Fossil footprints reveal existence of big early dinosaur predator

In a handout picture released by Manchester University on October 26, 2017 Fabien Knoll, honorary senior research fellow at the University of Manchester, lies next to the newly discovered dinosaur footprints, belonging to the newly named species Kayentapus ambrokholohali found in Lesotho. (AFP)
Updated 27 October 2017
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Fossil footprints reveal existence of big early dinosaur predator

WASHINGTON: A trail of fossilized three-toed footprints that measure nearly two feet (57 cm) long shows that a huge meat-eating dinosaur stalked southern Africa 200 million years ago at a time when most carnivorous dinosaurs were modest-sized beasts.
Scientists on Thursday described the footprints from an ancient river bank in Lesotho, and estimated that the dinosaur, which they named Kayentapus ambrokholohali, was about 30 feet (9 meters) long.
No fossilized bones were found, but the footprints alone showed a lot about the animal. The scientists concluded it was a large theropod — the two-legged carnivorous dinosaur group that included later giants like Tyrannosaurus and Giganotosaurus — but that it was more lightly built than those brutes. The theropod group also gave rise to birds.
Kayentapus lived early in the Jurassic Period, shortly after a mass extinction that doomed other large reptilian terrestrial predators that lived in the preceding Triassic Period, when dinosaurs first appeared.
“Our finding corroborates the hypothesis that theropods reached a great size relatively early in the course of their evolution, but apparently not before the Triassic-Jurassic boundary,” said paleontologist Fabien Knoll, of the Dinopolis Foundation in Spain and the University of Manchester in Britain.
There are no skeletal fossils of meat-eating dinosaurs this large so early in the dinosaur evolutionary history. It lived on the ancient southern hemisphere super-continent of Gondwana.
There are other fossilized footprints from Poland that indicate a similar-sized theropod inhabited the northern super-continent of Laurasia around the same time.
Theropods of similar size do not appear in the fossil record until 30 million years later, Knoll said.
The footprints were found on what was once a river bank, bearing telltale ripple marks and desiccation cracks.
“It is the first evidence of an extremely large meat-eating animal roaming a landscape otherwise dominated by a variety of herbivorous, omnivorous and much-smaller carnivorous dinosaurs,” added paleontologist Lara Sciscio of the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
The research was published on Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.
In separate research, other scientists on Thursday described another new dinosaur, a plant-eater called Matheronodon provincialis, that lived 70 million years ago. Its fossils were unearthed in southern France.
Matheronodon is distinctive for its large teeth with a chisel-like cutting edge that provided a powerful shearing action like scissors to eat tough vegetation, said paleontologist Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels.
That research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Japan satellite blasts into space to deliver artificial meteors

Updated 18 January 2019
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Japan satellite blasts into space to deliver artificial meteors

  • The rocket is carrying a total of seven ultra-small satellites that will demonstrate various “innovative” technologies
  • The satellite carries 400 tiny balls whose chemical formula is a closely-guarded secret

TOKYO: A rocket carrying a satellite on a mission to deliver the world’s first artificial meteor shower blasted into space on Friday, Japanese scientists said.
A start-up based in Tokyo developed the micro-satellite for the celestial show over Hiroshima early next year as the initial experiment for what it calls a “shooting stars on demand” service.
The satellite is to release tiny balls that glow brightly as they hurtle through the atmosphere, simulating a meteor shower.
It hitched a ride on the small-size Epsilon-4 rocket that was launched from the Uchinoura space center by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Friday morning.
The rocket is carrying a total of seven ultra-small satellites that will demonstrate various “innovative” technologies, JAXA spokesman Nobuyoshi Fujimoto told AFP.
By around noon on Friday, the first of the seven satellites had been successfully sent into orbit, he added, with JAXA officials waiting for signals to confirm the fate of the other six.
The company behind the artificial meteor shower plan, ALE Co. Ltd, plans to deliver its first out-of-this-world show over Hiroshima in the spring of 2020.
The satellite launched Friday carries 400 tiny balls whose chemical formula is a closely-guarded secret.
That should be enough for 20-30 events, as one shower will involve up to 20 stars, according to the company.
ALE’s satellite, released 500 kilometers (310 miles) above the Earth, will gradually descend to 400 kilometers over the coming year as it orbits the Earth.
The company plans to launch a second satellite on a private-sector rocket in mid-2019.
ALE says it is targeting “the whole world” with its products and plans to build a stockpile of shooting stars in space that can be delivered across the world.
When its two satellites are in orbit, they can be used separately or in tandem, and will be programmed to eject the balls at the right location, speed and direction to put on a show for viewers on the ground.
Tinkering with the ingredients in the balls should mean that it is possible to change the colors they glow, offering the possibility of a multi-colored flotilla of shooting stars.
Each star is expected to shine for several seconds before being completely burned up — well before they fall low enough to pose any danger to anything on Earth.
They would glow brightly enough to be seen even over the light-polluted metropolis of Tokyo, ALE says.
If all goes well, and the skies are clear, the 2020 event could be visible to millions of people, it says.
ALE chief executive Lena Okajima has said her company chose Hiroshima for its first display because of its good weather, landscape and cultural assets.
The western Japan city rose from the ashes after the 1945 US atomic bombing and faces the Seto Inland sea where the floating gate of Itsukushima Shrine is.
ALE is working in collaboration with scientists and engineers at Japanese universities as well as local government officials and corporate sponsors.
It has not disclosed the price for an artificial meteor shower.