The reign of the dinosaurs ended in spring

The asteroid that killed nearly all dinosaurs struck Earth during springtime.  An international team of scientists from the Vrije Universiteit (VU) Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Uppsala University (Sweden), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium) and the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (France), have determined when the meteorite crashed onto the Earth, after analysing the remains of fish that died just after the impact. Their results are published in the journal Nature today.

Around 66 million years ago, the Chicxulub meteorite crashed into the Earth, in what today is the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico, marking the demise of dinosaurs and end of the Cretaceous period. This mass extinction still puzzles scientists today, as it was one of the most selective in the history of life: all non-avian dinosaurs, pterosaurs, ammonites, and most marine reptiles disappeared, whilst mammals, birds, crocodiles, and turtles survived.

A team of scientists from the Vrije Universiteit, Uppsala University, and the ESRF have now shed light on the circumstances surrounding the diverse extinction across the different groups. The answers came from the bones of fish that died moments after the meteorite struck.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Melanie During points to a section of a Paddlefish dentary showing high bone cell density (i.e. summer)

Credit: Melanie During

Scientists discover that crocodile devoured a baby dinosaur  

Advanced nuclear and synchrotron imaging has confirmed that a 93-million-year-old crocodile found in Central Queensland devoured a juvenile dinosaur based on remains found in the fossilised stomach contents.

The discovery of the fossils in 2010 was made by the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum (QLD) in association with the University of New England, who are publishing their research in the journal Gondwana Research.

The research was carried out by a large team led by Dr Matt White of the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and the University of New England.

The crocodile Confractosuchus sauroktonos, which translates as ‘the broken crocodile dinosaur killer’ was about 2 to 2.5 metres in length. ‘Broken’ refers to the fact that the crocodile was found in a massive, shattered boulder.

Early neutron imaging scans of one rock fragment from the boulder detected bones of the small chicken-sized juvenile dinosaur in the gut, an ornithopod that has not yet been formally identified by species.

Senior Instrument Scientist Dr Joseph Bevitt explained that the dinosaur bones were entirely embedded within the dense ironstone rock and were serendipitously discovered when the sample was exposed to the penetrative power of neutrons at ANSTO.

Dingo, Australia’s only neutron imaging instrument, can be used to produce two and three-dimensional images of a solid object and reveal concealed features within it.

“In the initial scan in 2015, I spotted a buried bone in there that looked like a chicken bone with a hook on it and thought straight away that it was a dinosaur,” explained Dr Bevitt.

“Human eyes had never seen it previously, as it was, and still is, totally encased in rock.”

The finding led to further, high-resolution scans using Dingo and the synchrotron X-ray Imaging and Medical Beamline over a number of years.

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Dr Joseph Bevitt and Dr Matt White with the sample on the Imaging and Medical beamline at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron

New fossil sheds light on the evolution of how dinosaurs breathed

An international team of scientists has used high-powered X-rays at the European Synchrotron to show how an extinct South African 200-million-year-old dinosaur, Heterodontosaurus tucki, breathed. The study, published in eLife, demonstrates that not all dinosaurs breathed in the same way.

In 2016, scientists from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, came to the ESRF, the European Synchrotron in Grenoble, France, the brightest synchrotron light source, for an exceptional study: to scan the complete skeleton of a small, 200-million-year-old plant-eating dinosaur. The dinosaur specimen is the most complete fossil ever discovered of a species known as Heterodontosaurus tucki. The fossil was found in 2009 in the Eastern Cape of South Africa by study co-author, Billy de Klerk of the Albany Museum, Makhanda, South Africa. “A farmer friend of mine called my attention to the specimen”, says de Klerk, “and when I saw it I immediately knew we had something special on our hands.”

Fast forward some years: the team of scientists use scans and new algorithms developed by ESRF scientists to virtually reconstruct the skeleton of Heterodontosaurus in unprecedented detail, and thus show how this extinct dinosaur breathed. “This specimen represents a turning point in understanding how dinosaurs evolved” explains Viktor Radermacher, corresponding author, a South African PhD student and now at the University of Minnesota, US.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: The skull of the Heterodontosaurus tucki dinosaur.

Credit: ESRF

Synchrotron X-ray sheds light on some of the world’s oldest dinosaur eggs

An international team of scientists led by the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), has been able to reconstruct the skulls of some of the world’s oldest known dinosaur embryos in 3D at the ESRF.

