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The only preserved dinosaur butthole fossil is ‘one-of-a-kind’ – ZME Science

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Psittacosaurus may have used its ‘unique’ butthole for signaling during courtship, besides its primary obvious purpose. Credit: Bob Nicholls/Paleocreations.com 2020.

It’s amazing how much scientists have been able to learn about the secret lives of dinosaurs, creatures that went extinct more than 65 million years ago, just by studying their fossilized remains. Obviously, there are still a lot of loose ends owed to incomplete fossil records and due to the fact that many anatomical features rarely, if not never, fossilize. This is why scientists are excited about the first truly preserved dinosaur cloacal vent, the scientific name for the terminal end of the gastrointestinal tract in birds and amphibians, aka the butthole.

But this isn’t a butthole like any other. Speaking to Live Science, Jakob Vinther, a paleontologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, said that the dinosaur cloaca he studied isn’t like that of birds. It more closely resembles that of crocodiles, with two small bulges in proximity to the cloaca which might have had musky scent glands with a possible role in courtship. However, in many respects, the dinosaur cloaca was quite unique.

The oldest cloaca in the world was found sitting in a fossil display case in the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, and belonged to a beaked, dog-sized dinosaur called Psittacosaurus.

A cloaca isn’t your typical butthole. It serves as an anus, in that it is the orifice through which waste ultimately exits the body after its journey through the intestinal tract. But the orifice, whose name comes from the Latin word for ‘sewer’, also plays a role in copulation and the extrusion of offspring or eggs.

The fossilized orifice was flattened over millions of years until it was unearthed from a basin in China decades ago. While working on a different study, Vinther was shocked to find that Psittacosaurus‘ posterior was intact after all these years and immediately enlisted colleagues to reconstruct it in 3-D. His team includes Robert Nicholls, a paleoartist, and Diane Kelly, a biologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who specializes in the evolution of genitalia.

The fossilized vent, top, and the authors’ reconstruction of it. Credit…J. Vinther, R. Nicholls and D. Kelly, Current Biology 2021

To reconstruct the dinosaur cloaca, the team had to study hundreds of preserved rear ends, from amphibians to chickens. Judging from these references and the fossils at their disposal, the researchers believe that Psittacosaurus‘ cloaca was flanked by a pair of dark-colored flaps of skin, which seems to be different from any living group known to science.

It’s exceedingly rare to find dinosaur soft tissue, so it’s no surprise that the cloaca’s interior couldn’t be analyzed. But if the dinosaur’s posterior was anything like that of crocodiles, its cloaca likely housed a penis or clitoris.

And fitting enough, the cloaca fossil was found next to a fossilized lump of feces, suggesting that the dinosaur was defecating when it suddenly succumbed and its fossils became locked in time. “It’s quite nice to find it, right near where it’s supposed to come out,” Vinther told The New York Times.

The findings were described in the journal Current Biology.

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Boeing Starliner test flight postponed – FRANCE 24

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Issued on: 02/03/2021 – 02:28Modified: 02/03/2021 – 02:26

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Washington (AFP)

An unmanned test mission of Boeing’s Starliner space capsule, which is eventually to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, has had to be postponed, NASA said Monday.

The test, which had previously been postponed until early April, will suffer another delay, this time due to unprecedented cold temperatures in Texas that caused extensive power outages in the southern US state.

“We did lose time with the weather in Houston. We lost about a week of time,” said Steve Stich, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a press conference.

NASA is “continuing to evaluate options” for the new test date.

The Starliner’s first crewed flight is currently scheduled for September, Stich added.

During an initial test flight in December 2019, the Starliner capsule failed to dock at the ISS and returned to Earth prematurely — a setback for aerospace giant Boeing.

Since then, its program has fallen far behind SpaceX, the other company — owned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk — chosen by NASA to develop a vessel to transport astronauts to the ISS.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule already carried astronauts to the station in June and November 2020. Four other astronauts, including Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, will return to the ISS in April.

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NASA Plans SpaceX Review, Boeing Delay Before Busy Month at ISS – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — NASA will review an engine failure last month that caused Space Exploration Technologies Corp.’s Falcon 9 rocket booster to land in the sea after a satellite launch, as the U.S. agency prepares for the next crewed flight to the International Space Station in April.

