General Science

Breaking News from the Jurassic Period

posted: 08/30/17
by: Jason Ginsburg

Updates from the Mesozoic? Yes! Paleontologists are discovering new fossils, developing new theories, and using new technology in their quest to understand the awe-inspiring creatures that came before us.

We've collected some of the most intriguing developments. Here are history-making headlines...from prehistory.

T. Rex Slows Down
The idea of an angry Tyrannosaurus rex chasing down people and cars was popularized by the Jurassic Park films. However, new research theorizes that the average person could run fast enough to avoid becoming lunch.

Researchers at Manchester University created a computer simulation that examined muscle mass, bone strength, and skeletal stress to visualize dino-locomotion. They determined T. rex's top speed to be about 12 mph -- any faster, and its leg bones would snap in half. A healthy human can achieve 15 mph; Olympic sprinters can easily surpass 20. So if you happen to find yourself in a theme park with rampaging dinosaurs, do some stretches and you should be fine.

Feathered Dinosaur Can't Fly
Paleontologists in China have discovered a new species: Serikornis sungei, which means "silk bird." The size of a chicken, this "bird" had four wings and fuzzy feathers, but couldn't fly. Scientists aren't sure if the feathers were used for insulation, or display (like peacocks), or if they were became more functional down the line -- some dinosaurs glided before they flew.

Illustration by Emily Willoughby

This is an entirely new genus, only discovered in August 2017. Who knows what other discoveries await us?

Volcanoes Lead to Dinosaurs' Reign and Demise
The prevailing theory is that an asteroid impact alone didn't end the Age of Dinosaurs. Earth was undergoing widespread volcanic activity at the time, and the impact may have worsened it; certainly it added more ash, dust, and greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, lowering temperatures and killing vegetation. But a new study shows dinosaurs' very existence was helped by similar vulcanism.

Dinosaurs emerged after the end of the Triassic Period. The lead scientist of the study talks of "mega-eruptions" lasting hundreds and thousands of years. This change to the climate led to the extinction of 75 percent of terrestrial species. It cleared the way for dinosaurs, which filled many of the ecological niches opened by the extinctions. They eventually dominated the world; fossils have been found on every continent.

It appears dinosaurs' existence was both caused by and ended by the fiery eruptions of our dynamic planet.

New King of Dinosaurs Crowned
Paleontologists have known about titanosaurs -- giant herbivores with very long necks and tails -- for years. But they've recently created a new genus and new species: Patagotitan mayorum. It's officially the largest, heaviest dinosaur ever.


How big? 122 feet long. How tall? 20 feet at its shoulder. How heavy? 76 tons, about the same as a Space Shuttle. T. rex and other fearsome carnivores "look like dwarfs when you put them against one of these giant titanosaurs," said the lead scientist of the study that crowned Patagotitan.

And yet, one paleontologist thinks the new heavy champion may not hold its title forever. She told the Associated Press "there are even bigger dinosaurs out there to discover."

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