Archive for the ‘fossil’ Category

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The Columbian Mammoth is about to become an official state symbol of South Carolina, but its path to the limelight was long and fraught with controversy.

Here's the text of the bill that made it official:

Section 1-1-712A. The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field, is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina and must be officially referred to as the ‘Columbian Mammoth’, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.

This is actually the watered-down version of the bill; one version, proposed earlier, made even more explicit references to the role of a divine creator in the mammoth’s history.

This all started when an 8-year-old suggested that the Columbian mammoth become South Carolina’s state fossil. Olivia McConnell had some good reasoning behind her suggestion: Mammoth teeth found in a South Carolina swamp in 1725 were the first vertebrate fossils identified in North America.

Her submission became a bill. The original draft was simple enough: “Section 1-1-691. The Wooly Mammoth is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina.” But almost immediately the proposal ran into trouble. On a practical level: Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler objected strenuously to having any new state symbols enacted in a state that already has a state spider, state beverage and a state hospitality beverage among many others. On a philosophical level: proclaiming a state fossil in a state where there is still intense debate over teaching evolution as fact creates some problems.

From USA Today:

State Sen. Mike Fair, a Greenville Republican who serves on the panel that will decide the science standards, said that natural selection should be taught as theory rather than as scientific fact. He argues that natural selection can make biological changes within species but it can’t explain the whole progression from microbes to humans.

“This whole subject should be taught as a pro and con,” he said.

Last week, Fair had raised his own objection that temporarily killed Olivia’s bill but withdrew it after another senator told him the story of the Lake City girl’s campaign to get an official state fossil.

Fair wasn’t the only one who had objections. Another State Senator, Kevin Bryant started a pushing a change that would add some biblical flair to the otherwise direct language. The New York Times:

But then Senator Kevin Bryant proposed an amendment rooted in the Book of Genesis, imputing God as the creator of the woolly mammoth: “And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, the cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”
Bryant’s version was struck down, but the final version of the bill did include that language about the Mammoth being created on the sixth day.

There was one other addition, too. Frustrated by the amount of time spent discussing state symbols instead of governing, legislators also added an amendment to the bill prohibiting the General Assembly from enacting any new state symbols “until such time as the General Assembly directly by legislative enactment removes this moratorium.”

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/south-carolinas-state-fossil-creation-controversy-180950474/#4mOTlJmLsprzxrmM.99

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

1_12797_Cass-A-NASA
Radioactive iron may be first fossil imprint of a nearby cosmic explosion.

by Alexandra Witze

Sediment in a deep-sea core may hold radioactive iron spewed by a distant supernova 2.2 million years ago and preserved in the fossilized remains of iron-loving bacteria. If confirmed, the iron traces would be the first biological signature of a specific exploding star.

Shawn Bishop, a physicist at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, reported preliminary findings on 14 April at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Denver, Colorado.

In 2004, scientists reported finding the isotope iron-60, which does not form on Earth, in a piece of sea floor from the Pacific Ocean. They calculated how long ago this radioactive isotope had arrived by using the rate at which it decays over time. The culprit, they concluded, was a supernova in the cosmic neighbourhood.

Bishop wondered if he could find signs of that explosion in the fossil record on Earth. Some natural candidates are certain species of bacteria that gather iron from their environment to create 100-nanometre-wide magnetic crystals, which the microbes use to orient themselves within Earth’s magnetic field so that they can navigate to their preferred conditions. These ‘magnetotactic’ bacteria live in sea-floor sediments.

So Bishop and his colleagues acquired parts of a sediment core from the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, dating to between about 1.7 million and 3.3 million years ago. They took sediment samples from strata corresponding to periods roughly 100,000 years apart, and treated them with a chemical technique that extracts iron-60 but not iron from nonbiological sources, such as soil washing off the continents. The scientists then ran the samples through a mass spectrometer to see if any iron-60 was present.

And it was. “It looks like there’s something there,” Bishop told reporters at the Denver meeting. The levels of iron-60 are minuscule, but the only place they seem to appear is in layers dated to around 2.2 million years ago. This apparent signal of iron-60, Bishop said, could be the remains of magnetite (Fe3O4) chains formed by bacteria on the sea floor as radioactive supernova debris showered on them from the atmosphere, after crossing inter-stellar space at nearly the speed of light.

No one is sure what particular star might have exploded at this time, although one paper points to suspects in the Scorpius–Centaurus stellar association, at a distance of about 130 parsecs (424 light years) from the Sun3.

“I’m really excited about this,” says Brian Thomas, an astrophysicist at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, who was not involved in the work. “The nice thing is that it’s directly tied to a specific event.”

“For me, philosophically, the charm is that this is sitting in the fossil record of our planet,” Bishop says. He and his team are now working on a second core, also from the Pacific, to see if it too holds the iron-60 signal.

http://www.nature.com/news/supernova-left-its-mark-in-ancient-bacteria-1.12797

 

Paleontologists working at Argentina’s Natural Sciences Museum of La Plata province found the fossil remains of an ancient penguin taller than most men. The bird stood six and half feet tall, and lived roughly 34 million years ago. The team’s lead researcher, Marcelo Reguero said the newly discovered species will “allow for a more intensive and complex study of the ancestors of modern penguins.”

“This is the largest penguin known to date in terms of height and body mass,” said team member Carolina Acosta. She also noted that the modern emperor penguin, which grows to about 4 feet tall had been the previous record holder.

The fossil was located on the icy continent of Antarctica; the team plans to return during the region’s summer to attempt to uncover more fossils from the ancient bird as well as study how it would have moved. Notably, past studies of other prehistoric penguins suggested that they were not black and white like the bird of today, but instead sported reddish brown and gray plumage.

http://www.examiner.com/article/6-5-foot-tall-prehistoric-penguin-fossil-uncovered-antarctica