New “Dreadnought” Dinosaur Most Complete Specimen of a Giant
Sometime after he calculated the size of a specimens from a new supermassive dinosaur species he discovered in 2005, paleontologist Ken Lacovara nabbed one of his son’s plastic dino toys and stood on the sidewalk outside of his house in New Jersey. He held the plastic sauropod up to his eye, trying to make a mental calculation of how an actual Dreadnoughtus schrani would have looked, standing next to the house. He decided that with its head stretched out across the driveway, the tail of the 25-meter-long Dreadnoughtus would have reached well into the backyard.
The genus name comes from the discovery team’s feeling that something this big would have, well, dread naught. “Sometimes herbivores don’t get their due as being really tough, badass animals,” Lacovara says. “At 65 tons in life, Dreadnoughtus wouldn’t be afraid of anything.” It is more than seven times as massive as a Tyrannosaurus rex. Its name is also a nod to the world’s first steel battleships, called dreadnoughts.
The fossil, being announced today in Scientific Reports, will represent one of the largest animals ever to walk on Earth. It is also the most complete fossil of a supermassive dinosaur ever found. With further study it could yield some new insights into how these late Jurassic giants moved and grew, and how their bodies evolved their extraordinary size. “It’s an interesting discovery because of the scale and of the extent of the bones preserved,” says Kristi Curry Rogers, a paleontologist at Macalester College in Minnesota who specializes in sauropods. Dreadnoughtuses are sauropods, a long-necked, herbivorous group of dinosaurs that includes apatosaurs. Not all sauropods were giant but some of world’s biggest land animals were sauropods.
He’s finally public! Been so excited for you guys to hear about this awesome creature.
And yes, the name is epic.
Today is so exciting for a ton of fellow palaeontologists, students, researchers, and myself… Dreadnoughtus has finally been published!
The video above gives you guys a bit of history to where this titanosaur was discovered back in 2005. Almost ten years later and it’s finally gone public! With a name like Dreadnoughtus, it’s hard not to want to run around saying its awesome name.
These fossils spent a lot of time being excavated out of the matrix they were found in; around 4 years with multiple labs working tirelessly to clean and repair them. We had to get it done at least in some sort of quick time, right? With such a huge specimen, a lot of man power is required!
I’m so proud and happy for everyone involved that we can now share this gorgeous dinosaur to the public! It’s MASSIVE. The fossils are just mind blowing to look at, and now we continue to move forward with its preservation, education, and further research. It’ll be going back to Argentina next year.
In the dark of the ocean, some animals have evolved to use bioluminescence as a defense. In the animation above, an ostracod, one of the tiny crustaceans seen flitting near the top of the tank, has just been swallowed by a cardinal fish. When threatened, the ostracod ejects two chemicals, luciferin and luciferase, which, when combined, emit light. Because the glow would draw undesirable attention to the cardinal fish, it spits out the ostracod and the glowing liquid and flees. Check out the full video clip over at BBC News. Other crustaceans, including several species of shrimp, also spit out bioluminescent fluids defensively. (Image credit: BBC, source video; via @amyleerobinson)
If you think humans jump through a lot of hoops just to reproduce, check out this plant. It waits 7-10 years, storing up starch in a giant tuber, just so it can bloom for a single day. Then it pretends to be a hunk of rotting meat to attract insect pollinators. Then, months later, it switches tactics to a produce a sweet fruit so birds will disperse it’s seeds.
If you have never smelled a titan arum but for some odd reason you would like to … you are in … luck? Scientists have identified the exact malodorous chemicals that come off these strange flowers to attract pollinators - so you can create the scent at home!*
*please, for your own sake, don’t try this at home.
Van der Waals helps geckoes scale walls
Face it, it would be totally cool if we could clamber up surfaces as easily as geckoes do. We could scale skyscrapers, never fear when climbing ladders, and could completely eliminate that tacky dramatic moment in movies where the hero dangles precariously over the street a hundred storeys below. Of course, their sweaty fingers would never slip if they had some kind of adhesion mechanism—they could just climb right back up.
So how do geckoes manage it?
Well, unlike humans, geckoes have millions of microscopic hairs on the bottom of their feet, called setae. The tips of each of these setae are split into 100-1000 spatulae, which are so small that they’re narrower than the wavelength of visible light—less than 300 nano metres.
Clearly, some kind of intermolecular force between the gecko’s feet and a surface is responsible for adhesion, but it wasn’t until research in 2002 that we fully understood what was going in—for a while, scientists were throwing around theories like suction and chemical bonding.
Turns out, geckoes take advantage of the Van der Waals force.
Named after a nineteenth century Dutch physicist, Van der Waals forces are weak electrodynamic forces that act over tiny distances, yet bond almost any material. They’re created by fluctuations in charge distributions between molecules.
These weak forces can be strengthened as more and more of one surface touches the other—like, say if you had billions of spatulae coating your feet. These tiny hairs increase surface density, so on contact with the wall the gecko experiences a strong adhesive force
Essentially, this force means we can improve adhesion simply by increasing surface density, like subdividing a surface into countless small protrusions. It means that geometry—not chemistry—is the driving mechanism. A single setae can lift an ant; a million could lift a 20 kg child; and if geckoes used every setae simultaneously, they could support 130 kg.
These forces open up to a lot of applications in adhesives. Engineers at Berkeley and Stanford have developed biologically inspired synthetic adhesives that adhere like gecko pads, which have even been used on robotic climbers.
