Trial and Error

A previously unknown species of bird-like dinosaur with pterosaur-like wings has been discovered by a team of paleontologists working with the Chinese Academy of Science. The discovery, reported in the May 9 issue of the journal Nature, sheds some new light on the origins of avian flight. A nearly complete skeleton of Ambopteryx longibrachium was unearthed near Wubaiding Village in China’s Liaoning Province.

Named Ambopteryx longibrachium, the new dinosaur lived approximately 163 million years ago (Jurassic period) in modern day China. The prehistoric creature had a body length of about 12.6 inches (32 cm) and an estimated body mass of 300 g. It belongs to Scansoriopterygidae, an extinct family of climbing and gliding non-avian theropod dinosaurs.

Unlike other flying dinosaurs, namely birds, this species has membranous wings supported by a rod-like wrist bone that is not found in any other dinosaur, but is present in pterosaurs and flying squirrels. These wing structures represent a short-lived and unsuccessful attempt to fly, according to scientists.

Ambopteryx longibrachium. Image credit: Chung-Tat Cheung & Min Wang / Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In contrast, feathered wings, first documented in Late Jurassic non-avian dinosaurs, were further refined through the evolution of numerous skeletal and soft tissue modifications, giving rise to at least two additional independent origins of dinosaur flight and ultimately leading to the current success of modern birds.

Tiny T-Rex

A new species of predatory tyrannosauroid dinosaur that lived about 92 million years ago (Cretaceous period) has been identified from fossils found in New Mexico. The new dinosaur, named Suskityrannus hazelae, was a tiny relative of Tyrannosaurus Rex, about 9 feet (2.7 m) long and 3 feet (0.9 m) tall at the hip.

The ancient creature weighed between 20 and 41 kg, compared to a Tyrannosaurus Rex’s weight of up to 9 tons. Its diet likely consisted of the same kind as its larger meat-eating counterpart, with Suskityrannus hazelae likely hunting small animals.

An artist’s rendering of how Suskityrannus hazelae may have looked. Image credit: Andrey Atuchin.

Suskityrannus hazelae offers a glimpse into the evolution of tyrannosaurs just before they took over the planet. It also belongs to a dinosaurian fauna that just proceeds the iconic dinosaurian faunas in the late Cretaceous that include some of the most famous dinosaurs such as Triceratops, predators like Tyrannosaurus Rex, and duckbill dinosaurs like Edmontosaurus.

Two partial skeletons of Suskityrannus hazelae were found in the 1990s during expeditions to the Zuni Basin in western New Mexico.

The find links the older and smaller tyrannosauroids from North America and China with the much larger tyrannosaurids that lasted until the final extinction of non-avian dinosaurs.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

That’s How it Begins

A team of paleontologists from Bulgaria and Germany has found the surprisingly unusual and perfectly preserved millipede in 99-million-year-old amber from Myanmar.

Burmanopetalum inexpectatum. Image credit: Leif Moritz.

I saw this in a movie once…

Millipedes are a highly diverse but also a largely understudied group of arthropods with over 11,000 known species. The actual number of species is estimated to be between 15,000 and 80,000.

The Mesozoic Era, an interval of geological time from about 252 to 66 million years ago, is poor in millipede fossils, with less than a dozen know species.

Dubbed Burmanopetalum inexpectatum, the newly-discovered millipede species lived approximately 99 million years ago (the Cretaceous period).

The ancient creature, only about 8.2 mm long, is encased in amber from the Hukawng Valley, Kachin State, northern Myanmar.

With the next-generation micro-CT and the associated image rendering and processing software, scientists were able to reconstruct the whole animal and observe the tiniest morphological traits which are rarely preserved in fossils.

It came as a surprise that this animal cannot be placed in the current millipede classification. Even though their general appearance have remained unchanged in the last 100 million years, as the planet has undergone dramatic changes several times during this period, some morphological traits in Callipodida lineage have evolved significantly.

The discovery is described in a paper in the journal ZooKeys.

Rise and Fall…On Mars

In April 2019, NASA’s InSight lander used its Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) to capture a series of Martian sunrise and sunset images.

NASA’s InSight lander used its IDC camera to record the Martian sunrise on April 24, 2019. This image was taken around 5:30 a.m. Mars local time. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

The first mission to send back such images was NASA’s Viking 1 lander, which captured a sunset on August 21, 1976. NASA’s Viking 2 then captured a sunrise on June 14, 1978. Since then, both sunrises and sunsets have been recorded by NASA’s Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers.

InSight’s IDC camera on the lander’s robotic arm snapped these photos on April 24 and 25, 2019, the 145th Martian day (sol) of the mission. In local Mars time, the shots were taken starting around 5:30 a.m. and then again starting around 6:30 p.m.

Much farther from Mars than it is from Earth, the Sun appears only about two-thirds the size that it does when viewed from Earth.

InSight used its IDC camera to image this sunset on Mars on April 25, 2019. This image was taken around 6:30 p.m. Mars local time. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Sometimes the Abyss Stares Back

Astronomers have produced the largest, most comprehensive ‘history book’ of galaxies in the Universe, using 16 years’ worth of observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The endeavor is called the Hubble Legacy Field. The image, a combination of nearly 7,500 separate Hubble exposures, contains roughly 265,000 galaxies and stretch back through 13.3 billion years of time to just 500 million years after the Universe’s birth in the Big Bang.

Pictured: EVERYTHING

The Hubble Legacy Field combines observations taken by several Hubble deep-field surveys. In 1995, the Hubble Deep Field captured several thousand previously unseen galaxies. The subsequent Hubble Ultra Deep Field from 2004 revealed nearly 10,000 galaxies in a single image. The 2012 Hubble eXtreme Deep Field was assembled by combining ten years of Hubble observations taken of a patch of sky within the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field.

The new set of Hubble images, created from nearly 7,500 individual exposures, is the first in a series of Hubble Legacy Field images.