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SpaceX successfully launches 60 more Starlink satellites as it continues towards 2020 service debut – TechCrunch

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SpaceX has launched another big batch of Starlink satellites, the low Earth orbit spacecraft that will provide connectivity for its globe-spanning high-bandwidth broadband internet network. This brings the total number of Starlink satellites on orbit to 422, though the company plans to de-orbit two of those (the first two prototypes launched) shortly.

Already, SpaceX is the largest private satellite operator in existence – by a wide and growing margin. It’s also managed to keep up the frequent pace of its Starlink launches despite the global COVID-19 crisis, with its last launch taking place March 18. In total, it has flown four such missions since the start of the year, just four months into 2020.

The company has good reason to want to keep up that aggressive pace: Each launch brings it closer to the eventual launch of the Starlink broadband service that the satellites will provide the network backbone for. SpaceX wants that network to be live with coverage available in Canada and the Northern U.S. by sometime later this year, and because of the way its approach works, with small satellites orbiting much closer to Earth than traditional geostationary internet satellites and handing off the connection to one another as they pass the coverage area, they need a whole lot of them to provide stable, reliable, low-latency connections for consumers and businesses.

Starlink aims to expand its service to customers globally next year, which will require even more launches and a much larger constellation. Ultimately, the company has filed documents indicating it could launch between 12,000 and 42,000 small satellites to build out the network to its eventual state, depending on demands and performance.

SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk detailed some of the measures that the company is taking to address complaints that its Starlink satellites are interfering with Earth-based observation of the night sky. The satellites produce lights and can present as light streams in astrophotography, and astronomers argue they interfere with stellar observation and research through Earth-based telescopes and observatories.

Today’s launch also included a recovery attempt for the Falcon 9 booster rocket used, which flew before on SpaceX’s Demo-1 Crew Dragon mission, as well as twice more in 2019. The Falcon 9 landed as planned on SpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, hopefully marking a return to form after a couple of Falcon 9 booster landings went awry earlier this year.

SpaceX will also attempt to recover the fairing halves used to protect the Starlink satellite cargo during the launch, though not by using nets to catch them as they fall back to Earth slowed by parachutes, due to system upgrades. Instead, it’ll be looking to fish them out of the water, and we’ll update this post with those results, when and if SpaceX makes them available. The company is looking to re-use fairings more frequently, and the net capture process makes it easier to refurbish them for additional use. This is another cost-saving measure as SpaceX continues to strive towards full launch vehicle reusability with its Starship spacecraft, now in development.

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

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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).

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Western Canadian scientists discover what an armoured dinosaur ate for its last meal – EurekAlert

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IMAGE: Illustration of Borealopelta markmitchelli dinosaur by Julius Csotonyi
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Credit: © Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

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, 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.

“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 Brandon University 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 Brandon University 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. Student 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’ collections at USask.

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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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Rare dinosaur stomach fossil unearthed at Alberta oilsands site opens door to ancient world – Globalnews.ca

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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.

“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.

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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 five and a half 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.






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Canadian tyrannosaur “reaper of death” discovered in Alberta


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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.”

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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.

READ MORE: Royal Tyrrell Museum to get $3 million in federal funding

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.

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“All big herbivores today use some form of fermentation,” Brown said. “For this animal, it was almost certainly fermenting those ferns.”


READ MORE:
Raptor dinosaur skeleton found in southern Alberta hailed a ‘scientific goldmine’

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?






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New kind of pterodactyl uncovered with help from U of A paleontologist


New kind of pterodactyl uncovered with help from U of A paleontologist

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.

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READ MORE:
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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.”

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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