Little ‘Rainbow’ Dinosaur Discovered by Farmer in China

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Little ‘Rainbow’ Dinosaur Discovered by Farmer in China

 Little 'Rainbow' Dinosaur Discovered by Farmer in China
C. juji prepares to snatch its prey.

Credit: Zhao Chuang

Despite its fearsome, Velociraptor-like skull, a 161-million-year-old dinosaur the size of a duck would have been a shining, shimmering and splendid sight to behold — mostly because it sported gleaming, iridescent feathers that were rainbow-colored, a new study finds.

Iridescent feathers glistened on the dinosaur’s head, wings and tail, according to an analysis of the shape and structure of the creature’s melanosomes, the parts of cells that contain pigment.

“The preservation of this dinosaur is incredible — we were really excited when we realized the level of detail we were able to see on the feathers,” study co-researcher Chad Eliason, a postdoctoral researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago, said in a statement. [See images and illustrations of the iridescent dinosaur]

A farmer in northeastern China’s Hebei Province discovered the fossil, and the Paleontological Museum of Liaoning in China acquired the find in 2014. After discovering its iridescence and noting the unique bony crest on top of the dinosaur’s head, researchers gave it a colorful name — Caihong juji— which is Mandarin for “rainbow with the big crest.”

The scientists discovered the dinosaur’s iridescence and colorful nature by examining its feathers using a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Incredibly, the SEM analysis showed imprints of melanosomes in the fossil. The organic pigment once contained in the melanosomes is long gone, but the structure of the cell parts revealed the feathers’ original colors, the researchers said. That’s because differently shaped melanosomes reflect light in different ways.

Photos and drawings of the incredibly detailed <em>C. juji</em> fossil.

Photos and drawings of the incredibly detailed C. juji fossil.

Credit: Yu et al., 2018

Hummingbirds have bright, iridescent feathers, but if you took a hummingbird feather and smashed it into tiny pieces, you’d only see black dust,” Eliason said. “The pigment in the feathers is black, but the shapes of the melanosomes that produce that pigment are what make the colors in hummingbird feathers that we see.”

The pancake-shaped melanosomes in C. juji matched those in hummingbirds, indicating that the Jurassic-age dinosaur had iridescent feathers, the researchers said.

C. juji isn’t the first dinosaur on record to have iridescent feathers;Microraptor, a four-winged dinosaur also sported gleaming feathers, Live Science previously reported. But that dinosaur lived about 40 million years after C. juji, so the newly identified dinosaur is by far the oldest dinosaur on record to flaunt iridescent plumage, the researchers said.

C. juji is also the oldest animal on record to have asymmetrical feathers, which help modern birds steer while flying. However, unlike modern birds, whose asymmetrical feathers are on their wing tips, C. juji sported these lopsided feathers on its tail. That, combined with the fact that C. juji likely couldn’t fly, led the researchers to conclude the dinosaur likely used its feathers to attract mates and keep warm.

This “bizarre” feature has never been seen before in either dinosaurs or birds, which evolved from dinosaurs, said study co-researcher Xing Xu, a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This suggests that tail feathers may have played a role in early, controlled flight, Xu said.

But not all of C. juji’s features are out of the blue. Some of its traits, such as its bony head crest, resemble those on other dinosaurs, researchers said.

“This combination of traits is rather unusual,” study co-researcher Julia Clarke, a professor of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Texas at Austin, said in the statement. “It has a Velociraptor-type skull on the body of this very avian, fully feathered, fluffy kind of form.” [Tiny Dino: Reconstructing Microraptor’s Black Feathers]

This mixture of old and new traits is an example of mosaic evolution, when some parts of an animal evolve, but others stay the same, the researchers said.

The study was published online today (Jan. 15) in the journal Nature Communications.

Original article on Live Science.


Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

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Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week

 Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover 10 incredible photos and the stories behind them.

Deep-Sea Alien:

Imagine this fearsome sight: an ink-black shark with gnarly, needle-like teeth; creepy, glass-like eyes; a glowing belly and a potentially extendable jaw. That’s what scientists saw when they pulled up this rare creature, along with four of its pals.