The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s next flagship space observatory, has passed a major milestone on its road to its planned 2018 launch: the delivery of the last three mirrors that will make up its complicated infrared-seeking innards.
The mirror delivery for the $8.8 billion James Webb Space Telescope lays a critical brick in the road toward deploying the most powerful space telescope ever built. When complete, the telescope is expected to have seven times the light-collecting power of its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, and should provide answers to questions about the early universe and the chances of life on other planets.
The telescope “is an absolutely impressive piece of engineering and includes technologies that make this spacecraft unlike any other we’ve ever developed before,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a news conference here Monday (Feb. 3), adding that the telescope is on track for launch in 2018.
YAAAASSSS!! Get your life JWST! :D
Lichen P. chlorophanum on S-MRS Mars-analog substrate. Image: German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Planetary Research
Humans cannot hope to survive life on Mars without plenty of protection from the surface radiation, freezing night temperatures and dust storms on the red planet. So they could be excused for marveling at humble Antarctic lichen that has shown itself capable of going beyond survival and adapting to life in simulated Martian conditions.
The mere feat of surviving temperatures as low as -51 degrees C and enduring a radiation bombardment during a 34-day experiment might seem like an accomplishment by itself. But the lichen, a symbiotic mass of fungi and algae, also proved it could adapt physiologically to living a normal life in such harsh Martian conditions—as long as the lichen lived under “protected” conditions shielded from much of the radiation within “micro-niches” such as cracks in the Martian soil or rocks.
"There were no studies on adaptation to Martian conditions before," said Jean-Pierre de Vera, a scientist at the German Aerospace Center’s Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, Germany. "Adaptation is very important to be investigated, because it tells you more about the interactions of life in relation to its environment."
Previous Mars simulation experiments focused on simply measuring the survival of organisms at the end of a given time period. By contrast, de Vera and his group of German and U.S. colleagues measured the lichen’s activities throughout the experiment that was detailed in the Sept. issue of the journal Planetary and Space Science. They wanted to see whether the lichen had continued its normal activities rather than simply clinging to life in a dormant state.
Two groups of lichen samples were placed inside a Mars simulation chamber about the size of a big pressure cooker, which itself sat within a fridge about the size of an armoire. That allowed researchers to simulate almost everything about Martian conditions such as atmospheric chemistry, pressure, temperatures, humidity and solar radiation—the lone exceptions being Martian gravity and the added contribution of galactic radiation.
One of the lichen samples in the Mars chamber was exposed to the full brunt of radiation expected on the Martian surface, while the second set of samples received a radiation dose almost 24 times lower to simulate life in the “protected” condition. A third group of lichen samples sat outside the chamber as a control.
Both lichen sample groups survived their month-long period under Martian conditions. But the heavier dose of radiation from a Xenon lamp simulating the surface radiation conditions kept the unprotected sample group from doing much beyond clinging to survival.
Honey Bees Equipped with Sensor Backpacks
If you care about what you’re going to eat in the future, you’d better start caring about bees. Scientists have known for a while that the world’s honey bee population is declining and it’s a giant problem because they’re a vital part of the ecosystem—about one third of the food that goes into our mouths relies on the pollination process.
The decline is thought to be related to the Varroa destructor (a parasitic mite), which seems to be a contributor to a wider phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, where bee colonies spiral into abrupt decline and simply disappear.
Interestingly, Australia is free from these threats so far, and researchers want to find out why. In Tasmania’s capital, Hobart, researchers from the CSIRO recently fitted tiny sensors to the backs of 5,000 wild bees to monitor the population. To do this, they refrigerated the bees to make them sleepy, shaved a little part of their back, and quickly glued down the sensors before releasing them back into the wild.
The sensors only weigh five milligrams so they don’t impede the bees at all. ‘The bee can carry a lot of weight in pollen, in nectar, so this is like someone carrying a small backpack,’ explains Dr de Souza, CSIRO scientist. The sensors will provide vital data to help researchers construct a three dimensional model of the bees’ behaviour. As de Souza notes, ‘Using this technology, we aim to understand the bee’s relationship with its environment,’ and thus understand how they work best and what might cause a population collapse.
In the near future, the CSIRO hopes to scale the sensors down to 1 mm, so they can tag smaller insects like mosquitoes and fruit flies to study their populations too.
Even Dung Beetles Stargaze
Last year, an Ig Nobel Prize was given to researchers who discovered that dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate. The Ig Nobels famously honour achievements that first “make people laugh, and then make them think”, and this particular achievement was a triumph of both physics and biology.
The study found that dung beetles (Scarabaeus lamarcki) can only see the very brightest stars in the sky, so at night when the huge band of the Milky Way stretches overhead, they are able to see a long line of bright light and hence use it to help travel in a straight path. To test this, the researchers made special little hats for the beetles—one type made out of black cardboard, and the other type, a control group, made out of clear material. They simulated the Milky Way in a planetarium, and found that when the hats blocked the view of the sky, the dung beetles had trouble navigating, and so they must use it as an orientation cue.
“It’s quite impressive for an animal that size,” said Professor Warrant, one of the researchers, because previously we only thought humans, birds and seals used the stars for orientation.
Researchers are now trying to figure out how dung beetles use other cues to navigate—one recent study found that they may use the sun to steer their balls of dung, but it will also be interesting to figure out how important each of these different cues are to the beetles.
If you happen to spot a Nine Armed Sea Star under the sand, perhaps it’s kindest to not disturb it. But you know, since this one has already been disturbed, watch how it flips itself over from being on its back… and then proceeds to leave. (Wouldn’t you?)