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This was a great year for dinosaurs. Dreadnoughtus, "Jar Jar Binks," and a swimming Spinosaurus all made headlines — and 2015 could hold even more surprises.
It wasn't always like this. From 1984 to 1994, there were about 15 new dinosaur species named per year. This year, nearly one species was discovered every week.
"We're absolutely in a golden age of dinosaur discovery," David Evans, who oversees dinosaur research at the Royal Ontario Museum, told NBC News. "It is probably a better time to be a dinosaur paleontologist now than any other time in the last century."
The 'Jurassic Park' effect
When it comes to finding dinosaurs in the dirt, paleontologists are using the same tools that they were 30 years ago. Satellite images might give them a better view of dig sites, but for the most part the process has not changed much.
So why are there so many dinosaur discoveries these days? More people are looking for them. Evans estimates that the number of dinosaur paleontologists has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years.
Every paleontologist interviewed for this story pointed to one catalyst for the paleontology boom: Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster "Jurassic Park."
"It put the most lifelike, scientifically accurate dinosaurs ever on the big screen," Evans said. "That helped the public moved beyond the classical view of dinosaurs as slow, dim-twitted creatures."
Famed Montana State University paleontologist Jack Horner admits he has a special affection for the film. He served as scientific adviser for the original "Jurassic Park" and was the inspiration for Dr. Alan Grant, the movie's protagonist. He also consulted on the upcoming "Jurassic World" starring Chris Pratt.
"'Jurassic Park' attracted an incredible number of people to the field," Horner told NBC News. "I'm hoping that we put together something cool with 'Jurassic World' that people will really like and get more children interested in paleontology."
Increased interest led to increased paleontology budgets for museums and universities, Evans said. That has made a big difference in places like China and Argentina, relatively unexplored areas where a new generation of paleontologists has unearthed most of the recent headline-grabbing discoveries.
"The number of dinosaur researchers is much higher now than in the '90s," Thomas Holtz, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Maryland, told NBC News. "Anytime you are exploring a region and a slice of time that hasn't been sampled before, chances are that everything you are finding is new."
2014 and beyond
Some of the biggest discoveries of the year were not new species. Instead, they were more complete fossils of dinosaurs the scientific community knew very little about.
Take Spinosaurus, a massive carnivore that was even bigger than Tyrannosaurus rex. While its teeth indicated it ate fish, scientists were divided on whether it roamed the land and water looking for prey.
This year, the matter was settled. A new paper showed that the dinosaur's unique body structure — tiny hind limbs, dense bones, crocodile-like receptors in its snout — was best suited for the water and caused it to waddle on land.
"That was probably the most significant find of the year," Horner said.
There were other big discoveries in 2014. Dreadnoughtus fossils discovered in Argentina belonged to a creature that measured 85 feet (26 meters) long and weighed about 65 tons (59 metric tons), or about as much as a dozen elephants.
This two-clocks-illustration shows the pattern of how two atomic clocks would desynchronize and then resynchronize due to a lump of dark matter sweeping through a Global Positioning System or other atomic clock based network. Photo courtesy of Andrei Derevianko, University of Nevada, Reno.
Global Positioning System, or GPS for short, devices are typically used for navigation purposes. But this satellite network could also alert us to something else: the presence of dark matter.
Dark matter is thought to form 80% of the universe, but is difficult to detect because it rarely interacts with ordinary matter. Its makeup is unknown, as it has never been viewed by science. Some have suggested that dark matter is a particle; however, a new study indicates that dark matter may consist of kinks in the quantum field.
According to Andrei Derevianko at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Maxim Pospelov at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, dark matter may be made of quantum field cracks that can be detected by GPS. The theory is a revolutionary one, and would change the nature of time and space where the kinds are located.
One of these elements is time, which is tracked by the extremely accurate GPS system. With a network of satellites spanning 50,000 kilometers and traveling through space at 300 kilometers a second, a cosmic kink could disturb the GPS clocks. This quantum crack would require 170 seconds to jump across the networks.
GPS clocks could be interrupted by other factors, but Deverianko and Pospelov believe that only dark matter could disturb the system’s timekeeping in a certain way.
Derevianko is currently pulling data from 15 years of GPS records to search for signs of dark matter’s presence. If no fingerprints are detected, he will use the ground-based atomic clocks belonging to the Network for European Accurate Time and Frequency Transfer. If dark matter is nothing more than cosmic kinks, it could give some people a new thing to grumble about. “I hear these stories about people getting lost using GPS,” said Derevianko. “Now they could have another excuse: maybe it was dark matter that caused them to lose their way.”View Article Here Read More
Renate Loll from Utrecht University's Institute for Theoretical Physics delivers a lecture on Searching for the Quantum Origins of Space and Time. The lecture was recorded at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, on May 5, 2010.Click to zoom
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