Saturn’s rings, younger than dinosaurs?


This March 2016 video says about itself:

Saturn’s Moons and Rings May Be Younger Than the Dinosaurs

Some of Saturn‘s icy moons may have been formed after many dinosaurs roamed the Earth. New computer modeling of the Saturnian system suggests the rings and moons may be no more than 100 million years old.

Saturn hosts 62 known moons. All of them are influenced not only by the gravity of the planet, but also by each other’s gravities. A new computer model suggests that the Saturnian moons Tethys, Dione and Rhea haven’t seen the kinds of changes in their orbital tilts that are typical for moons that have lived in the system and interacted with other moons over long periods of time. In other words, these appear to be very young moons.

“Moons are always changing their orbits. That’s inevitable,” Matija Cuk, principal investigator at the SETI Institute and one of the authors of the new research, said in a statement. “But that fact allows us to use computer simulations to tease out the history of Saturn’s inner moons. Doing so, we find that they were most likely born during the most recent 2 percent of the planet’s history.”

The age of Saturn’s rings has come under considerable debate since their discovery in the 1600s. In 2012, however, French astronomers suggested that some of the inner moons and the planet’s well-known rings may have recent origins. The researchers showed that tidal effects — which refer to “the gravitational interaction of the inner moons with fluids deep in Saturn’s interior,” according to the statement — should cause the moons to move to larger orbits in a very short time.

“Saturn has dozens of moons that are slowly increasing their orbital size due to tidal effects. In addition, pairs of moons may occasionally move into orbital resonances. This occurs when one moon’s orbital period becomes a simple fraction of another. For example, one moon could orbit twice as fast as another moon, or three times as fast. Once an orbital resonance takes place, the moons can affect each other’s gravity, even if they are very small. This will eventually elongate their orbits and tilt them from their original orbital plane. By looking at computer models that predict how extended a moon’s orbit should become over time, and comparing that with the actual position of the moon today, the researchers found that the orbits of Tethys, Dione and Rhea are “less dramatically altered than previously thought,” the statement said.

The moons don’t appear to have moved very far from where they were born. To get a more specific value for the ages of these moons, Cuk used ice geysers on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The researchers assumed that the energy powering those geysers comes from tidal interactions with Saturn and that the level of geothermal activity on Enceladus has been constant, and from there, inferred the strength of the tidal forces from Saturn.

Using the computer simulations, the researchers concluded that Enceladus would have moved from its original orbital position to its current one in just 100 million years — meaning it likely formed during the Cretaceous period. The larger implication is that the inner moons of Saturn and its gorgeous rings are all relatively young. (The more distant moons Titan and Iapetus would not have been formed at the same time.)

“So the question arises — what caused the recent birth of the inner moons?” Cuk said in the statement. “Our best guess is that Saturn had a similar collection of moons before, but their orbits were disturbed by a special kind of orbital resonance involving Saturn’s motion around the sun. Eventually, the orbits of neighboring moons crossed, and these objects collided. From this rubble, the present set of moons and rings formed.” The research is being published in the Astrophysical Journal.

From Space.com:

Saturn’s Rings May Be Younger Than the Dinosaurs

By Charles Q. Choi, Space.com Contributor | January 17, 2019 02:01pm ET

Saturn has not always had rings — the planet’s haloes may date only to the age of dinosaurs, or after it, a new study finds.

The age of Saturn’s rings has long proven controversial. Some researchers had thought the iconic features formed along with the planet about 4.5 billion years ago from the icy rubble left in orbit around it after the formation of the solar system. Others suggested the rings are very young, perhaps originating after Saturn’s gravitational pull tore apart a comet or an icy moon.

One way to solve this mystery is to weigh Saturn’s rings. The rings were initially made of bright ice, but over time have become contaminated and darkened by debris from the outer reaches of the solar system. A few years back, NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini mission determined that the rings are only about 1 percent impure. If scientists could weigh Saturn‘s rings, they could estimate the amount of time it would take for them to accumulate enough contaminants to get 1 percent impure and thus calculate their age, lead study author Luciano Iess, a planetary scientist at the Sapienza University of Rome, told Space.com. [Saturn’s Glorious Rings in Pictures]

Iess and his colleagues relied on more Cassini data. Before the spacecraft plunged to its death into Saturn’s atmosphere in September 2017, it coasted between the planet and its rings and let their gravitational pulls tug it around. The strength of a body’s gravity depends on its mass, and by analyzing how much Cassini was pulled one way or the other during the “grand finale” phase of its mission, the mission team could measure the gravity and mass of both Saturn and its rings.

