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Finding out What Colors Dinosaurs Were

Scientists have found evidence of iridescence in a 40 million-year-old fossilized feather.

By using an electron microscope to examine nanoscale structures in a 40 million-year-old bird feather, researchers have determined that, in life, the birds were black with an iridescent, bluish-green coppery sheen, like starlings and grackles. The key to figuring this out was the discovery by researchers at Yale University that rod-shaped nanostructures in the feather specimens aren’t bacteria, but remnants of pigment-containing cells called melanosomes.

Nanostructures in this 40 million year-old feather once made it
iridescent. Credit: Jakob Vinther/Yale University

Iridescence in bird feathers is caused by constructive interference of light scattered by the cells; how the light scatters is determined by the arrangement of the melanosomes, which are preserved not only in the bird fossils but in some dinosaur and mammalian ones as well. The Yale researchers hope this technique could be used to get a better picture of the coloring and patterning of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures. This work is described online in the journal Biology Letters.

Deep Dive

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Five poems about the mind

DREAM VENDING MACHINE I feed it coins and watch the spring coil back,the clunk of a vacuum-packed, foil-wrappeddream dropping into the tray. It dispenses all kinds of dreams—bad dreams, good dreams,short nightmares to stave off worse ones, recurring dreams with a teacake marshmallow center.Hardboiled caramel dreams to tuck in your cheek,a bag of orange dreams…

Work reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

As organizations navigate a new world of hybrid work, tech innovation will be crucial for employee connection and collaboration.

lucid dreaming concept
lucid dreaming concept

I taught myself to lucid dream. You can too.

We still don’t know much about the experience of being aware that you’re dreaming—but a few researchers think it could help us find out more about how the brain works.

panpsychism concept
panpsychism concept

Is everything in the world a little bit conscious?

The idea that consciousness is widespread is attractive to many for intellectual and, perhaps, also emotional
reasons. But can it be tested? Surprisingly, perhaps it can.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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