Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Scanning Archaeopteryx

Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC), one of ORNL's sister organizations has taken an Archaeopteryx fossil and will scan it. As the article in the Mercury News relates:

At SLAC's Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource in Menlo Park, the scientists are using the beams to scan one of the world's most valuable fossils, delicately transported by pickup truck from its home in a Wyoming dinosaur museum.

The X-rays, generated by a particle accelerator, cause tiny amounts of a dozen chemicals to glow without harming the ancient fossil, believed to be the earliest representation of a bird.

It is likely that Archaeopteryx was not on the line that gave rise to birds but was rather one of many different saurischians that had feathers. It is further likely that dinosaurs originally developed feathers for insulation rather than flight but that was a practical application later on. The article mentions one terrifying aspect of the account:

Last weekend, scientists packed the creature into a small wooden box, loaded it into the cab of a white Chevy Silverado truck and drove the 850 miles to SLAC. Upon its arrival Monday night, it was moved into a helium-filled tray for analysis.

Holy cow! A Chevy Silverado. Hat tip to Little Green Footballs.

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