During six of Cassini’s crossings between Saturn and its rings at altitudes about 1,615 miles to 2,425 miles (2,600 to 3,900 kilometers) above the planet’s clouds, scientists monitored the radio link between the spacecraft and Earth. Much as how an ambulance siren sounds higher pitched as the vehicle drives toward you and lower pitched as it moves away, the radio signals would lengthen in wavelength as their source moved away Earth and shorten as their source moved toward it — an effect called the Doppler shift.

“I’m astonished by the fact that we were able to measure the velocity of a distant spacecraft 1.3 billion kilometers [807 million miles] away from Earth with an accuracy that is a hundredth or a thousandth the speed of a snail — a few hundreds of millimeters per second,” Iess said.

Previous estimates based on data from the Voyager flybys of Saturn suggested the rings’ mass was about 28 million billion metric tons. The new data from Cassini now suggests the rings’ mass is only about 15.4 million billion metric tons. (The largest asteroid, Ceres, has a mass of about 939 million billion metric tons.)

All in all, the researchers suggest the rings formed between 10 million to 100 million years ago. In comparison, the age of dinosaurs ended about 66 million years ago.

Cassini’s grand finale also revealed key details about the internal structure of Saturn. For example, it found that jet streams seen around Saturn’s equator — the strongest measured in the solar system, with winds of up to 930 mph (1,500 km/h) — extend to a depth of at least 5,600 miles (9,000 km), rotating a colossal amount of mass around the planet about 4 percent faster than the layer below it.

“The discovery of deeply rotating layers is a surprising revelation about the internal structure of the planet,” Cassini project scientist Linda Spilker at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who did not participate in the study, said in a statement. “The question is, What causes the more rapidly rotating part of the atmosphere to go so deep, and what does that tell us about Saturn’s interior?”

The new findings also suggest that Saturn’s rocky core is about 15 to 18 times the mass of Earth, similar to prior estimates.

The scientists detailed their findings online Jan. 17 in the journal Science.

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Big Jurassic carnivorous dinosaur discovery


This 19 December 2018 video is about the discovery of the oldest ceratosaurian dinosaur in the Italian Alps.

From PeerJ:

The oldest large-sized predatory dinosaur comes from the Italian Alps

December 19, 2018

Early Jurassic predatory dinosaurs are very rare, and mostly small in size. Saltriovenator zanellai, a new genus and species described in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ — the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences by Italian paleontologists, is the oldest known ceratosaurian, and the world’s largest (one ton) predatory dinosaur from the Lower Jurassic (Sinemurian, ~198 Mya).

This unique specimen, which also represents the first Jurassic dinosaur from Italy, was accidentally discovered in 1996 by a fossil amateur within a quarry near Saltrio, some 80 km N-E of Milan. Many bones of Saltriovenator bear feeding marks by marine invertebrates, which represent the first case on dinosaurian remains and indicate that the dinosaur carcass floated in a marine basin and then sunk, remaining on the sea bottom for quite a long time before burial.

Although fragmentary, “Saltriovenator shows a mosaic of ancestral and advanced anatomical features, respectively seen in the four-fingered dilophosaurids and ceratosaurians, and the three-fingered tetanuran theropods, such as allosaurids,” says first author Cristiano Dal Sasso, of the Natural History Museum of Milan, who reassembled and studied the fossil for several years.

“Paleohistological analysis indicates that Saltriovenator was a still growing subadult individual, therefore its estimated size is all the more remarkable, in the context of the Early Jurassic period,” says co-author Simone Maganuco.

“The evolutionary ‘arms race’ between stockier predatory and giant herbivorous dinosaurs, involving progressively larger species, had already begun 200 million of years ago.”

The evolution of the hand of birds from their dinosaurian ancestors is still hotly debated. “The grasping hand of Saltriovenator fills a key gap in the theropod evolutionary tree: predatory dinosaurs progressively lost the pinky and ring fingers, and acquired the three-fingered hand which is the precursor of the avian wing,” remarks co-author Andrea Cau.

How ankylosaur dinosaurs dealt with heat


This 2017 music video is called Ankylosaurus | Dinosaur Songs | Pinkfong Songs for Children.