[Full Story: ‘Alien’ Shark with Goblin-Like Jaws Hauled Up from the Deep Sea]

The Blackest Black:

Male birds of paradise have specialized feathers that reflect back only the barest amount of light, creating a light-sucking matte effect.

[Full Story: The ‘Black Hole’ Optical Illusion of the Bird of Paradise Explained]

Bizarre Hitmen:

These killer spiders look like birds and strike like ninjas. New research suggests there’s way more of them than scientists thought.

[Full Story: Pelican Spiders Are the Weirdest-Looking Assassins You’ll Ever See]

Disturbing Robot:

This dirt-dispersing robot-baby torso will crawl out of the lab and into your nightmares.

[Full Story: Why Scientists Just Created the Creepiest Robot Baby You’ll Ever See]

Strange Swirling Droplet:

A viral GIF shows a single drop of liquid spinning like a glorious galaxy until it suddenly evaporates. Why? Good question.

[Full Story: Even Chemists Are Baffled by This GIF of a Droplet Spiraling to Its Doom]

Layers of Ice:

The newfound sheets are buried by just a few feet of Martian dirt in some places, meaning it might be accessible to future crewed missions.

[Full Story: Huge Glaciers Found Hiding Beneath Mars Surface]

In Fossilized Color:

Fossilized eye tissue in a 120-million-year-old bird has revealed that this ancient creature could likely see in color.

[Full Story: This Bird ‘Eyeball’ Survived 120 Million Years]

Surviving the Cold:

Why did these alligators stick their noses out of the water during last week’s cold snap?

[Full Story: Alligators ‘Snorkel’ to Survive Ice-Covered Swamp]

Unexpected Savior:

A marine biologist was surprised when a humpback whale started lifting her out of the water — and even more surprised when she saw what it was protecting her from.

[Full Story: This Humpback Whale Saved a Woman’s Life, But Probably Not on Purpose]


As the Arctic blast continues to roil the Eastern Seaboard with gusty winds and frigid temperatures, at least four thresher sharks have been found frozen off the coast of Cape Cod.

[Full Story: Frozen Sharks Washing Up on Cape Cod]

Chameleons’ Secret Glow Comes from Their Bones

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Chameleons’ Secret Glow Comes from Their Bones

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Chameleons' Secret Glow Comes from Their Bones

No bones about it — chameleons’ fluorescent crest patterns are powered by glow from the lizards’ skulls.

Credit: David Prötzel (ZSM/LMU)

Blending seamlessly into one’s surroundings is known as being “chameleon-like” for a good reason — chameleons shift the colors and patterns of their skin to hide from predators in plain sight, or to communicate during social interactions with other chameleons.

But there’s a secret, illuminated layer to chameleons’ colorful signaling: Scientists recently discovered that the lizards’ bones, particularly on their heads and faces, fluoresce through their skin, creating glow-in-the-dark patterns.

“Chameleons are already famed for their exceptional eyes and visual communication, and now they are among the first known terrestrial squamates [scaled reptiles] that display and likely use fluorescence,” the scientists wrote in the study. [Photos: How Chameleons Change Color]

Biologists have long known that bones glow under ultraviolet (UV) light, but the researchers were astonished to learn that chameleons could harness this characteristic to display visible fluorescent patterns through their skin, study co-author Frank Glaw, a herpetology curator at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology (ZSM) in Munich, Germany, said in a statement.

“That animals use this phenomenon to fluoresce themselves has surprised us and was previously completely unknown,” Glaw said.

A panther chameleon (<i>Furcifer pardalis</i>) from Madagascar puts its best face forward.
A panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) from Madagascar puts its best face forward.

Credit: David Prötzel (ZSM/LMU)


Fluorescence, in which special structures glow in the presence of light, differs from bioluminescence, a process that describes light generated by a chemical reaction between compounds in an animal’s body. Fireflies, some types of fungi and numerous deep-sea creatures are bioluminescent, while fluorescent animals include scorpionscoralsjellyfish, a rare type of sea turtle, and now, chameleons.

The study’s authors looked at 160 specimens representing 31 species in the Calumna genus, a group of chameleons native to Madagascar, and 165 specimens from 20 species of the Furcifer genus, found in Madagascar and parts of Africa. They photographed living animals in their habitats as well as preserved specimens, using UV light to illuminate the chameleons and reveal their glowing patterns.

