It’s time for Trilobite Tuesday! Unlike any modern eyes–whether they are anthropoid, arthropod or annelid–the lenses of trilobite eyes were actually constructed of calcite. This provided these ancient creatures with virtually unparalleled vision that was filled with streams of light and bursts of color, based on recent experiments conducted with calcite crystals. With the complex geometric symmetry presented by each lens, such as those displayed on this Eldredgeops milleri, these eyes seem to defy their incredibly ancient ancestry. When we look into the fossilized eyes of a trilobite, it takes only minimal imagination to sense that these primeval creatures may indeed be staring back at us, providing a dramatic link to life some 500 million years in the past.

Scientists just solved a 3-million-year-old mystery about one of our early human ancestors

Lucy is a member of the Australopithecus afarensis group of human ancestors. She is one of the oldest and most complete ancient human fossils, so scientists have to take great care when studying her. Anthropologist John Kappelman and a team of scientists put Lucy through a machine that creates high-resolution digital scans. The resulting images are higher resolution than a medical CT scan — and may have revealed the cause of her death.

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Tiny Pterosaur Found Near Vancouver May Change View of Flying Reptiles
The fossil of a petite pterosaur discovered in British Columbia is the first find of its kind, scientists say, and it promises to change the way we think about the flying reptiles.

Read on to see how the new pterosaur sizes up, and what it tells us about pterosaurs’ flying rivals: the birds!

Fossils are found almost exclusively in sedimentary rocks—rocks that form when sand, silt, mud, and organic material settle out of water or air to form layers that are then compacted into rock. So in looking for non-avian dinosaur fossils in particular, paleontologists look for outcrops of sedimentary rocks that formed during the Mesozoic Era (251–65.6 million years ago), the geologic time period when non-avian dinosaurs lived. Scientists typically search in regions where little vegetation covers the surface of the ground, so that any fossil fragments weathering out of the sedimentary rock layers can be more easily seen. These regions of barren ridges and ravines are often referred to as ‘badlands.’ 

In order to find appropriate Mesozoic, sedimentary rock layers, paleontologists often use geologic maps, which show the kinds of rock layers of different geologic ages that are exposed on Earth’s surface in different regions. Once appropriate rock layers are found, the search for dinosaur fossils can begin with a reasonable hope of finding the kinds of dinosaurs one is searching for. And other kinds of fossils are often serendipitously discovered during the search.

Learn more on the dinosaurs website.

Supernova ash found in fossils could solve a big extinction mystery

Scientists just found ash with iron 60 from a supernova in bacteria fossils. There is no natural way to get iron 60 on Earth, according to the research.  But now, scientists have taken a closer look at that sediment and discovered iron 60 inside tiny fossils of magnetotactic bacteria, suggesting a new cause for the extinction event millions of years ago.

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99-million-year-old bird wings were discovered perfectly preserved in amber. It’s the first time feathers this old have been found in such condition, making them primary examples of hair follicles and feather arrangements from the Cretaceous period. Most fossil wings are preserved in only two dimensions, and soft tissues like feathers rarely survive falling into amber. Source

The “dinosaur bones” that you see on display at the Museum aren’t really bones at all. Through the process of fossilization, ancient animal bones are turned into rock. 

Most ancient animals never became fossils. Their carcasses were likely consumed by other organisms, or worn away by wind or water. But sometimes the conditions were right and their remains were preserved. The most common process of fossilization happens when an animal is buried by sediment, such as sand or silt, shortly after it dies. Its bones are protected from rotting by layers of sediment. As its body decomposes all the fleshy parts wear away and only the hard parts, like bones, teeth, and horns, are left behind. Over millions of years, water in the nearby rocks surrounds these hard parts, and minerals in the water replace them, bit by bit. When the minerals have completely replaced the organic tissue, what’s left is a solid rock copy of the original specimen.

Learn more on the Museum’s Dinosaur website

Today the Department of Awesome Natural Wonders is marveling at this colossal ammonite fossil (and a handsome dog named Otto providing size comparison).

“Few of the ammonites occurring in the lower and middle part of the Jurassic period reached a size exceeding 23 cm (9 in) in diameter. Much larger forms are found in the later rocks of the upper part of the Jurassic and the lower part of the Cretaceous, such as Titanites from the Portland Stone of Jurassic of southern England, which is often 53 cm (2 ft) in diameter, and Parapuzosia seppenradensis of the Cretaceous period of Germany, which is one of the largest known ammonites, sometimes reaching 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. The largest documented North American ammonite is Parapuzosia bradyi from the Cretaceous, with specimens measuring 137 cm (4.5 ft) in diameter.”