Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Embryos Hatched After 200 Million Years

Dinosaur Eggs Ready To Hatch Secrets 200 Million Years Later

In the late winter of 1976, the world famous fossil collector James Kitching was doing a survey near South Africa’s border with Lesotho.

To his surprise he found a tiny clutch of six fossilized eggs along the side of the road at a place known as Rooidraai.
It took five years for skilled palentologists to remove enough rock matrix from the eggs so that they could be preliminarily identified as the first dinosaur embryos from South Africa and the oldest dinosaur embryos in the world.

Research on dinosaurs has truly blossomed in the 40 years since Kitching’s extraordinary find and a great deal more is now known about the baby dinosaurs in the eggs. But the exceptional secrets they hold are only now being fully uncovered because of developments in technology. This month the eggs were flown to Grenoble, a city at the foot of the French Alps, where they are being examined under a powerful CT scan at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.
The secrets of the embryonic dinosaurs whose parents roamed South Africa 200 million years ago are in the process of being hatched.

These high-resolution, 3D x-ray imaging methods are burgeoning in palaeontology. With advances in modern imaging methods we are now able to digitally remove rock matrix while making 3D models of the bones inside.

CT scans come to the rescue

The solution to all of these problems lies in CT scanning the specimen. The x-ray resolution needed to study the embryos is so high (six microns, or .006 mm) that only a few facilities in the world are capable of performing the study.

In late 2014, a team of us put together a winning proposal to scan the eggs at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble. At the facility, a huge ring of electrons (almost a kilometre in circumference) traveling at .99% of the speed of light continuously generates beams of high-energy X-rays. These beams can be harnessed with great precision to peer through rocks and image the fossils inside.
Full story here

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