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Flightless dino had bright, rainbow-colored feathers

In recent years, many dinosaurs have gotten a fabulously feathered makeover, but for the most part, scientists still aren’t sure what colors the animals were. A new discovery of a finely preserved feathered dinosaur fossil in China suggests that some dinosaurs were as brightly colored as modern-day hummingbirds.

10 May 2018

Ice (Re)Cap: May 2018

From Antarctica to the Arctic; from polar caps, permafrost and glaciers to ocean-rafted sea ice; and from burly bears to cold-loving microbes, fascinating science is found in every nook and crevasse of Earth’s cryosphere, and new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.

02 May 2018

New map of Titan shows moon's hidden surface

Before NASA’s Cassini mission, which ended in 2017 after 13 years orbiting Saturn, little was known about the surface of the planet’s largest moon, Titan, as most of its features lie obscured under a dense, opaque atmosphere composed mainly of nitrogen gas. However, thanks to special filters that enabled Cassini’s cameras to see through the haze, the spacecraft captured high-resolution images of about 9 percent of Titan’s surface, with 25 to 30 percent of the moon imaged in lower resolution. Researchers have now used an algorithm to interpolate the remainder of the moon’s surface and create the most complete global topographic map of Titan yet.

01 May 2018

How Borneo got its elephants

Elephants may not seem like islanders, but a small population lives on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. How and when the animals arrived on the island has long been a mystery. A new DNA analysis points to colonization at the end of the Pleistocene, when a land bridge may have connected Java, Borneo and Sumatra to the Malay Peninsula and mainland Asia.

28 Apr 2018

Lidar preserves record of destroyed theropod tracks

In 2011, the first theropod dinosaur tracks ever discovered in Arkansas were uncovered at an active gypsum quarry near Nashville in the southwestern part of the state. Over two weeks, researchers collected a set of high-resolution digital scans of the trackway that has now allowed scientists to piece together its 100-million-year-old story, even though the tracks have long-since been destroyed by mining operations.

26 Apr 2018

Origins of plant photosynthesis illuminated

Photosynthesis, the process by which plants harness sunlight to make their food, is a defining feature of plants and an important evolutionary development. But when photosynthesis evolved in ancient plant ancestors is not clear. The Precambrian fossil red alga Bangiomorpha pubescens, discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 1990 by University of Cambridge paleobiologist Nicholas Butterfield, displays evidence of traits that suggest it photosynthesized the way plants do, but the exact age of the fossil was also unknown. In a new study, researchers report an age for the alga of about 1.047 billion years, making it the oldest-known direct ancestor of plants.

25 Apr 2018

Radium levels suggest Arctic Ocean chemistry is changing

Rising temperatures have already caused changes in the Arctic environment, like diminishing sea ice and thawing permafrost. Now, it appears that sea-ice loss could be throwing Arctic Ocean chemistry out of whack.

24 Apr 2018

Whatever happened to thagomizers and other tail weapons?

Stegosaurus wielded a spiked tail — dubbed a “thagomizer” by cartoonist Gary Larson and informally adopted by paleontologists — which the herbivorous dinosaur likely used for defense against hungry predators. Other extinct animals also sported foe-clobbering tail weapons: Ankylosaurus had a tail club, as did extinct mammals like the glyptodonts, giant armadillo-like animals that once roamed the Americas. Today, though, thagomizers and bony tail clubs are things of the past. In a new study, paleontologists have found that extinct animals with such weapons all shared a now-antiquated set of traits: They were large, herbivorous, and had body armor and a stiff torso.

23 Apr 2018

Hot tropics drove out ancient reptiles, but they came back

About 252 million years ago, massive volcanic eruptions in what is now Siberia rapidly warmed Earth, resulting in the end-Permian mass extinction that saw most terrestrial and marine species die off. It’s been thought that surviving reptiles and fish fled the hot tropics and didn’t return for millions of years. But according to new research, the tropical evacuation may not have lasted so long after all.

21 Apr 2018

Battery recycling underlies elevated lead in African soils

Of all the recycling industries in the world, lead-acid battery recycling is one of the most profitable — and one of the most toxic. In the U.S., regulations on the industry have dramatically reduced lead exposure and pollution at battery recycling plants. But in Africa, where the industry is growing and largely unregulated, lead levels are skyrocketing. A new study in Environmental Research looking at environmental lead levels in seven African countries is shining a spotlight on the ongoing public health crisis.

19 Apr 2018

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