Winged dinosaur Archaeopteryx may have been the first self-powered flier

Science | AAAS | 3/13/2018 | Staff
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Ever since paleontologists dug up the first Archaeopteryx fossil in 1861, the strange, feathered dinosaur has been exhibit A in the case for evolution—and helped reveal that birds are actually dinosaurs. But for decades, a fierce debate has raged among scientists: Could the winged dinosaur take flight on its own? Or was it merely a lazy glider that had to jump from trees to go airborne? Now, a new analysis of dozens of bones from modern birds and flying dinosaurs may have the answer.

To find out what kind of flier Archaeopteryx was, scientists first needed to determine whether the raven-size dino could even fly. With its birdlike wings, the dinosaur looks like a shoo-in capable of flight, but its skeleton lacks features—such as a bony, keeled sternum—that modern birds need to fly. So, Dennis Voeten, a doctoral student in paleontology at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, and colleagues used a powerful x-ray machine called a synchrotron to examine the arm bones of three of the 11 known Archaeopteryx fossils. Unlike conventional methods, the synchrotron can detect miniscule differences in fossilized bone density even in the outermost layers—essential in figuring out whether flight was possible.

Researchers - Measurements - Bones - Species - Dinosaurs

The researchers then compared their measurements to those of arm bones taken from 69 other species of flying dinosaurs and modern birds. They found Archaeopteryx’s bone density was so thin that it certainly could have gone airborne. But, how?

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Modern birds have several flying styles: They can soar on thermals like hawks and albatrosses, glide and flap like storks, or explode from the ground like pheasants and roadrunners, flapping their wings to become airborne for a few hundred...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Science | AAAS
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