Next, they turned to micro-computed tomography — 3D X-ray imaging on the microscopic level — to literally connect the dots, matching the glowing spots in the patterns to raised bumps in the lizards’ bones known as tubercles, which provided the source of the glow.

In the brown leaf chameleon (<i>Brookesia superciliaris</i>), tubercles on its skeleton generate glowing patterns of dots that are visible through its skin.

In the brown leaf chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris), tubercles on its skeleton generate glowing patterns of dots that are visible through its skin.

Credit: David Prötzel (ZSM/LMU)


Nearly all the species revealed previously unseen blue patterns on their skin when under UV light, the researchers discovered. Most of the lizards displayed patterning on their heads, but some showed fluorescent markings across their bodies, the study’s first author David Prötzel, a ZSM doctoral student, said in the statement. The patterns appeared blue because the lizards’ thin outer layer of skin serves as a filter, nudging the fluorescence toward the blue end of the spectrum, according to the study.

The thin skin stretched over the bumps serves as a window, allowing UV light to reach the bone and then enabling the shine to reflect through the skin. In shadowy, humid forest habitats, intermittently-visible fluorescent patterns could allow the lizards to signal each other without drawing the attention of predators, the study authors wrote.

Patterns tended to cluster around the chameleons’ eyes and the front of their heads, areas known to be important for communication between individuals. On average, male specimens across species displayed more patterning than females; while it is still uncertain how the chameleons may use fluorescence, this male-skew suggests it may play a role in sexual selection, though further study will be required to say for sure, the scientists explained.

“Fluorescence in terrestrial vertebrates has been underestimated until now, and its role in the evolution of ornamentation remains largely unexplored, but this is a promising avenue for future research,” the study authors reported.

The findings were published online Jan. 15 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Original article on Live Science.

The Most Amazing Space Photos This Week!

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The Most Amazing Space Photos This Week!

Mesmerizing Clouds of Saturn

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Kevin M. Gill/Flickr

Boeing’s Heat Shield Put to the Test

Credit: Boeing

Photos: Book Fragments from Blackbeard’s Ship

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Photos: Book Fragments from Blackbeard’s Ship

Blackbeard cannon chamber

Credit: Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

5 Major Archaeology Discoveries to Look for in 2018

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5 Major Archaeology Discoveries to Look for in 2018

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5 Major Archaeology Discoveries to Look for in 2018

The Dead Sea Scrolls on display at Qumran in 2010.

Credit: Shutterstock

The burial of a warrior who lived and (literally) died by the sword, a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings and a cave that may have held Dead Sea Scrolls — these are just some of the big archaeology and history stories that we think we may hear about in 2018. Look back at the predictions for2017 and 2016 to see our track record.

The tomb of a warrior who was killed by the slice of a sword has already been discovered in Greece. At least four other people were buried with the warrior. The five people were buried with gold and silver rings, ivory-handled swords, a gold-decorated dagger and many other artifacts.

Yet the public never heard a word about this fantastic discovery because the area where the tomb is located has been hit hard by looters. Archaeologists do not want to disclose information about the tomb until excavations are finished and the site can be better secured.

In 2018, the security situation may improve enough for this discovery to be discussed in more detail. Until then, no pictures have been released, and Live Science decided not to publish the site’s location or more information. [The 25 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

In 2017, a new Dead Sea Scrolls cave was found near the site of Qumran. The cave had been plundered in the 1950s or 1960s, but archaeologists found a blank scroll when they excavated it recently. This is the 12th cave found near Qumran that once held Dead Sea Scrolls. The other 11 caves were discovered in the 1940s and 1950s. [In Photos: New Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed]

The discovery of the 12th cave made headlines around the world, but that find is unlikely to be the end of the story. The team that found the 12th cave is surveying several other caves that could potentially hold additional Dead Sea Scrolls, Live Science has learned. This survey is being carried out as part of a larger project by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). The IAA is racing to identify and excavate any caves in the Judaean Desert that may contain archaeological remains, because several looters operating in the Judaean Desert have been caught by authorities over the past few years. Some of the looters were found carrying the remains of possible scrolls.

