Category Archives: Science News for Kids

DinoNews: First Fossils from Saudi Arabia

Near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Baptiste Marcel, via Wikimedia Commons).
Near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Baptiste Marcel, via Wikimedia Commons).
Most people think of desert sand when they envision Saudi Arabia. The country’s geography is dominated by the Arabian Desert. There are virtually no rivers or lakes, and daytime temperatures can reach 129 degrees. Dinosaur fossils are rare there. Only a handful a fossilized bones have ever been found.

This isolated tooth evidences the first identifiable carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Arabian Peninsula. Abelisaurids like this specimen have been found in the ancient Gondwanan landmasses of North Africa, Madagascar and South America. (Maxim Leonov -- Palaeontological Institute, Moscow).
This isolated tooth evidences the first identifiable carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Arabian Peninsula. Abelisaurids like this specimen have been found in the ancient Gondwanan landmasses of North Africa, Madagascar and South America. (Maxim Leonov — Palaeontological Institute, Moscow).
But an international team of scientists has just announced the first formally identified dinosaur fossils from Saudi Arabia. Several bones from the tail of a huge Brontosaurus-like sauropod dinosaur have been identified. Judging from the size of the bones, the animal may have been up to 20 meters in length.

The paleontologists (the scientists who study prehistoric life) have also identified a tooth from a meat-eating theropod dinosaur. Although distantly related to big Tyrannosaurus Rex, the tooth probably came from a type of dinosaur only about six meters long. The team found the bones in the northwestern part of the country along the coast of the Red Sea.

The teeth and bones are approximately 72 million years old. Now that paleontologists know where to look, future discoveries are more more likely. “The hardest fossil to find is the first one,” said Dr. Tom Rich, of Australia’s Museum Victoria.

One of the exceptionally rare tail vertebrae from Saudi Arabia’s first described giant titanosaurid sauropod. This dinosaur was probably in excess of 20 meters long when alive. (Tim Holland -- Kronosaurus Korner, Richmond).
One of the exceptionally rare tail vertebrae from Saudi Arabia’s first described giant titanosaurid sauropod. This dinosaur was probably in excess of 20 meters long when alive. (Tim Holland — Kronosaurus Korner, Richmond).
It’s All in the Lingo
Understanding the classification of different dinosaurs can be confusing, but for budding paleontologists who want to “dig in” a little bit, the fossils finds discussed in this article are a great place to start.

To get a handle on where the extinct animals discussed above fit in, envision a dinosaur family tree that develops two main divisions.

One of the two main divisions is termed Saurischian. All the dinosaurs in the saurischian line developed from a common ancestor and share the same kind of hip structure. In fact, the word “saurischian” actually means “lizard-hipped.”

Within the Saurischian line, there are two major groups.

One of these groups is called the Theropods and includes predators such as the famous T-Rex.

The other group is called the Sauropods and includes plant-eaters like Brontosaurus.

So, when scientists say they have found a tooth from a theropod, or tail bones from a sauropod, they are being specific. They could have said the tooth came from a saurischian or simply from a dinosaur and still have been correct. But those terms are less specific.


Source: Press Release, Uppsala University, Sweden

Heavy Load: Simulating the Movement of Argentinosaurus

Argentinosaurus huinculensis reconstruction at Museo Municipal Carmen Funes, Plaza Huincul, Neuquén, Argentina. (Credit: Dr Bill Sellers, The University of Manchester.)
Argentinosaurus huinculensis reconstruction at Museo Municipal Carmen Funes, Plaza Huincul, Neuquén, Argentina. (Credit: Dr. Bill Sellers, The University of Manchester.)
How big is too big when it comes to walking? That is exactly the question asked by a team of scientists studying the skeleton of the biggest animal to ever walk the surface of the earth. The Argentinosaurus — a dinosaur named after the country of Argentina, where it was found – was so big some people have questioned whether it could have even been able to walk.

The dinosaur skeleton studied by paleontologists at the Carmen Funes museum in Neuquén, Argentina, suggests an animal that would have measured more than 40 meters and weighed around 80 tons. The Argentinosaurus lived around 94 million years ago.