From Ohio University in the USA:

Huge armored dinosaurs battled overheating with nasal air-conditioning

Researchers use 3D computer modeling to simulate heat exchange in dinosaurs

December 19, 2018

Being a gigantic dinosaur presented some challenges, such as overheating in the Cretaceous sun and frying your brain. Researchers from Ohio University and NYITCOM at Arkansas State show in a new article in PLOS ONE that the heavily armored, club-tailed ankylosaurs had a built-in air conditioner in their snouts.

“The huge bodies that we see in most dinosaurs must have gotten really hot in warm Mesozoic climates,” said Jason Bourke, Assistant Professor at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State and lead author of the study. “Brains don’t like that, so we wanted to see if there were ways to protect the brain from cooking. It turns out the nose may be the key.”

Bourke and the team used CT scanning and a powerful engineering approach called computational fluid dynamics to simulate how air moved through the nasal passages of two different ankylosaur species, the hippo-sized Panoplosaurus and larger rhino-sized Euoplocephalus, to test how well ankylosaur noses transferred heat from the body to the inhaled air.

“A decade ago, my colleague Ryan Ridgely and I published the discovery that ankylosaurs had insanely long nasal passages coiled up in their snouts,” said study co-author Lawrence Witmer, professor at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. “These convoluted airways looked like a kid’s ‘crazy-straw!’ It was completely unexpected and cried out for explanation. I was thrilled when Jason took up the problem as part of his doctoral research in our lab.”

“This project is an excellent example of how advances in CT scanning, 3-D reconstruction, imaging, and computational fluid dynamics modeling can be used in biological research to test long-standing hypotheses,” said Kathy Dickson, a program officer at the National Science Foundation that funded the research. “From these new images and models, fossils can provide further insight into extinct organisms like the ankylosaur — in this case, offering an explanation of how unusual features actually function physiologically.”

Smell may be a primary function of the nose, but noses are also heat exchangers, making sure that air is warmed and humidified before it reaches our delicate lungs. To accomplish this effective air conditioning, birds and mammals, including humans, rely on thin curls of bone and cartilage within their nasal cavities called turbinates, which increase the surface area, allowing for air to come into contact with more of the nasal walls. “Ankylosaurs didn’t have turbinates, but instead made their noses very long and twisty,” said Bourke.

When the researchers compared their findings to data from living animals, they discovered that the dinosaurs’ noses were just as efficient at warming and cooling respired air. “This was a case of nature finding a different solution to the same problem,” said Bourke.

Just how long were these nasal passages? In Panoplosaurus, they were a bit longer than the skull itself and in Euoplocephalus they were almost twice as long as the skull, which is why they’re coiled up in the snout. To see if nasal passage length was the reason for this efficiency, Bourke ran alternative models with shorter, simpler nasal passages that ran directly from the nostril to the throat, as in most other animals. The results clearly showed that nose length was indeed the key to their air-conditioning ability. “When we stuck a short, simple nose in their snouts, heat-transfer rates dropped over 50 percent in both dinosaurs. They were less efficient and didn’t work very well,” said Bourke.

Another line of evidence that these noses were air conditioners that helped cool the brain came from analyses of blood flow.

“When we reconstructed the blood vessels, based on bony grooves and canals, we found a rich blood supply running right next to these convoluted nasal passages,” said Ruger Porter, lecturer at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and one of the study’s co-authors. “Hot blood from the body core would travel through these blood vessels and transfer their heat to the incoming air. Simultaneously, evaporation of moisture in the long nasal passages cooled the venous blood destined for the brain.”

So why the need for such effective heat exchangers? The large bodies of Panoplosaurus and Euoplocephalus were really good at retaining heat, which is good for staying warm, but bad when the animals need to cool off. This heat-shedding problem would have put them at risk of overheating even on cloudy days. In the absence of some protective mechanism, the delicate neural tissue of the brain could be damaged by the hot blood from the body core.

“Sure, their brains were almost comically small,” Bourke said. “But they’re still their brains and needed protection.”

The complicated nasal airways of these dinosaurs were acting as radiators to cool down the brain with a constant flow of cooled venous blood, allowing them to keep a cool head at all times. This natural engineering feat also may have allowed the evolution of the great sizes of so many dinosaurs.

