NASA's Opportunity Rover has died on Mars. The little solar-paneled robot apparently ran out of battery power during the Red Planet's awesome 2018 dust storm, and after one last attempt to contact it, NASA concluded yesterday (Feb. 13) that the far-off explorer is no more. Which raises the question: What's going to happen to its body? Many human artifacts wouldn't last very long beyond our protective biosphere. As Live Science reported previously, solar radiation has likely shredded the Tesla Roadster Elon Musk launched into space last year. But Tesla Roadsters have lots of organic fibers and plastics in their bodies. Mars rovers are made of tougher stuff. [Voyager to Mars Rover: NASA's 10 Greatest Innovations] Jeff Moersch, a professor of planetary science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a member of the Opportunity team, cautioned that he's not an expert in the rover's engineering. But he said that Opportunity does have some plastic bits that might eventually break … [Read more...] about What Will Happen to the Opportunity Rover’s Dead Body on Mars?
Getting into the fossil record
Humans and other primates are outliers among mammals for having nails instead of claws. But how, when and why we transitioned from claws to nails has been an evolutionary head-scratcher. Now, new fossil evidence shows that ancient primates - including one of the oldest known, Teilhardina brandti - had specialized grooming claws as well as nails. The findings overturn the prevailing assumption that the earliest primates had nails on all their digits and suggest the transition from claws to nails was more complex than previously thought. "We had just assumed nails all evolved once from a common ancestor, and in fact, it's much more complicated than that," said Jonathan Bloch, study co-author and Florida Museum of Natural History curator of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Florida. The findings are scheduled to be published today in the Journal of Human Evolution. Grooming in mammals is not just about looking good. Thick body hair is a haven for ticks, lice and other parasites … [Read more...] about Fossils Show Ancient Primates Had Grooming Claws As Well As Nails
Tech & Science Dinosaurs Birds Evolution Sixty-six million ago an asteroid crashed into the Earth, with a force one million times greater than the most powerful atomic bomb. The impact and its after-effects ushered in a great extinction event that wiped out nearly three quarters of all plant and animal life. Among the victims were the dinosaurs, but birds were also badly affected. It has long been debated how many birds—which evolved from dinosaurs—survived the extinction. Now, a new study published in the journal Current Biology, has found that most avians were wiped out as well, save for a handful of small, specialized ground-dwelling species, which are the ancestors of all birds today. This is because the impact and its after-effects decimated the planet’s forests, leading to the extinction of all tree-dwelling birds, according to an international team of researchers. "Perching birds went extinct because there were no more perches,” Regan … [Read more...] about Only a Handful of Birds Survived the Dinosaur Killing Asteroid—Now Scientists Have Worked Out Why
Tech & Science Whales Fossils The biggest animal on Earth is the blue whale, a filter feeder that traces its evolutionary heritage back to four-legged toothy landlubbers. It’s a weird story, and one that scientists are still trying to understand by digging deep into the fossil record. Three separate new papers published this week in the same issue of the journal Royal Society Open Science detail new fossil whale discoveries. Two of those papers try to pin down the origins of baleen, the wall of thin bones in a whale’s mouth that the animals use to strain tiny organisms out of ocean water. The third identifies a Peruvian animal that is the distant ancestor of the weirdest dolphin alive today. The origins of baleen have been a particular stumbling block for scientists, who don’t understand how the whales lost their teeth and gained these portable sieves. “We still have a long way to go for the real missing link between toothed whales to true … [Read more...] about New Fossil Whale Discoveries Thrill Scientists Trying to Crack Mysteries of Ancient Species
A multi-institution, 10-year plus study across the globe has shed light on the emergence of dinosaurs during the early Triassic period. A team led by paleontologists and geologists at the University of Washington has uncovered new fossils in Zambia and Tanzania, examined previously collected fossils, and analyzed specimens in museums around the world to better understand life in the Triassic period across different geographic regions. The researchers focused on the Southern End of the world from about 252 million to 199 million years ago during the Triassic period when the earliest mammals and reptiles lived on Pangea. In total, the researchers released 13 special edition papers and 24 additional peer-reviewed papers highlighting their findings over the multi-year study. “Most of what we know about the major mass extinction is from the South African Karoo Basin. I was always interested in understanding, do we see the exact same pattern around the world, or do we not?” … [Read more...] about Decade-Long Study Provides New Insight into Age of the Dinosaurs