Seemingly Ordinary Fossils May Be Hiding Some Major Clues to the Past

Detail of a partially decalcified Allosaurus bone fossil at Yale Peabody Museum.

Detail of a partially decalcified Allosaurus bone fossil at Yale Peabody Museum.
Photo: Jasmina Wiemann

Paleontologists are lucky to find complete sets of fossilized bones. Sometimes, they get even luckier, finding preserved impressions of delicate features like feathers. Beyond those clues, though, most of the biology of extinct species—their DNA, internal organs, and unique chemistry—has been totally destroyed by the many millions of years that separate us. Except, what if it hasn’t? Some scientists now claim they can tease much more complex biological information out of apparently mundane fossils, including things that most paleontologists don’t expect to survive over millions of years, such as skin and eggshell.

Molecular paleobiologist Jasmina Wiemann has been on the forefront of this exciting research since 2018, co-authoring papers that reveal elements of fossils that cannot be immediately seen with our eyes but can be detected through a series of complex chemical and statistical

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Lightning ‘superbolts’ can be 1,000 times brighter than ordinary flashes

Earlier this year, researchers confirmed a pair of ultra-long-distance lightning strikes in South America that spanned up to 442 miles and lasted for nearly 17 seconds. Ongoing research has turned to how much power these fierce discharges contain, as well as their relative rarity.

A new paper published in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres found that roughly one third of 1 percent, or 1 in every 300 lightning strikes, could be classified as a superbolt.

A superbolt is any flash of lightning that is 100 times brighter than average.

Hunting for superbolts

The study was led by Michael Peterson, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. His team examined two years’ worth of data from the GOES weather satellites, which peer down on North and South America with ultrahigh resolution. The satellites have a device known as the “Geostationary Lightning Mapper,” which

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