on Monday.

The oldest of 40 tiny dust grains trapped inside the meteorite fragments retrieved around the town of Murchison in Victoria state dated from about 7 billion years ago, about 2.5 billion years before the sun, Earth and rest of our solar system formed, the researchers said.


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August meteorite likely fell near Camrose, say scientists hunting for space rock

In fact, all of the dust specks analyzed in the research came from before the solar system’s formation – thus known as “presolar grains” – with 60 per cent of them between 4.6 and 4.9 billion years old and the oldest 10 per cent dating to more than 5.6 billion years ago.

The stardust represented time capsules dating to before the solar system. The age distribution of the dust – many of the grains were concentrated at particular time intervals – provided clues about the rate of star formation in the Milky Way galaxy, the researchers said, hinting at bursts of stellar births rather than a constant rate.

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“I find this extremely exciting,” said Philipp Heck, an associate curator at the Field Museum in Chicago who led the research published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Despite having worked on the Murchison meteorite and presolar grains for almost 20 years, I still am fascinated that we can study the history of our galaxy with a rock,” Heck added.






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U of A scientists hunting for meteorite that likely fell near Camrose


U of A scientists hunting for meteorite that likely fell near Camrose

The grains are small, measuring from 2 to 30 micrometers in size. A micrometer is a one-thousandth of a millimeter or about 0.000039 of an inch.

Stardust forms in the material ejected from stars and carried by stellar winds, getting blown into interstellar space. During the solar system’s birth, this dust was incorporated into everything that formed including the planets and the sun but survived intact until now only in asteroids and comets.

The researchers detected the tiny grains inside the meteorite by crushing fragments of the rock and then segregating the component parts in a paste they described as smelling like rotten peanut butter.

Scientists have developed a method to determine stardust’s age. Dust grains floating through space get bombarded by high-energy particles called cosmic rays. These rays break down atoms in the grain into fragments, such as carbon into helium.


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These fragments accumulate over time and their production rate is rather constant. The longer the exposure time to cosmic rays, the more fragments accumulate. The researchers counted these fragments in the laboratory, enabling them to calculate the stardust’s age.

Scientists previously had found a presolar grain in the Murchison meteorite that was about 5.5 billion years old, until now the oldest-known solid material on Earth. The oldest-known minerals that formed on Earth are found in rock from Australia‘s Jack Hills that formed 4.4 billion years ago, 100 million years after the planet formed.

© 2020 Reuters

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Fermenting ferns? Rare dinosaur stomach fossil opens door to ancient world – The Observer

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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.

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“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 recontructing 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 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

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Western Canadian scientists discover what an armoured dinosaur ate for its last meal – Yorkton This Week

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More than 110 million years ago, a lumbering 1,300-kilogram, armour-plated dinosaur ate its last meal, died, and was washed out to sea in what is now northern Alberta. This ancient beast then sank onto its thorny back, churning up mud in the seabed that entombed it—until its fossilized body was discovered in a mine near Fort McMurray in 2011.  

Since then, researchers at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alta., Brandon University (BU), and the University of Saskatchewan (USask) have been working to unlock the extremely well-preserved nodosaur’s many secrets—including what this large armoured dinosaur (a type of ankylosaur) actually ate for its last meal.  

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“The finding of the actual preserved stomach contents from a dinosaur is extraordinarily rare, and this stomach recovered from the mummified nodosaur by the museum team is by far the best-preserved dinosaur stomach ever found to date,” said USask geologist Jim Basinger, a member of the team that analyzed the dinosaur’s stomach contents, a distinct mass about the size of a soccer ball. 

“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.”  

There has been lots of speculation about what dinosaurs ate, but very little known. In a just-published article in Royal Society Open Science, the team led by Royal Tyrrell Museum palaeontologist Caleb Brown and Brandon University biologist David Greenwood provides detailed and definitive evidence of the diet of large, plant-eating dinosaurs—something that has not been known conclusively for any herbivorous dinosaur until now. 

“This new study changes what we know about the diet of large herbivorous dinosaurs,” said Brown. “Our findings are also remarkable for what they can tell us about the animal’s interaction with its environment, details we don’t usually get just from the dinosaur skeleton.” 

Previous studies had shown evidence of seeds and twigs in the gut, but these studies offered no information as to the kinds of plants that had been eaten. While tooth and jaw shape, plant availability and digestibility have fuelled considerable speculation, the specific plants herbivorous dinosaurs consumed has been largely a mystery. 

So what was the last meal of Borealopelta markmitchelli (which means “northern shield” and recognizes Mark Mitchell, the museum technician who spent more than five years carefully exposing the skin and bones of the dinosaur from the fossilized marine rock)? 

“The last meal of our dinosaur was mostly fern leaves—88 per cent chewed leaf material and seven per cent stems and twigs,” said Greenwood, who is also a USask adjunct professor.  

“When we examined thin sections of the stomach contents under a microscope, we were shocked to see beautifully preserved and concentrated plant material. In marine rocks we almost never see such superb preservation of leaves, including the microscopic, spore-producing sporangia of ferns.” 

Team members Basinger, Greenwood and BU graduate student Jessica Kalyniuk compared the stomach contents with food plants known to be available from the study of fossil leaves from the same period in the region. They found that the dinosaur was a picky eater, choosing to eat particular ferns (leptosporangiate, the largest group of ferns today) over others, and not eating many cycad and conifer leaves common to the Early Cretaceous landscape.  

Specifically, the team identified 48 palynomorphs (microfossils like pollen and spores) including moss or liverwort, 26 clubmosses and ferns, 13 gymnosperms (mostly conifers), and two angiosperms (flowering plants). 