They found that the skulls develop in the same order as those of today’s crocodiles and chickens. The findings are published today in Scientific Reports.
University of the Witwatersrand scientists publish 3D reconstructions of the ~2cm-long skulls of some of the world’s oldest dinosaur embryos in an article in Scientific Reports. The embryos, found in 1976 in Golden Gate Highlands National Park (Free State Province, South Africa) belong to South Africa’s iconic dinosaur Massospondylus carinatus, a 5-meter long herbivore that nested in the Free State region 200 million years ago.

The scientific usefulness of the embryos was previously limited by their extremely fragile nature and tiny size. In 2015, scientists Kimi Chapelle and Jonah Choiniere, from the University of Witwatersrand, brought them to the European Synchrotron (ESRF) in Grenoble, France for scanning. At the ESRF, an 844 metre-ring of electrons travelling at the speed of light emits high-powered X-ray beams that can be used to non-destructively scan matter, including fossils. The embryos were scanned at an unprecedented level of detail – at the resolution of an individual bone cell.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Watercolour painting of the Massospondylus carinatus embryos at 17% through the incubation period, 60% through the incubation period and 100% through the incubation period.
Artwork: Mélanie Saratori.

Rare dinosaur skin offers insights into evolution

International team of scientists finds rare piece of preserved dinosaur skin and, in a world first, compares it directly to modern animals to gain insight into evolution.

Mauricio Barbi has loved dinosaurs for as long as he can remember and dreamed of one day being a paleontologist. “When I was a kid, I loved space, stars, and dinosaurs,” he said.
Fast-forward a few years, and Barbi is trekking through the Alberta Badlands alongside famous paleontologist Philip Currie, whose professional life became the inspiration for characters in the Jurassic Park movies. During this fieldwork, he also met paleontologist and rising star, Phil Bell, who had recently found a well-preserved hadrosaur. When he joined Bell in the excavations, Barbi was shocked and thrilled by what they discovered.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Picture of the dig site.

The early bird got to fly: Archaeopteryx was an active flyer

Was Archaeopteryx capable of flying, and if so, how?

The question of whether the Late Jurassic dino-bird Archaeopteryx was an elaborately feathered ground dweller, a glider, or an active flyer has fascinated palaeontologists for decades. Valuable new information obtained with state-of-the-art synchrotron microtomography at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (Grenoble, France), allowed an international team of scientists to answer this question in Nature Communications. The wing bones of Archaeopteryx were shaped for incidental active flight, but not for the advanced style of flying mastered by today’s birds.

Was Archaeopteryx capable of flying, and if so, how? Although it is common knowledge that modern-day birds descended from extinct dinosaurs, many questions on their early evolution and the development of avian flight remain unanswered. Traditional research methods have thus far been unable to answer the question whether Archaeopteryx flew or not. Using synchrotron microtomography at the ESRF’s beamline ID19 to probe inside Archaeopteryx fossils, an international team of scientists from the ESRF, Palacký University, Czech Republic, CNRS and Sorbonne University, France, Uppsala University, Sweden, and Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum Solnhofen, Germany, shed new light on this earliest of birds.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: The Munich specimen of the transitional bird Archaeopteryx. It preserves a partial skull (top left), shoulder girdle and both wings slightly raised up (most left to center left), the ribcage (center), and the pelvic girdle and both legs in a “cycling” posture (right); all connected by the vertebral column from the neck (top left, under the skull) to the tip of the tail (most right). Imprints of its wing feathers are visible radiating from below the shoulder and vague imprints of the tail plumage can be recognised extending from the tip of the tail.
Credits: ESRF/Pascal Goetgheluck

Synchrotron sheds light on the amphibious lifestyle of a new raptorial dinosaur

An exceptionally well-preserved dinosaur skeleton from Mongolia at ESRF.

The skeleton unites an unexpected combination of features that defines a new group of semi-aquatic predators related to Velociraptor. Detailed 3D synchrotron analysis allowed an international team of researchers to present the bizarre 75 million-year-old predator, named Halszkaraptor escuilliei, in Nature.

The study not only describes a new genus and species of bird-like dinosaur that lived during the Campanian stage of the Cretaceous in Mongolia but also sheds light on an unexpected amphibious lifestyle for raptorial dinosaurs.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: The team of scientists at ESRF’s BM05 beamline during the set up of Halszkaraptor escuilliei fossil. From left to right: Pascal Godefroit, Vincent Beyrand, Dennis Voeten, Paul Tafforeau, Vincent Fernandez, Andrea Cau.
Credit: ESRF/P.Jayet