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Megalosaurus, the fossil that introduced dinosaurs to the world

Dinosaurs are all around us, figuratively and literally speaking.

Most of these diverse creatures went extinct 66 million years ago, but the ancient ancestors of modern birds are ingrained in the fabric of both scientific intrigue and pop culture.

Colorful dinos romp around in animated shows — and their more lifelike counterparts in “Jurassic Park” offer a menacing “what if” look at life alongside the massive reptiles.

Paleontologists uncover dozens of previously unknown dinosaur species each year, enriching the view of what the world was like before humans set foot on it.

Scientists don’t always get it right the first time as they try to envision long extinct creatures by piecing together their bones.

But imagine living during a time — only 200 years ago — when the existence of dinosaurs wasn’t common knowledge.

Dino-mite!

When massive fossilized bones were found jutting from the slate quarries in England’s Oxfordshire in the late 1600s, people thought they were once part of a Roman war elephant. The concept of dinosaurs, and even the word dinosaur, was centuries away from entering the public imagination.

But William Buckland, Oxford University’s first professor of geology, changed all of that in 1824 when he named the first known dinosaur: Megalosaurus.

The initial illustrations of the giant reptile weren’t entirely accurate, but Buckland’s discovery was the beginning of a new scientific field that is still growing today.

Paleontologists believe only a fraction of fossils have been found of dinosaurs that once populated the globe, meaning thousands or millions more species may await discovery.

Unearthed

Authorities have relocated the installation of a power plant near Rome after workers uncovered an ancient necropolis.

Archaeologists found 67 skeletons, many bedecked in gold jewelry, that had been laid to rest surrounded by precious items inside elaborate tombs designed to look like their homes.

“We found several skeletons still wearing their expensive stockings and shoes,” said Emanuele Giannini, lead excavation archaeologist at the site. “All these riches, and the fact that the bones show no sign of stress or physical labor, (leads us to believe) these weren’t local farmers, but upper-crust members of Roman families coming from cities.”

Many of the tombs were built for those who shared a family connection, and some skeletons were found wrapped around one another.

Defying gravity

The race to the moon has heated up in the past few years, and now Japan’s lunar spacecraft will soon aim to demonstrate “pinpoint” landing technology. The SLIM lander, aka the “Moon Sniper,” is slated to touch down on the lunar surface on January 19.

And after a long wait, some of the most anticipated space missions are preparing to lift off in fall 2024.

The NASA Europa Clipper will set off in October to see if Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has what it takes to support life in its subsurface ocean.

In November, the Artemis II mission is expected to send four astronauts on a journey around the moon. If the lunar venture is successful, it will pave the way for NASA and its partners to launch Artemis III — returning humans to the moon’s surface for the first time since 1972.

The night sky

Prepare to see a sky filled with celestial wonders this year.

In addition to meteor showers and full moons, there will be multiple types of lunar and solar eclipses visible from different points around the globe.

One of the most anticipated is the total solar eclipse that will cross Mexico, the US and Canada on April 8.

And keep an eye out for the northern lights and southern lights in unexpected places as the sun’s activity heats up before it reaches solar maximum later this year.

Curiosities

A “living skin” is protecting the Great Wall of China against deterioration and erosion.

Scientists studied rammed earth portions of the iconic landmark. Builders made these sections by compressing natural materials with soils, and they have been considered a weak point in the structure.

Instead, researchers discovered that protective biocrusts, or networks of tiny, rootless plants and microorganisms, cover the soil surfaces. By studying samples, scientists determined the biocrust-covered portions are three times stronger than rammed earth sections without it.

“They thought this kind of vegetation was destroying the Great Wall. Our results show the contrary,” said Bo Xiao, a professor of soil science at China Agricultural University.

Discoveries

Take a closer look at these riveting reads:

— The Navajo Nation’s objection to landing human remains on the moon prompted a last-minute meeting at the White House.

— To answer the need for clean energy, some experts believe it’s time to build solar farms in space that beam sunlight to Earth’s surface — but others say the plan is too far-fetched.

— During expeditions to a remote part of North Greenland, researchers uncovered fossils of previously unknown predator worms called “terror beasts” that ruled the seas half a billion years ago.

— Newly processed versions of Voyager 2 images show the true hues of Neptune and Uranus, revealing that the two worlds are more similar in color than previously believed.

This post appeared first on cnn.com

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