One of the Falcon 9’s nine Merlin engines shut down Feb. 15 during ascent because of a hole in one of the covers, or “boots,” around the top of each engine, Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of human spaceflight, said Monday at a NASA news conference. The hole allowed hot gas into the engine, which shut off as designed, Reed said. But that meant that the rocket had insufficient thrust during its landing burn to reach a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

The engine fault didn’t prevent the rocket from lifting SpaceX’s Starlink satellites into orbit. Reed said the boot was one of the oldest components on one of the company’s older Falcon 9 rockets, which are designed to fly as many as 10 times without major overhauls.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration plans to “understand that anomaly” before the April flight with astronauts, Steve Stich, the agency’s commercial crew manager, told reporters as he discussed that mission and a busy April at the space station.

“We will follow along with SpaceX’s investigation and we will look at that,” Stich said.

Boeing Delay

NASA also confirmed Monday that an April 2 test flight for Boeing Co.’s Starliner will be delayed. No new date has been set, the agency said. The delay was partly due to productivity losses from the extreme cold in Texas last month and widespread loss of power in the Houston area, NASA said.

Boeing’s first test flight with astronauts is tentatively set for September, Stich said.

NASA also provided an update on several other items at the briefing:

  • SpaceX’s crewed launch scheduled for April 20 is likely to move a few days because of orbital mechanics and the space station’s positioning
  • NASA plans to relocate the SpaceX Dragon now at the station to a different node so that the crew arriving next month on another Dragon vehicle can berth in the now-occupied spot
  • NASA wants to return the astronauts from SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission, who are currently at the space station, before May 9
  • SpaceX’s next crewed flight will be with the Dragon vehicle that the company flew in May 2020 on its first test flight with astronauts
  • NASA is nearing a new arrangement with Russia’s space agency for additional seats on its Soyuz rocket, with an announcement expected this month. NASA officials said they are working to allow for Russian cosmonauts to fly aboard the Boeing and SpaceX vehicles while still using Soyuz for NASA astronauts.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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NASA's Perseverance rover to drill into Mars using part made on Vancouver Island – CBC.ca

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When the Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars last month, it arrived with a B.C.-made tool in its figurative tool belt.

The six-wheeled, plutonium-powered U.S. rover landed on the red planet on Feb. 18, with a mandate to drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be returned to NASA in about 2031. That drilling will be done using a drill bit tip designed and manufactured by a company based in Langford, B.C.

 “It has great wear and fraction resistance so it is perfect for a Mars application,” said Ron Sivorat, business director for Kennametal Inc., during an interview on CBC’s All Points West.

The drill bit tip is made from K92-grade tungsten carbide blanks, which Sivorat said are one of the toughest grades used for drilling here on earth and he is confident it will be good enough for Mars.

Video shows highlights of landing sequence narrated by Mission Control. 2:45

According to Sivorat, the company has had a relationship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 2014, when the space agency first began ordering and testing Kennametal Inc. drill bit tips. In 2018, the company learned NASA wanted to work with it to build a bit for Perseverance.

Sivorat said staff built the drill bit to NASA’s specifications and then sent it to the agency who finessed it somewhat for its Mars mission.

When Perseverance landed safely on the fourth planet from the sun, it was an exciting moment for Kennametal Inc. employees, many of whom watched the landing online and are continuing to check on Perservance’s daily progress updates.

“We know that we are going to be part of, in one way or another, an historical event that will be remembered for many years to come,” said Sivorat.

Sivorat said he expects the drill bit built in B.C. to start penetrating the surface of Mars in the next couple of weeks.

And B.C. is not the only Canadian province with a connection to Perseverance.

Canadian Photonic Labs, based in Minnedosa, Man., manufactured a high-speed and highly-durable camera that played an instrumental role in landing the rover.

The Manitoba company’s relationship with NASA dates back roughly 15 years, he said — but much of the work that’s happened in that time has been cloaked in secrecy.

All Points West6:03From Langford B.C. to Mars: Victoria-area company supplies key component of a drill mechanism that will collect samples on the red planet

A Langford, B.C. company has supplied what could be a key to discovering if there was ever life on Mars. The business director for Kennametal Inc. talks about how the company came to provide the drill metal that will pierce the Martian surface to collect core samples. 6:03

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