Thursday, February 26, 2015

Finally, recognition!

Sir Richard Owen: The man who invented the dinosaur

The Victorian scientist who coined the word "dinosaur" has been honoured with a plaque at the school he attended as a child. But who was Sir Richard Owen?

Dinosaur fossils have been the subject of mystery, superstition and scholarly wonder for millennia, but the prehistoric reptiles did not receive their famous name until 1842.

Marvelling at the specimens being uncovered in southern England at the time, a young Owen recognised that the remains shared a number of distinctive features.

They were "terrible lizards", he said. A diverse family of awesome animals that deserved their own distinct taxonomic group - which he named Dinosauria.

The palaeontologist, who rose from a poor background in Lancashire to become something close to what we might consider a celebrity scientist today, went on to establish London's Natural History Museum in 1881.

There, the latest fascinating dinosaur fossils became famous around the globe, and the terracotta-walled institution remains at the forefront of research today.

Full Story Here

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Private ownership of fossils? Yay or nay?

Dinosaurs for sale: How fossil business impacts science

Commercial sellers offer scientists access to unique specimens, but at a cost

In 2009, commercial fossil hunters in Montana excavated what was, unbeknownst to them, the jaws of an important new species of dinosaur.

Scientists weren't informed, and the fossil was sold to a private collector.

Fortunately, the story doesn't end there, as it sometimes does.

'It's wrong for people to assume they can get something for free.'- Peter Larson, Black Hills Institute of Geological Research

In the fall of 2010, the private collector heard that paleontologist David Evans of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto would be visiting his town of Fort Peck, Mont. He wanted to know more about the fossil he had purchased, so he showed it to Evans.

"I was blown away," Evans recalled. "I instantly knew it was a new species of raptor."

"It was a unique find that is scientifically very important," added Evans, who co-authored a paper describing the new raptor in 2013.

The jaws turned out to belong to the only raptor from its time period ever found in North America. The turkey-sized meat-eater named Acheroraptor temertyorum would help paint a more vivid picture of the diverse ecosystem where Tyrannosaurus rex stalked Triceratops 66 million years ago.

Acheroraptor also revealed a surprise — it was a close relative of dinosaurs in Asia, suggesting that dinosaurs were migrating between continents.

But no one knew any of that until Evans, the  ROM's curator of vertebrate paleontology and an associate professor at the University of Toronto, talked the collector into selling his treasure to the ROM. It became part of the ROM's collection in 2011. The museum doesn't disclose the prices it pays in order to minimize their effect on the market, but Evans said it was reasonable and affordable.

Bringing the fossil into a museum was the only way it could be studied and be recognized as a new species with its own scientific name. That's because science needs to be repeatable by other scientists, Evans said, and that's possible only when they have unrestricted public access through an institution such as a museum.

"If we had not bought it," he added, "it would have continued to be in the hands of a private collector and off-limits to science."
Acheroraptor illustration

The story of Acheroraptor illustrates how buying fossils from commercial collectors can provide scientists and the public with access to extraordinary dinosaur specimens they couldn't otherwise study. But it also shows how easily the commercial trade can inadvertently keep important specimens out of scientists' reach.

That is, the bustling dinosaur business has a profound influence on the science of paleontology – something that paleontologists struggle with.

Canadian museums often buy dinosaur fossils

Dinosaurs are a huge public draw, but for many Canadian museums, buying dinosaurs is the only way to get them.

Laws enacted since the late 1970s in the main provinces where dinosaur fossils are found — Alberta and Saskatchewan — specify that dinosaur fossils are owned by the Crown. Regulations effectively ban them from being removed from the province.

If the Royal Ontario Museum had not bought the Acheroraptor fossil, it would have remained off-limits to science, says curator and paleontologist David Evans. (Royal Ontario Museum)

Paleontologists say the laws do a good job of safeguarding fossils for science. But they mean museums like the ROM, located in Ontario where no dinosaur fossils have been found, can't grow its collection except by buying fossils from outside Canada, mainly from the U.S.

"Every major museum in Canada buys fossils and it's been a common practice for a century," Evans said.

That said, museums far prefer to collect fossils themselves than buy them — partly because many have trouble affording them, and partly because commercial specimens are often missing important scientific data about their origins.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dinosaurs on Mars!


Mars Dinosaur? It's Just Another Curio From Curiosity Rover

If you scan through the thousands of pictures that NASA's Curiosity rover has sent back from Mars, you'll find a lot of interesting rock formations. Some of them, including a formation that looks like a toothy dinosaur skull, wind up on Scott Waring's UFO Sightings Daily.

The "Ancient Dinosaur Skull" is the latest offering, but the picture was actually taken a long time ago — back on Sol 297 in June 2013, when Curiosity was rolling through an area known as Glenelg. Scientists say the site was a stream bed in ancient times, as evidenced by the rounded pebbles strewn across the landscape.

Some of those pebbles ended up stuck in the crevices of a wind-sculpted rock, and all this led Waring to call attention to the dinosaurian appearance: "Look closely and you will see there is a nostril area, lower jaw area and jaw hinge area as well," he writes. "There are also teeth. A crap load of teeth and evenly spaced and white as all get out. It's the details that we have to focus on. It leads us to the truth."

Yes, the truth is out there — and the truth is that this is the latest example of pareidolia, the human tendency to pick out seemingly meaningful patterns even in randomly arranged phenomena. The Face on Mars is a good example of that, as are the Mermaid on Mars, the Mars Rat, the Mars Iguana, the Penis on Mars, the Rover Rotini and other Red Planet anomalies.

What is it about Mars that sparks so many strange sightings? Now that's a mystery worth investigating.

Read the full article here

Friday, February 20, 2015

I hear you knocking...

A: Knock knock.
B: Who's there?
A: Interrupting dinosaur.
B: Interrupting dinosa---
A: RAWR!!!