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Discoveries: 2009-JUL to DEC

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bullet 2009-JUL-04: Australia: Three new species of dinosaurs found: Fossils of three new species of dinosaurs have been found in Queensland, Australia. They date back to 93 million years to the mid-Cretaceous period. Two are plant eating and one is a carnivore. John Long, a paleontologist and head of sciences at Museum Victoria said: "It not only presents us with two new amazing long-necked giants of the ancient Australian continent, but also announces our first really big predator." The meat-eating theropod dinosaur that they found has been called Australovenator; the two plant-eating sauropod dinosaurs are Wintonotitan and Diamantinasaurus. 1
bullet 2009-JUL-11: World: Evolution Weekend: The Clergy Letter Project is sponsoring Evolution Weekend 2010, from 2010-FEB-12 to 14. This is an annual observance and the 2010 weekend will be fifth celebration. They have 370 participating congregations in nine countries signed up so far, to be part of the event. Coordinator Michael Zimmerman writes:

Its purpose " to demonstrate that religion and science need not be at war with one another and to raise the quality of the dialogue on this important topic. Participation can take any form you feel is appropriate for your congregation, from a sermon to a discussion over lunch. Finally, please note that if this exact weekend doesn?t fit into your schedule, you may participate by holding your event on a nearby weekend. Please sign up now! 2

bullet 2009-AUG-18: Space: Amino acid found in space: The Stardust unmanned spacecraft flew through the gas and dust cloud around comet Wild 2 on 2004-JAN-02. It was designed to capture a sample of the cloud that surrounds the comet's icy core. Two years later, the material was parachuted to Earth. Scientists have been analyzing the samples ever since. Scientists were vry please to discover the chemical glycine.

Jamie Elsila of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, said that glycine:

" an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a comet. Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts.

His use of the word "theory" is unfortunate. "Idea" would have been better, because some readers may equate this idea with the theory of evolution. This idea is largely speculation at this time, whereas the theory of evolution is supported by massive amounts of evidence.

Carl Pilcher, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said that the finding:

"... supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space and ... that life in the universe may be common." 3

bullet 2009-SEP-25: China: Transition fossil found: Several fossils of a profusely feathered dinosaur called Anchiornis huxleyi, have been found in northeastern China. It stood about 28 cm (11 inches) tall at the hip and is estimated to be between 1 and 11 million years older than Archaeopteryx -- the first known bird. The fossils were found in sediments laid down between 151 and 161 million years ago. It has two types of feathers on its body: One type called "dino-fuzz" covers its head and neck. Shafted feathers, like feathers on modern-day birds -- are on each forelimb, lower leg and foot.

James M. Clark, a vertebrate paleontologist at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. said that with so many species with this arrangement, the four-winged configuration must have been an important phase in the evolutionary transition from dinosaurs to birds.

Larry D. Martin, a paleontologist at the University of Kansas, said that the profuse plumage on its feet suggests that the animal lived mainly in tree dweller. He said: "No dinosaur could walk well with feathers on its feet like that." 4

bullet 2009-NOV-05: CA: NASA scientists at Ames Research Center produce uracil: Ames researchers exposed ice samples containing pyrimidine to space-like conditions: a very high vacuum, a very low temperature, and ultraviolet light. They produced uracil  -- a key component of ribonucleic acid (RNA). RNA is part of the genetic makeup of living plant and animal on Earth.

Michel Nuevo, a research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA said:
"We have demonstrated for the first time that we can make uracil, a component of RNA, non-biologically in a laboratory under conditions found in space. We are showing that these laboratory processes, which simulate occurrences in outer space, can make a fundamental building block used by living organisms on Earth."

Stefanie Milam, a researcher at NASA Ames and a co-author of the research paper, said:

"We are trying to address the mechanisms in space that are forming these molecules. Considering what we produced in the laboratory, the chemistry of ice exposed to ultraviolet radiation may be an important linking step between what goes on in space and what fell to Earth early in its development. Nobody really understands how life got started on Earth. Our experiments demonstrate that once the Earth formed, many of the building blocks of life were likely present from the beginning. Since we are simulating universal astrophysical conditions, the same is likely wherever planets are formed."

Pyrimidine is found in meteorites. Its source is unknown, but may be created in the final processes of dying giant red stars. 5

bullet 2009-NOV-12: South Africa: New dinosaur transitional species found: Fossilized bones from a new species of dinosaur have been unearthed by paleontologist Adam Yates and his team from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. It appears to be what is commonly called a "missing link." It has features of both two legged herbivores known as prosauropods and four legged herbivores known as sauropods. It was able to move efficiently on either two or four legs.

Dr. Yates doesn't like the term "missing link" because it implies that evolution unfolded in a neat, linear fashion. He said that A. celestae is: "... one of the dinosaurs in a long, smeary continuum. It shows us what we should already have pretty much guessed, which was that evolution was a messy, complicated affair."

Paleobiologist and functional morphologist Matthew Bonnan of Western Illinois University was part of the team. He studies fossil bones to determine how animals moved and lived. He said: "This find is very significant because Aardonyx is a transition animal. It's a close cousin of the sauropod dinosaurs. It gives us a window on what was happening very early on in the evolution of those giants." 6

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. David Fox, "Australia discovers 3 new large dinosaurs," Reuters, 2009-JUL-03, at:
  2. To contact Evolution Weekend coordinator, Email Michael Zimmerman at Butler University at:
  3. "Building block of life reported found in comet," World Science, 2009-AUG-18, at:
  4. "Four-winged fossil bridges bird-dinosaur gap," Wired Science, 2009-SEP-25, at:
  5. Ruth Dasso Marlaire, "NASA Reproduces a Building Block of Life in Laboratory," NASA/Ames, 2009-NOV-05, at:
  6. Robyn Dixon, "New dinosaur species my be a missing link," Los Angeles Times, 2009-NOV-12, at:

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Copyright 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2009-FEB-28
Latest update: 2009-DEC-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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