At Home: Fine Feathers
Fine feathers make fine birds, the old saying goes. But who had the feathers before the birds? A recent discovery in Alberta has scientists and paleontologists eagerly uncovering clues to the evolution of feathers before birds?that is, on dinosaurs.
As The Globe and Mail reports, the collection of 11 fossilized feathers was found preserved in amber in southeastern Alberta, east of Lethbridge. The area ?is a treasure trove of remnants from the dinosaur age?; scientists date the new findings to the Late Cretaceous period. Until now, fossilized feathers have only been found in Asia.
The feathers are unique since, due to their preservation, they are three-dimensional. Previous finds have been impressions, ?basically carbonized films on shale,? University of Alberta professor emeritus Brian Chatterton told reporters.
Additionally, the feathers ?[represent] four distinct stages of feather evolution,? and suggest that ?feathers from Late Cretaceous were not uniform in colour.?
Paleontologists believe that ?modern feather adaptation appeared before non-flying dinosaurs were extinct,? and the Alberta discoveries seem to support this. In fact, It’s thought that some dinosaurs?including tyrannosaurids?may have sported primitive feathers akin to ?fuzz? on baby birds.
Around the World: Paging Tatooine
Star destroyers? Planet-sized weapons? Strange life forms? Star Wars may require a little suspension of disbelief, but George Lucas had one thing right: the universe does indeed contain planets with two suns, just like Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine.
As National Geographic‘s Daily News site reports, newly discovered planet Kepler 16b enjoys two sunsets thanks to its binary sun system. Its 229-day orbit takes it ?around both host stars.?
But you wouldn’t want to visit. While the deserts of Tatooine made for hard living, Kepler 16b is completely uninhabitable; It’s a ?Saturn-like gas giant without a solid surface.? Additionally, Kepler 16b is so far away from its suns that It’s too cold for ?liquid water . . . to exist,? and it receives insufficient sunlight despite its two stars.
The stars form ?what’s known as an eclipsing binary system?a pair of stars that orbit in such a way that they eclipse each other, causing them to dim, as seen from Earth.?
Scientists believe that other planets in the universe may ?exist in similar binary star systems??with some perhaps like Earth.