Thursday, July 10, 2014

Archaeopteryx : X-rays shine new light on mystery 'bird'

Archaeopteryx (meaning "ancient wing") is a very early prehistoric bird, dating from about 150 million years ago during the Jurassic period.

The first, and one of the most complete fossils of archaeopteryx is known as the London specimen. It was discovered in 1861, just two years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species, and made a stir being a transitional form.
Only 12 of these curious creatures have ever been found. Now they are going under the glare of a giant X-ray machine - to find out what lies buried beneath the surface.

Using a new "camera obscura" technique - inspired by Leonardo da Vinci - scientists have captured some of the clearest ever images of Archaeopteryx. For the first time, they can see the complete skeleton in 3D. Not just the surface outlines, but all the hidden bones and feathers too.
"We want to know how Archaeopteryx lived," says Martin Roeper, curator of the Solnhofen Museum, which houses one of the specimens.
"Was he a little dinosaur running, climbing trees - or was he flying? That's the most important question. Could Archaeopteryx fly or not?"

The answer grows closer as new, microscopic details of its anatomy emerge from ever more precise scans. Blood vessels within the bones, for example, can be compared to modern birds.