“Also, there 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,” said Greenwood. 

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

The team also found gastroliths, or gizzard stones, generally swallowed by animals such as herbivorous dinosaurs and today’s birds such as geese, to aid digestion.  

“We also know that based on how well-preserved both the plant fragments and animal itself are, the animal’s death and burial must have followed shortly after the last meal,” said Brown. “Plants give us a much better idea of season than animals, and they indicate that the last meal and the animal’s death and burial all happened in the late spring to mid-summer.” 

“Taken together, these findings enable us to make inferences about the ecology of the animal, including how selective it was in choosing which plants to eat and how it may have exploited forest fire regrowth. It will also assist in understanding of dinosaur digestion and physiology.” 

Borealopelta markmitchelli, discovered during mining operations at the Suncor Millennium open pit mine north of Fort McMurray, has been on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum since 2017. The main chunk of the stomach mass is on display with the skeleton. 

Other members of the team include museum scientists Donald Henderson and Dennis Braman, and BU research associate and USask alumna Cathy Greenwood.  

Research continues on Borealopelta markmitchelli—the best fossil of a nodosaur ever found—to learn more about its environment and behaviour while it was alive. Kalyniuk is currently expanding her work on fossil plants of this age to better understand the composition of the forests in which it lived. Many of the fossils she will examine are in Basinger’s collections at USask. 

The research was funded by Canada Foundation for Innovation, Research Manitoba, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, National Geographic Society, Royal Tyrrell Museum Cooperating Society, and Suncor Canada, as well as in-kind support from Olympus Canada. 

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What Is It Really Like To Watch A SpaceX Launch Live, In Person – InsideEVs

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX, which makes and sells aftermarket Tesla accessories. The opinions expressed therein are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs, nor have we been paid by EVANNEX to publish these articles. We find the company’s perspective as an aftermarket supplier of Tesla accessories interesting and are willing to share its content free of charge. Enjoy!

Posted on EVANNEX on June 03, 2020 by Eli Burton

Traveling to the Space Coast to watch a rocket launch isn’t your normal vacation. My trip to Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to see the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch began over a month ago.

Photo courtesy of Eli Burton

Back in April, NASA released the planned launch date of May 27th. It was decision-making time. If I was planning to go, I needed to grab flights right away before they sold out or became too expensive.

Traveling for a launch is not as simple as a typical vacation. For one, there’s no guarantee that the launch will go off on the planned date. A rocket launch can be delayed due to technical issues, health of the astronauts, or even be scrubbed seconds before launch due to weather. Regardless, I decided to go and booked my tickets with Southwest Airlines. Southwest has a no-fee change policy. Therefore, I would be protected if NASA rescheduled the launch before my departure or if adverse weather caused delays after my arrival. 

After booking my flight, the month went by and the launch (luckily) remained on schedule. I had an early morning flight out of California on May 25th, putting me in Florida late Monday night. That gave me a one-day window between arrival and launch on Wednesday to capture some photos of Starman and the Rocket.

 

Next up, launch day. On the days leading up the launch, the weather forecast was grim. Weather reports were forecasting an (ahem)100% chance of thunderstorms during the launch window. Yikes. Trying to stay hopeful, I woke up on the morning of the launch, checked the weather on my phone and it (still) wasn’t looking good.

I call my insiders and they said SpaceX was still proceeding with the launch schedule. “What? How?” I said. Well… the insiders added, “That’s Florida weather for you. It can be a thunderstorm one minute and then be clear the next. The weather in Florida changes faster than the weather forecasters can keep up with it.”

To me this seemed crazy. I live in California where the weather is predictable — especially on the same day of a forecast. Nevertheless, they were right. An hour prior to the launch window of 4:33pm EST, the sky around Kennedy Space Center started to clear up.

Astronauts Bob and Doug were loaded into the crew Dragon capsule by men in black suits (that looked like ninjas), the door was closed, and the access door retracted. Tension was building. We were checking our phones every 15 seconds to confirm the time and make sure we didn’t miss any updates from NASA. Then 10 minutes before launch, it was canceled. There was lightning within a 10-mile radius of the launch pad which violated NASA launch requirements for crewed spaceflight.

Afterward, in heavy traffic, we took an Uber back to our place on the beach. Bummer. On the way back, we found out that the weather criteria was met just 10 minutes after the launch window. So close! You would think: Why didn’t they just wait another 10 minutes? That’s not how it works with NASA. With a NASA mission, it’s either a launch-on-schedule or it’s a scrub. There’s a variety of government-based reasons for this, but specific to an ISS mission — the launch must line up exactly with the orbit of the ISS to limit the amount of time astronauts are in the capsule between entering orbit and docking. 

 

In any event, the second launch window looked more promising than the first. It was still a 50/50 chance but the real-time satellite imagery showed the storm was breaking up. SpaceX and NASA both put out statements that they were proceeding with the launch. Excitement was in the air. We could all feel it. It was finally going to happen. It had been nine long years since the last time astronauts went to space from U.S. soil. NASA and SpaceX were going to make history. Together.

May 30th, 3:20 pm.

2 minutes before launch: Falcon 9 is fully-fueled.

94 seconds before launch: LOX (liquid oxygen) load is complete. 

60 seconds before launch: Falcon 9 enters start up

35 seconds: SpaceX Dragon is go for launch: “Let’s light this candle!”

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0…

Ignition. LIFTOFF! 

 

===

Guest Contributor: Eli Burton is proud to be friends with the Real Life Starman. He is also President and Founder of the My Tesla Adventure Tesla Owner Club. Eli is also co-host of the Tesla Geeks Show podcast and creator of The Adventures of Starman comic book series.

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