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 space probe Hayabusa2 drops hopping rovers toward asteroid

Updated 21 September 2018
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Japan space probe Hayabusa2 drops hopping rovers toward asteroid

  • If the mission is successful, the rovers will conduct the world’s first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface
  • The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014 and will return to Earth with its samples in 2020

TOKYO: A Japanese space probe Friday released a pair of exploring rovers toward an egg-shaped asteroid to collect mineral samples that may shed light on the origin of the solar system.
The “Hayabusa2” probe jettisoned the round, cookie tin-shaped robots toward the Ryugu asteroid, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
If the mission is successful, the rovers will conduct the world’s first moving, robotic observation of an asteroid surface.
Taking advantage of the asteroid’s low gravity, they will jump around on the surface — soaring as high as 15 meters and staying in the air for as long as 15 minutes — to survey the asteroid’s physical features with cameras and sensors.
So far so good, but JAXA must wait for the Hayabusa2 probe to send data from the rovers to Earth in a day or two to assess whether the release has been a success, officials said.
“We are very much hopeful. We don’t have confirmation yet, but we are very, very hopeful,” Yuichi Tsuda, JAXA project manager, told reporters.
“I am looking forward to seeing pictures. I want to see images of space as seen from the surface of the asteroid,” he said.
The cautious announcement came after a similar JAXA probe in 2005 released a rover which failed to reach its target asteroid.
Next month, Hayabusa2 will deploy an “impactor” that will explode above the asteroid, shooting a two-kilo (four-pound) copper object into the surface to blast a crater a few meters in diameter.
From this crater, the probe will collect “fresh” materials unexposed to millennia of wind and radiation, hoping for answers to some fundamental questions about life and the universe, including whether elements from space helped give rise to life on Earth.
The probe will also release a French-German landing vehicle named Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) for surface observation.
Hayabusa2, about the size of a large fridge and equipped with solar panels, is the successor to JAXA’s first asteroid explorer, Hayabusa — Japanese for falcon.
That probe returned from a smaller, potato-shaped, asteroid in 2010 with dust samples despite various setbacks during its epic seven-year odyssey and was hailed a scientific triumph.
The Hayabusa2 mission was launched in December 2014 and will return to Earth with its samples in 2020.