“When we look at the nasal cavity and airway in dinosaurs, we find that the most elaborate noses are found in the large dinosaur species, which suggests that the physiological stresses of large body size may have spurred some of these anatomical novelties to help regulate brain temperatures,” Witmer said.

The next step for the researchers is to examine other dinosaurs to determine when this nasal enlargement happened.

“We know that large dinosaurs had these crazy airways, but at exactly what size did this happen?” Bourke said. “Was this elaboration gradual as body size increased, or is there a threshold size where a run-of-the-mill nose can no longer do the job? We just don’t know yet.”

Dinosaur footprints discovery in England


This December 17, 2018 video from England is called Hastings dinosaur footprints exposed by cliff erosion.

From the University of Cambridge in England:

‘Treasure trove’ of dinosaur footprints found in southern England

December 17, 2018

More than 85 well-preserved dinosaur footprints — made by at least seven different species — have been uncovered in East Sussex, representing the most diverse and detailed collection of these trace fossils from the Cretaceous Period found in the UK to date.

The footprints were identified by University of Cambridge researchers between 2014 and 2018, following periods of coastal erosion along the cliffs near Hastings. Many of the footprints — which range in size from less than 2 cm to over 60 cm across — are so well-preserved that fine detail of skin, scales and claws is easily visible.

The footprints date from the Lower Cretaceous epoch, between 145 and 100 million years ago, with prints from herbivores including Iguanodon, Ankylosaurus, a species of stegosaur, and possible examples from the sauropod group (which included Diplodocus and Brontosaurus); as well as meat-eating theropods. The results are reported in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Over the past 160 years, there have been sporadic reports of fossilised dinosaur footprints along the Sussex coast, but no new major discoveries have been described for the past quarter century and the earlier findings were far less varied and detailed than those described in the current research.

The area around Hastings is one of the richest in the UK for dinosaur fossils, including the first known Iguanodon in 1825, and the first confirmed example of fossilised dinosaur brain tissue in 2016. However, trace fossils such as footprints, which can help scientists learn more about the composition of dinosaur communities, are less common in the area.

“Whole body fossils of dinosaurs are incredibly rare”, said Anthony Shillito, a PhD student in Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences and the paper’s first author. “Usually you only get small pieces, which don’t tell you a lot about how that dinosaur may have lived. A collection of footprints like this helps you fill in some of the gaps and infer things about which dinosaurs were living in the same place at the same time.”

The footprints described in the current study, which Shillito co-authored with Dr Neil Davies, were uncovered during the past four winters, when strong storms and storm surges led to periods of collapse of the sandstone and mudstone cliffs.

In the Cretaceous Period, the area where the footprints were found was likely near a water source, and in addition to the footprints, a number of fossilised plants and invertebrates were also found.

“To preserve footprints, you need the right type of environment”, said Davies. “The ground needs to be ‘sticky’ enough so that the footprint leaves a mark, but not so wet that it gets washed away. You need that balance in order to capture and preserve them.”

“As well as the large abundance and diversity of these prints, we also see absolutely incredible detail,” said Shillito. “You can clearly see the texture of the skin and scales, as well as four-toed claw marks, which are extremely rare.

“You can get some idea about which dinosaurs made them from the shape of the footprints — comparing them with what we know about dinosaur feet from other fossils lets you identify the important similarities. When you also look at footprints from other locations you can start to piece together which species were the key players.”

As part of his research, Shillito is studying how dinosaurs may have affected the flows of rivers. In modern times, large animals such as hippopotamuses or cows can create small channels, diverting some of the river’s flow.

“Given the sheer size of many dinosaurs, it’s highly likely that they affected rivers in a similar way, but it’s difficult to find a ‘smoking gun’, since most footprints would have just washed away”, said Shillito. “However, we do see some smaller-scale evidence of their impact; in some of the deeper footprints you can see thickets of plants that were growing. We also found evidence of footprints along the banks of river channels, so it’s possible that dinosaurs played a role in creating those channels.”

It’s likely that there are many more dinosaur footprints hidden within the eroding sandstone cliffs of East Sussex, but the construction of sea defences in the area to slow or prevent the process of coastal erosion may mean that they remained locked within the rock.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Megaraptor carnivorous dinosaur, video


This 9 December 2018 video says about itself:

Megaraptor || The Beast With Massive Claws

Megaraptor (“giant thief”) is a genus of large theropod dinosaur that lived in the Turonian to Coniacian ages of the Late Cretaceous (93.5 – 85.8 million years ago).

