By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor
As perhaps befits the study of animals that lived and died millions of years ago, paleontology is somewhat of a slow-burn science. Finding bones in the earth is just the start of what can be a multi-year endeavor, since fossils must be excavated, transported, cleaned, and stored with excruciating care. As such, folks who love dinosaurs know that a newly announced species is rarely one that’s just been pulled from its tomb. More likely, it’s been housed in a research collection until someone has the time and funding to formally describe the find.
That’s what makes museums such fantastic and important treasure troves—hidden behind the beautifully mounted displays sits a wealth of fossils waiting for their day in the scientific sun.
Case in point: the “reaper of death” (artist's rendering above), which was unveiled this week as the first new tyrannosaurid found in Canada in the past 50 years. As Nat Geo's Maya Wei-Haas and Michael Greshko report, the 26-foot-long predator was found by a local family in 2010 and then sat unnoticed for years in Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.
Luckily, visiting grad student Jared Voris was touring the collections and noticed something odd about the set of unidentified bones, so he decided to take a closer look. His curiosity not only brought a new species to life for the public, it helped showcase the evolutionary twists and turns that eventually made this dinosaur’s relative, the mighty T. rex, an apex predator.
“It’s interesting to have the opportunity to name a new species," Voris says, "and I’m hoping it isn’t all downhill from here.”
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Your Instagram photo of the day
Burn: Photographer Randy Olson took this image in 2004 of a prescribed burn in Australia's Northern Territory, an area that incorporates indigenous lands. “The Aboriginal communities had set this fire with the understanding that fire could also be preventative,” Olson says. That year, normal monsoons happened. These days, fire, lightning, and associated weather are nowhere near norms for the area. In the past week, that has included rains, with the heaviest deluges in decades bringing relief to the fire- and drought-stricken east coast of Australia.
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Today in a minute
Coronavirus update: Nearly half of Americans polled are concerned they will be affected by the coronavirus outbreak—and more than two-thirds consider it a threat to their safety. Those results are from a National Geographic and Morning Consult poll of 2,201 Americans. Forty-seven percent of Americans reported concern. While 69 percent of those polled considered coronavirus a threat to their safety, only 23 percent said it was a major threat. Also, 77 percent of Americans polled say they are very or somewhat confident they know the best preventative actions to take to protect themselves from a respiratory virus such as coronavirus.
A glacier calves; icebergs launch: A chunk of a glacier about the size of three San Franciscos broke off from West Antarctica over the weekend. The ice crumbled into smaller icebergs off the Pine Island Glacier, one of two glaciers that work like a gateway to hold back massive amounts of land-based ice from sliding off Antarctica. The collapse of that gateway would lead to a four-foot rise in global sea levels if all that frozen water were to get out, Madeleine Stone writes for Nat Geo.
The buzz: How long have modern bees been around? At least 100 million years, according to a discovery in Patagonia. The ancient nests look like the nests of modern-day sweat bees, Nat Geo’s Michael Greshko reports. The find, Greshko writes, “helps confirm that bees and some of the first flowering plants diversified in tandem around 110 to 120 million years ago.”
A new view of the sun: How will Solar Orbiter change our knowledge of our closest star? Well, the robotic explorer, which launched Sunday, will give us our first top-to-bottom views of the sun, Nadia Drake reports for Nat Geo. Solar Orbiter also will help uncover how the star sends streams of energetic particles called the solar wind throughout our planetary system.
Croc’s ancient cousin: Until recently, remnants of a family considered cousins to today’s crocodiles and alligators had been recorded only in Argentina and Scotland. Now count Brazil, with the discovery of an almost complete skeleton, as among the hosts of fossils of a rare reptile in the Ornithosuchidae group. The deadly but slow scavenger, akin to today’s vultures or hyenas, lived 230 million years ago, Jill Langlois reports for Nat Geo.
This week in the night sky
Ghostly lights: Starting tonight about an hour after sunset and for the next two weeks, keen sky-watchers across the Northern Hemisphere can hunt down one of the most elusive of astronomical phenomena: zodiacal light. This pyramid-shaped beam of light in the western horizon is easily mistaken for the lights of a far-off city in the countryside. It is caused by sunlight reflecting off cosmic dust between the planets. A tip: Bright planet Venus will be embedded within this cone of light. Meanwhile, early risers on Tuesday can catch sight of the moon pairing up with Mars. North American viewers will even get to see the moon briefly cover up the red planet starting around 7:30 a.m. ET (since it will be daylight, that view would be with binoculars). Mars will reappear on the moon’s other side around 9 a.m. ET. —Andrew Fazekas
The big takeaway
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The last glimpse
'Terrestrial whalers’: That’s the term for old-time lumberjacks who went into the deep woods and brought down giant trees from old-growth forest. In a national forest in Alaska, the market for such old industrial-scale logging doesn’t make much sense anymore. Since 2015, a company that logged the woods has made $100 million selling carbon credits to oil companies. Saul Elbein, writing for Nat Geo, says that some loggers have transitioned, buying a lodge and hosting tourists; or a salmon trawler; or a whale-watching company.
Read: A new way to profit from ancient Alaskan forests: leave them standing