Bakker blogs: You can’t have a dinosaur as a pet, but you sure can pet a dinosaur!

You know that saying, “You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose”? Well this is like that. Sort of.

We know you can’t actually adopt a dinosaur for a pet, but you can pet a dinosaur at HMNS’ new Hall of Paleontology! Curator Dr. Bob Bakker tells us how (and who) in this latest Bakker blog.

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Dinosaur “mummies” conjure up visions of B-movies with Cretaceous monsters wrapped in funereal linen, chasing Brendan Fraser across Egyptian sand dunes.

hall mummy bottom amnh-v
The most famous duck-bill dino mummy is likely the edmontosaur at New York’s American Museum. The “skin” you see is an impression in the rock.

Our new Prehistoric Safari features two dino mummies: our fantastic Triceratops, Lane, and a slab of duck-billed dinosaur we nicknamed “Trigger.” Lane’s perfectly preserved skin is beautiful, but so delicate we can’t let visitors touch it (even the PhDs held their breath when they moved the specimen). But Trigger’s hide is totally petrified and rock-hard, so we want you to pet it.

Go ahead, give Trigger a gentle touch. Lots of folks get goose-bumpy when they run their fingers over the finely textured scales that covered this 4-ton veggie-saur, which chomped down on bushes in Utah some 73 million years ago.

In truth, most “mummified” dinosaurs aren’t exactly mummified in the original sense. True mummies preserve the actual skin and much of the body muscles, which become dehydrated and shrunken around the skull and skeleton.  The Egyptians were masters of religious mummification and devised clever ways to prevent the decay that usually rots out the soft tissue. Nature can mummify human bodies, too — when burials occurred in desert sand. Hot winds suck out the water from the sand and extract the juices from the deceased, leaving a body with leathery skin and desiccated innards.

hall Mum Leo -Poster copy

Dino mummies ≠ Egyptian mummies.

Usually, dinosaur mummies appear as if they have real skin shrunken over their ribcages and faces. But if you look closely, you’ll see that all the skin tissue is actually gone. What’s left is the impression of the skin, preserved in fine-grain sand and mud. What happened is this:

The dinosaur died and dried out. Scavengers were kept away somehow (that’s the tricky part) until sediment buried the carcass. Microbes finally destroyed all the skin tissue, but not before the sediments had been pressed tightly against the body. As the sand and mud hardened, the sediment recorded the impression of the outer skin surface — many “mummies” capture the skin texture with fabulous fidelity.

Lane the Triceratops goes one step better. There are genuine remnants of the original skin material preserved as dark, carbon-rich residue. We’ll do some high tech probing of this stuff to search for organic molecules. (No, we won’t get genetic material, Jurassic Park fans — DNA is too big and complicated to survive more than a few thousand years.)

Our Prehistoric Safari has a fine cast replica of a third dino-mummy, the famous duck-billed Brachylophosaurus named “Leonardo” from Malta, Montana. Leo, as he is known affectionately, has skin impressions over the arms, shins and flank. However, his claim to fame is his innards. The contents of Leo’s stomach and intestines are still there, faithfully recording his last meal. Tiny fragments of Late Cretaceous leaves fill the gastrointestinal tract, and you can see the progress of the digestive cycle.  Leaf bits get smaller passing from the stomach to the lower guts, showing that digestive juices were doing their job of breaking down the food.

Leonardo is the only herbivorous dinosaur specimen which gives us a glimpse into the food-processing organs deep inside the body.

But back to the petting —we have several pettable specimens in the exhibits and on the touch carts. Feel free to stroke bones, teeth, even our wonderful selection of coprolites (though you might want to look that word up).

Discovery Dome hits the George Observatory for weekends this summer!

Summers at the George Observatory are about to get a whole lot sweeter.

In addition to our normal (but extraordinary) telescope viewings and astronomy lectures, beginning June 1, we’ll also have our portable planetarium — the Discovery Dome — on-hand Friday and Saturday nights through Aug. 25.

HMNS Outreach Programs: Discovery Dome
This young astronomer loves the Discovery Dome!

Each weekend night — plus member nights and at family events — the Discovery Dome will show one of three rotating shows every half hour: Black Holes, We Choose Space, and Life in the Universe.

Black Holes, narrated by Star Trek: the Next Generation’s John de Lancie, explores the mystifying phenomena of black holes, their origin and the latest scientific knowledge about what exactly black holes are and how we can locate them.

We Choose Space details the real-life adventures of astronauts at the International Space Station and on the Moon during the Kennedy administration.

Life in the Universe brings viewers behind the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, exploring the planets in our solar system. From the birth and death of stars to the formation of distant galaxies, this show is jam-packed with visuals of the universe.

Tickets are $3 for the Discovery Dome show and $5 for telescope and astronomy lecture tickets. For $10, a package of telescope and astronomy lecture tickets, a Discovery Dome ticket and a pass to HMNS Sugar Land’s permanent exhibits is available.

The Discovery Dome will run Fridays from 7:30 to 10 p.m. and Saturdays from 3:30 to 10 p.m.

For more information about programming at the George Observatory and all our great summer events at Brazos Bend State Park, click here!

Member mania over the new Hall of Paleontology: Read their feedback and get here yourself!

Since our new Hall of Paleontology opened to museum members on Friday we’ve received an outpouring of responses from museum-goers of all ages. It was starting to make our head spin, so we compiled some choice reactions here to share with you! See what your fellow Houstonians are saying about what’s being called one of the nation’s top paleontology exhibits:

Pretty cool, huh? And we’re making updates and perfecting the exhibit as we hear your feedback. One of the latest additions is a swath of real, touchable hadrosaur skin! So come see us for the first time or the 15th — you can never learn too much.

The paleo hall opens to the public June 2. Can’t wait ’til Saturday? Become a member today!

PS — we’ve got another T-Rex Trying for HMNS for y’all. Check him out!

T-Rex Trying to reconnect!

Send your girls careening toward a career in hard sciences with HMNS summer camps

Let your young lady soar with HMNS’ Careers in Science program, designed to encourage girls to explore, well, careers in science!

Girl Scouts - Careers In Science
The Careers in Science curriculum offers three classes: Paleontology, Biology and Chemistry.

Careers In Science: Paleontology

At the Paleontology class, participants meet off-site and dig into history to uncover 45 million-year-old fossils from locations on the banks of the Brazos River and at a park teeming with petrified wood. Each participant keeps the fossils she finds!

Girl Scouts - Careers In Science
In Biology class, participants go behind the scenes of the Cockrell Butterfly Center to learn where our butterflies are sourced, how the plants are grown and even how our waterfall works. They’ll also interact with live insects and learn just what makes our “containment room” so important.

Girl Scouts - Careers In Science
Finally, Chemistry class teaches participants about everyday chemical reactions through hands-on experiments, including creating chemical temperature changes and understanding the role chemical reactions play in cooking.

Siblings at least 10 years of age can also participate in class with the purchase of a ticket, and each class ticket allows one adult to accompany each child.

Email scouts@hmns.org or check out the website for more information. You can also sign up for our monthly Scouts newsletter and be the first to learn about upcoming classes!