Its fossils have been discovered in the Patagonian Portezuelo Formation of Argentina. Initially thought to have been a giant dromaeosaur-like coelurosaur, more recent research has placed it as either a basal tyrannosauroid or a basal coelurosaur.

In 2010, Gregory S. Paul estimated its length at 8 meters (26 ft), its weight at 1 tone (2,200 lb). The hands were unusually elongated; bearing sickle-shaped claws even more recurved than those of spinosaurids. It had a 14 to 16 inch claw that was one each hand—on what would be this creature’s thumb. Claws that were probably used to slash at its prey.

This dinosaur was bipedal, meaning that it ran on two legs—much like a tyrannosaur. It was a dinosaur that was evidently built to be lean and fast, and could probably run at a speed of around 31 miles per hour.

… A juvenile specimen described in 2014 has provided more evidence towards Megaraptor being a primitive tyrannosauroid. It could probably hunt down and kill just about any dinosaur during the Cretaceous Period, and if it hunted in packs—like some paleontologists believe—then this dinosaur would have been even more fearsome.

Birds’, dinosaurs’ colours, new research


This 2016 video says about itself:

How do we know what color dinosaurs were? – Len Bloch

The Microraptor was a four-winged carnivorous dinosaur with iridescent black feathers. But if our information about this dinosaur comes from fossils, how can we be certain about its color? Len Bloch shows how making sense of the evidence requires careful examination of the fossil and a good understanding of the physics of light and color.

Lesson by Len Bloch, animation by Paul Newell.

View full lesson here.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Scientists discover how birds and dinosaurs evolved to dazzle with colourful displays

December 10, 2018

Iridescence is responsible for some of the most striking visual displays in the animal kingdom. Now, thanks to a new study of feathers from almost 100 modern bird species, scientists have gained new insights into how this colour diversity evolved.

Iridescence refers to the phenomena where colour changes when an object is viewed from different angles. Birds produce this varying coloration in their feathers by using nanoscale arrays of melanin-filled organelles (melanosomes) layered with keratin. In this form of structural colouration, the shapes of melanosomes together with the thickness of keratin layers determine what colour is produced.

While melanosome morphology has previously been used to predict colour in fossil animals, melanosome variation in iridescent feathers has not been analysed on as large a scale until this study.

As reported in the journal Evolution, a team of University of Bristol researchers used scanning electron microscopy to quantify melanosome extracts from the feathers of 97 species of modern birds with iridescent plumage, taken from the collections of the Zoological Museum of Copenhagen.

The study showed that iridescent feathers contain the most varied melanosome morphologies of all types of bird coloration sampled to date. Unlike black, grey and brown feathers that always contain solid melanosomes, iridescent feathers can contain melanosomes that are hollow and/or flattened.

“We found that melanosomes in modern iridescent feathers are more diverse in shape than those found in grey, black or brown feathers combined (that also contain melanosomes),” said lead author Klara Nordén, who conducted the study during her undergraduate years at Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences. “It is already known that structural coloration is responsible for 70 per cent of the colour variability in birds. These two facts might be coupled — birds evolved varied forms of melanosomes to achieve ever greater diversity in colour.

“I wanted to find out if we could improve current predictive models for fossil colour based on melanosome morphology by including all types of melanosomes found in iridescent feathers.”

Dr Jakob Vinther, co-author of the study and a leading researcher in the field of paleocolour at Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, had already collected the perfect fossil samples to test the new model on.

“We had sampled Scaniacypselus, related to modern tree swifts, and Primotrogon, ancestor to modern trogons. These groups are iridescent today and have flat and hollow melanosomes. Did their 48-million-year-old ancestors from Germany also have iridescent plumage?”

Interestingly, the model predicted that Primotrogon probably was iridescent, but it used solid rather than hollow melanosomes, unlike its modern descendants.

“This demonstrates how we now have the tools to map out the evolution of iridescence in fossil lineages,” said Klara, who is now a PhD student at Princeton University. “It opens the door to many new discoveries of dazzling displays in fossil birds and other dinosaurs.”

The current study focused on mapping out how melanosomes vary in iridescent feathers. Further avenues of research might examine why birds utilise such diversity of melanosome types in iridescent feathers. These insights could ultimately enhance our understanding of why fossil birds or dinosaurs might have used such morphologies, revealing something about their behaviour.