Given that the survey is ongoing and that several potential Dead Sea Scrolls caves have already been identified, it wouldn’t be surprising to see in 2018 that a 13th Dead Sea Scroll has been discovered near Qumran.

2017 brought news of some fantastic prehistoric-site discoveries in Saudi Arabia. In August, Live Science reported that 46 prehistoric sites, some possibly more than 1 million years old, had been discovered in Saudi Arabia. The findings were made by researchers with the Palaeodeserts Project, which aims to better understand Saudi Arabia’s human and environmental past.

In October, another archaeological team reported that they had found 400 mysterious rectangular structures that archaeologists call “gates” (named for their resemblance to field gates) in Saudi Arabia, and within a few days, the team was invited to take low-flying aerial photographs and conduct on-the-ground research. Nearly 6,000 aerial photographs and a large amount of data are currently being analyzed. [Photos: Aerial Views of Ancient Stone Structures in Saudi Arabia]

In November 2017, the country held the “1st Saudi Archaeology Convention,” in which research from across the kingdom was presented. In 2018, we can expect to hear of new prehistoric-site discoveries, as well as finds from more recent time periods, in Saudi Arabia.

Four I-type gates, as archaeologists call them, can be seen in this photo.
Four I-type gates, as archaeologists call them, can be seen in this photo.

Credit: 1- APAAME, APAAME_20171027_DLK-0298


Much research has been going on in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in recent years, and 2018 may see new discoveries in the valley.

In July, Live Science reported that archaeologists had identified an area near the tomb of the pharaoh Ay (1327-1323 B.C.) that has four foundation deposits and a radar reading that could indicate the presence of a tomb. Another group of archaeologists has carried out surveys of the western part of the Valley of the Kings in recent years. A third team, this one from the University of Basel, in Switzerland, is currently analyzing and publishing the finds from KV 40, a tomb in the Valley of the Kings where dozens of mummies were discovered in 2014.

Additionally, Live Science has received unconfirmed reports of fieldwork going on right now in the Valley of the Kings that may lead to the discovery of a new tomb. Given all of this activity, it’s quite possible that 2018 will bring stunning new discoveries, possibly including that of a new tomb, in the Valley of the Kings.

In 2018, scientists will be working on many technologies and solutions to address the worldwide problem of looting. They include robots that can go into dangerous looter tunnels and assess damage that looters have done, dogs that sniff out artifacts that are being smuggled into the U.S., and software that can identify stolen artwork that thieves are trying to sell.

Countries that are dealing with wars and economic and political strife are hit the hardest by looting. Looters have gunned down antiquities guards, and children have been killed while working (typically for little money) in narrow tunnels.

Originally published on Live Science.

The Most Interesting Science News Articles of the Week

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The Most Interesting Science News Articles of the Week

Each week we uncover the most interesting and informative articles from around the world, here are 10 of the coolest stories in science this week.

This flat metalens can focus nearly the entire visible spectrum of light in the same spot and in high resolution.

This flat metalens can focus nearly the entire visible spectrum of light in the same spot and in high resolution.

Credit: Jared Sisler/Harvard SEAS

Physics could soon make it possible to replace those bulky, heavy, glass lenses on cameras with wafer-thin “metalenses” — materials microscopically engineered to focus light at a fraction of the weight and size of traditional lensing.

A metalens takes a different approach to focusing light. Instead of exploiting the diffraction properties of glass, a metalens uses nanofins — tiny structures, typically made of titanium dioxide — to bend wavelengths toward the metalens focal point. [Read more about the technology.]

Text of one paper fragment is shown matched to text from a page in Edward Cooke's 1712 travelogue and adventure tale.

Text of one paper fragment is shown matched to text from a page in Edward Cooke’s 1712 travelogue and adventure tale.

Credit: Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

A discovery from the wreck of Blackbeard’s ship could offer some insights into pirate reading tastes. [Read more about the discovery.]

A team of researchers in New Zealand is working to make an astonishing and mysterious medieval document available for public consumption.

The first results of the researchers’ work already appear online in an interactive version of the scroll, where individual passages come alive with their translations as readers zoom and click on them. [Read more about the scroll.]

