Scientists at Stanford have aimed a high-energy X-ray beam at a fossil specimen of Archaeopteryx, the famed "flying dinosaur," and identified key chemicals in the creature's 150-million-year-old bones and wings, and even in its soft tissue.
The chemicals, the scientists said, settled definitively that the feather-like impressions in the rock that entombed Archaeopteryx truly were left by real feathers evolved for flight.
By chemically separating the creature's bony feathers from the chemicals in the rock around it, the scientists report they have found a powerful new tool to explore tissues long entombed in fossils of many other ancient life forms.
A report on the work was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a group led by Uwe Bergmann, a physicist at the Synchrotron Radiation Light Source SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
LIKE a modern owl, Archaeopteryx may have come alive at night. The shapes of eye sockets differ predictably in birds that feed during the day, night or twilight, according to a study that promises to spill the beans on the dino-bird's lifestyle.
When Lars Schmitz at the University of California, Davis, studied 77 bird species, he found he could predict the foraging lifestyle of any species simply by measuring the bones that their eyes are set in. Each bird pupil is surrounded by a ring of bony segments called the scleral ring. Schmitz found that the outer and inner diameter of this ring, combined with the depth of eye sockets, could closely predict when a bird forages (Vision Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2010.03.009). This opens up the tantalising possibility of discovering whether extinct birds were nocturnal.