A team from the University of Manchester in England worked with researchers in Argentina to try to discover once and for all whether Argentinosaurus would have been too big to walk. If not, then scientists would have to conclude that the skeleton – which was recreated from a partial set of fossilized bones – was somehow wrong in scale or design.

The scientists scanned the skeleton to build a computer model. Then, using an advanced computer modeling technique they recreated its walking and running movements and tested its locomotion ability.

“If you want to work out how dinosaurs walked, the best approach is computer simulation. This is the only way of bringing together all the different strands of information we have on this dinosaur, so we can reconstruct how it once moved,” Dr. Bill Sellers, lead researcher on the project, said.

The verdict? Houston, we have liftoff! Or, at least, locomotion. The simulation shows that Argentinosaurus would have reached speeds just over 5 miles per hour. You can watch it yourself in the video below.

Dr. Sellers said the research is important for understanding more about muscle-skeleton systems. “All vertebrates from humans to fish share the same basic muscles, bones and joints,” he said. “Argentinosaurus is the biggest animal that ever walked on the surface of the earth and understanding how it did this will tell us a lot about the maximum performance of the vertebrate musculoskeletal system.”

Stay tuned, because The University of Manchester team now plans to use the method to recreate the steps of other dinosaurs including Triceratops, Brachiosaurus and T. rex.


SOURCES:

University of Manchester Public Affairs

Museo Carmen Funes

Argentinosaurus on Wikipedia

YouTube Video

Falling Felix

fallingfelix

Imagine a roller coaster plunge that lasts over four minutes…

So there was this guy, Felix, who fell from outer space to the earth, without a spaceship. For real! He fell faster than a .22 caliber bullet fired from a rifle. He fell faster than his own screaming voice, faster than the speed of sound itself. And he lived to tell about it. You can watch him do it.

Have you ever ridden a roller coaster? You know the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you take that first plunge? Scientists call it “free fall”. On a ‘coaster, this feeling lasts a few seconds. People who jump out of airplanes with a parachute (skydivers) experience free fall for about 60 seconds. Felix experienced free fall for over four minutes when he fell from outer space.

In 1947, Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager was the first human to “break the sound barrier” traveling faster than the speed of sound (also called Mach 1). He did this in a special fighter jet airplane. At the time, scientists weren’t even sure if humans could go that fast and live. Nowadays, supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) jet airplanes are commonplace, but back then it was almost science fiction. But, as impressive as that is, imagine going that fast without the jet airplane!

Sixty-five years later to the day, in October 2012, daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped out of helium balloon from 24 miles up (over 127,000 feet). This is 4 times higher than most jets fly. There is only 2% of the Earth’s atmosphere at that height, 98% of the air is below.

The mission was named Red Bull Stratos. Felix wore a suit similar to NASA astronaut suit because at that height there is no air to breathe and it is wicked cold. Felix fell for over ten minutes and landed safely with a smooth parachute landing. He reached a maximum supersonic speed of 833 miles per hour (Mach 1.24).

Felix set the world record for the highest skydive ever, and the fastest free fall ever. His accomplishment didn’t just make the record books, it provided scientists with incredible information that will help them build safer space suits and train future astronauts (maybe even you).

Watch the incredible video shot from his helmet-cam and by his Red Bull Stratos crew.


Fun Phineas Falling Felix Fact
One record Felix did not break was the longest free fall ever. Felix fell for 4 minutes, 16 seconds, falling short (pun intended) of the record set by Joe Kittinger of 4 minutes 36 seconds. Even though Felix jumped from a much higher altitude, he was going so fast, Joe fell 20 seconds longer!


References

Web site: Felix Baumgartner – Red Bull Stratos

Web Site: Free Fall on Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico, USA on October 14, 2012. (Red Bull Stratos / Red Bull Content Pool)

The Slowest Pitch

pitchdropexperimentBaseball fans may know that the fastest pitch ever recorded was 105.1 miles per hour. The ball was thrown by Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman in 2010. But what about the slowest pitch? Take a guess. You will probably be wrong by about a decade.