When water levels in the pond are low, the Tetzacualco can be seen.

When water levels in the pond are low, the Tetzacualco can be seen.

Credit: Arturo Cruz, Terrasat Cartografía

A 1,000-year-old stone structure in Mexico may represent how some people in ancient Mesoamerica believed the Earth was created, an archaeologist suggests.

Given what the archaeologists have found so far, Hernández Bautista hypothesizes that the Tetzacualco’s large size and location in the middle of a pond mean that the structure is an attempt to represent a mythical creature known as Cipactli or Çipaqli, a fish monster from which the gods created the Earth, according to some ancient Mesoamerican legends. [Read more about the ancient structure.]

A photo reveals the face of the thin clay seal.

A photo reveals the face of the thin clay seal.

Credit: Courtesy of the Israeli Antiquities Authority

Archaeologists have discovered a 2,700-year-old clay stamp near Jerusalem’s Western Wall that seems to shed some light on the political structure of the ancient society that inhabited the city.

The 0.5 by 0.6-inch (13 by 15 millimeters) clay stamp depicts two figures facing one another above archaic Hebrew script that reads “לשרער” (roughly: l’sar’ir). The researchers said that the word is a condensed version of the phrase “לשר העיר,” (l’sar ha-ir) which means “belonging to the governor of the city.” [Read more about the piece of clay.]

Satellite data enables scientists to map the seafloor, which is sinking under the weight of rising seas. (This map shows gravity anomalies in the western Indian Ocean.

Satellite data enables scientists to map the seafloor, which is sinking under the weight of rising seas. (This map shows gravity anomalies in the western Indian Ocean.

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

The bottom of the ocean is more of a “sunken place” than it used to be.

Scientists have long known that Earth’s crust, or outer layer, is elastic: Earlier research revealed how Earth’s surface warps in response to tidal movements that redistribute masses of water; and 2017’s Hurricane Harvey dumped so much water on Texas that the ground dropped 0.8 inches (2 centimeters), the Atlantic reported. [Read more about the ocean bottom.]

An artist's illustration depicting a hypothetical dust ring orbiting Tabby's star, more formally known as KIC 846.

An artist’s illustration depicting a hypothetical dust ring orbiting Tabby’s star, more formally known as KIC 846.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Well, we always knew the alien-megastructure idea was a long shot.

For the past two-plus years, astronomers have been trying to figure out what, exactly, is going on with Tabby’s star. A number of potential explanations have been floated, from orbiting comet fragments, to a huge dust cloud between Earth and KIC 8462852, to energy-collecting structures built by an advanced alien civilization. [Read more about alien megastructure.]

Would you like your water sparkling, from the tap or hauled out of an unsterilized river upstate? For proponents of the expensive new drinking trend known as “raw water,” the choice is as clear as a Poland Spring.

According to the Times, part of the movement’s success may come from that very “off the grid” appeal: Raw water passes through no federal or municipal pipes, contains no additives (such as fluoride, a naturally occurring mineral typically added to tap water to fight tooth decay), and generally receives no filtration, ensuring every bottle remains as mineral-rich as Mother Nature intended. [Read more about the trend.]

Discovery and excavation of the Upward Sun River infants

Discovery and excavation of the Upward Sun River infants

Credit: Ben Potter

A genetic analysis of a baby’s remains dating back 11,500 years suggests that a previously unknown human population was among the first to settle in the Americas.

Many thousands of years ago, the site where the infant lived — albeit briefly — and died was a residential camp with three tent-like structures. [Read more about the first Americans.]

Researchers use a highly sensitive imaging system to examine a coffin lid.

Researchers use a highly sensitive imaging system to examine a coffin lid.

Credit: Copyright Cerys Jones

About 2,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians made homemade wrappings for mummies from “recycled” scraps of paper that people had first used to scribble down shopping lists and personal notes.

In ancient Egypt, mummies were embalmed and then wrapped in fabric bandages. Then, they were covered with cartonnage, a paper-mache material made from recycled papyri and sometimes fabric, Gibson said. Once the cartonnage hardened and was covered with plaster, artisans painted it. [Read more about the camera.]

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