Posted: 19 Mar 2010 12:22 PM PDT
Paleontologists have stumbled across a scientific first that's sure to inspire both fascination and disgust: coprolites, or fossilized fecal matter, bearing the distinct impressions of a creature's teeth.
The coprolites — one chunk of rock is fist-sized, the other is about 30 percent larger — were discovered on a beach along the western shore of Chesapeake Bay, says Stephen Godfrey, a paleontologist at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Md.
The impressions in the coprolites are as much as 6.5 millimeters (just over a quarter of an inch) deep, Godfrey and a colleague report online March 9 in Naturwissenschaften. A silicone rubber mold of the tooth marks indicates that the biter was most likely a close relative of today's tiger shark.
This fossilized poop doesn't include visible bits of bone, feather or fish scales like similar coprolites unearthed from 15-million-year-old rocks in the nearby cliffs. But the hunks do have a phosphate-rich composition that hints the fecal matter came from a creature that had fed on bony prey. This, along with the size of the coprolites, suggests they came from a large animal, possibly a crocodilian, Godfrey says.
Although sharks are known to taste-test possible prey, Godfrey thinks it's unlikely that the shark just took a nip of poop floating by to test its palatability. For one thing, he says, the tooth impressions are much deeper on one side of each coprolite than on the other — a scenario that's unlikely if the delicate fecal matter had been free-floating.
Instead, the researchers contend, the disparity in the depth of the impressions probably resulted because the fecal matter was still inside the shark's prey, or constrained within disemboweled intestines, when bitten.
Images: Stephen Godfrey.
Posted: 19 Mar 2010 11:54 AM PDT
The Large Hadron Collider set a new record for the creation of energetic particle beams this morning. The particle accelerator, which surpassed Fermilab's Tevatron in December as the baddest atom smasher of them all, smashed its own record, charging particles to 3.48 trillion electron volts.
That's three times the energy of any beam ever created by human beings and just a shade under half the LHC's proposed maximum capabilities.
After a series of mishaps and repairs over the last year and a half, CERN's Director for Accelerators and Technology Steve Myers sounded a triumphant note.
"Getting the beams to 3.5 TeV is testimony to the soundness of the LHC's overall design, and the improvements we've made since the breakdown in September 2008," Myers said in a press release. "And it's a great credit to the patience and dedication of the LHC team."
The LHC could allow scientists to better understand the nature of mass, dark matter and the origins of the universe. But many of them hope that instead of confirming the current set of theoretical models we have all come to know — string theory, dark energy, the Higgs-Boson, etc. — something entirely unexpected will emerge from the CERN-run experiment.
Next up for the massive experiment is to collide those beams together to create a spectacular tiny explosion that could confirm or challenge decades of theoretical predictions. By sorting through the wreckage, physicists may find particular subatomic particles that will only exist under certain theoretical scenarios. For example, the detection of certain types of supersymmetric particles, aka sparticles, could be seen as what physicist Michio Kaku calls, "signals from the 11th dimension."
While the LHC's beam energies are certainly impressive, raw power is just one component of the quality of the data that a particle accelerator can produce. Understanding the incredible, almost unfathomable amounts of information that result from the collisions of beams requires iterative fine-tuning and learning by doing.
So, while the Tevatron, the last great American particle accelerator, may be chugging along at just under a trillion electron-volts, it's still got an outside shot at finding the Higgs-Boson particle before the LHC can find or exclude it. And that could be a fitting final act before the high-energy physics torch passes wholly from Batavia, Illinois, to Geneva.
Photo: A piece of the Compact Muon Solenoid/CERN
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