Intelligent Machines

Virtual Paleontology

This CT scan carries bad news: the patient has been dead for 220 million years. On the positive side, it reveals that the subject was long-necked, had grasping feet and fine bones, could glide, and probably lived in trees. Made with an industrial CT scanner at Penn State for researchers at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, this image of a previously unknown reptile is the first to depict a Triassic fossil whose encasing rock has not been cracked away. The technique, which requires the precise focusing of the scanner’s x-rays, could become a standard tool as paleontologists dig deeper for new finds.

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