The slowest pitch ever recorded took over 11 years to travel an inch! No joke! It was the amazing result of the world’s longest running scientific experiment, going since 1927.

Okay, first you need to understand that a “pitch” is not just a thrown baseball. ‘Pitch” is also the name of a black gooey liquid made from petroleum (oil). Familiar types of pitch include tar, asphalt and resin.

What do I mean by calling pitch “gooey?” Scientists describe the gooey-ness of a liquid by measuring how fast it pours, and they call this number “viscosity”. The higher the viscosity, the slower it pours. Water has a viscosity of almost zero (0.00089), honey is 10, and ketchup is 100.

Scientists didn’t know the exact viscosity of pitch, but they knew it was really high, estimated to be about 100 million (100,000,000)!

In 1927, Professor Thomas Parnell at The University of Queensland, Australia, wanted to demonstrate to his students that pitch was really a liquid; and fortunately he had a lot of time. He heated up some pitch (which lowered the viscosity making easier to pour), and filled a glass funnel. He let it cool for three years, then opened the bottom of the funnel, and placed a small cup underneath to catch any drops. Then placed it in a display case outside his office, and he waited . . .

It took over ten years before the first drop fell. Over eighty years have now passed, and the experiment keeps going. So far 9 drops have fallen.

It has become known as the Pitch Drop Experiment, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest running laboratory experiment in history.

A similar experiment was started at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, in 1944. It dripped in 2013 and the event was caught on film. Based on that drop, the viscosity of pitch was revised and calculated to be 218 million! Among other things, this more accurate measurement will allow scientists to design better, longer lasting and safer roads.

Fun Phineas Facts: The expression “pitch black” to describe complete darkness comes from the highly viscous liquid.

Pitch has at least four other completely different meanings besides baseball and tar.

  1. “to build” as in “pitch a tent”
  2. “a single musical note” as in “singing in perfect pitch”
  3. “a sports field” as in “Harry Potter’s quidditch pitch”
  4. “an advertisement” as in “a sales pitch”

Check out a 20 second time lapse YouTube video of the only drop of pitch ever filmed:


SOURCES

The Baseball Almanac

NEWS: The (U.K.) Independent: The Pitch Drops: Science experiment going for 69 years caught on film for first time

The University of Queensland – Australia – The Pitch Drop Experiment Page

WIKI: The Pitch Drop Experiment

WIKI: Pitch (Resin)

PODCAST: The Skeptics Guide to the Universe episode #419:


PHOTO CREDIT: Picture of the Pitch Drop Experiment at the University of Queensland, with 9-volt battery for size comparison (University of Queensland).

In the Game: Sports Germs Often Go Along for the Ride

badminton_netSome types of sports may be less germy than others!


Seems like the more we learn about germs, the more keeping your hands washed seems like a really good idea.

A new study from researchers at the University of California at Irvine shows that germs can spread among athletes by taking a free ride on the ball as it is passed from player to player.

Researchers analyzed the germ threat by conducting experiments using volleyballs and basketballs. They thoroughly cleaned the ball and the hands of all the players except one. Then, after a normal game, they inspected the hands of everyone.

Guess what they found. Yep. Germs from the one player who didn’t wash his hands made it to the ball and then were spread around to the hands of the other players.

Researchers also learned that some types of germs can survive for up to 72 hours on a basketball or volleyball.

“Institutions, coaches, and athletes should take note of the role the sports ball can play as a vehicle for the transmission of potentially life-threatening germs,” said Joshua A. Cotter, who ran the study.

Good hand-washing is still the best defense against the spread of germs, so don’t be shy the next time you are walking by a sink.

And don’t be surprised if you start seeing more hand-sanitizing stations popping up at the gyms and parks where you play sports.


SOURCES

NEWS RELEASE: Passing The Ball May Also Pass Disease, UCI Study Finds

WEB: What Are Germs?

VIDEO: “The Journey of a Germ” with Sid the Science Kid

Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives