Mark Your Calendars for these events happening this week (12/8-12/14) at HMNS

R_rating_WBust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Film Screening & Lecture
Dinosaur 13
Tuesday, December 9
6:00 p.m.

Join paleontologists Peter Larson and Dr. Robert T. Bakker for a candid discussion on the discovery of Sue—the largest, most complete T. rex ever found—and the ensuing battles that Larson and his crew faced after their monumental find. This talk will be followed by a screening of Dinosaur 13—the new film from Lionsgate and CNN Films that tells this riveting story, and features Larson and Bakker. Click here for more info.

Opening of Special Exhibition: Crystals of India at HMNS Sugar Land
Friday, December 12
Discover the Crystals of India at HMNS at Sugar Land. Originating from India’s Deccan Plateau, a large geologic formation that comprises most of the southern part of the country, the exhibition features a never-before-seen collection of almost 50 of the most beautiful and most perfectly formed natural mineral crystals ever found anywhere in the world.
For this exclusive engagement, the temporary exhibition hall at the HMNS at Sugar Land will be transformed into a jewel box that will highlight these exquisite mineral masterpieces in a setting more befitting an installation of the crown jewels—made complete with dramatic lighting and custom display cases.

Crystals of India is organized by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Local support is provided by the City of Sugar Land, Frost Bank, and Sudha Chittaluru, M.D (Internal Medicine) – First Colony Primary Care.

Saturday, December 13 & Sunday, December 14
10:00 a.m. & 4:00 p.m.
Fearless optimist Anna sets off on an epic journey-teaming up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven-to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. Encountering Everest-like conditions, mystical trolls and a hilarious snowman named Olaf, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom. Arts and crafts will follow this showing of the movie. Costumes are encouraged! Click here to purchase tickets.

Holiday Trunk Show – Mirta Tummino and Sarah Stewart
Saturday, December 13
12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Two Houston designers are teaming for this special trunk show. Mirta Tummino’s delicate wirework showcases colorful gemstones. Sarah Stewart designs beautiful silk and wool scarves that are batiked and woven in Indonesian by master textile artists.

Geminid Meteor Shower
George Observatory
Saturday, December 13
Open until Midnight
Enjoy the annual Geminid Meteor Shower at the George Observatory. Not rising until past midnight, the Moon will be favorable this year. The peak of the shower will be 9:00 p.m. to midnight. Dress warmly and bring lawn chairs. Telescope viewing will be open until 10:00 p.m. Cloudy skies will prevent viewing of meteors.

Black Hills Institute

Today’s post is by Sami Mesarwi, a member of the Museum’s marketing staff who recently traveled to South Dakota to visit the Black Hills Institute. 

If the company you work for had to send you on a business trip anywhere you wanted to go, where would it be?  Paris?  London?  Shanghai?  How about Hill City, South Dakota?  Probably wouldn’t be a first choice for too many out there… And while I would have said the same before my trip to the Black Hills Institute of Geologic Research (and I probably still wouldn’t be able to pass on Paris), this paleontological-Mecca should definitely be in the running for you dino-die-hards out there.

Black Hills Institute Outside Facade
The Black Hills Institute of Geological Research

I’ve always loved dinosaurs. 

In fact, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park is still one of my all-time favorite books (I may have grown up thinking that Crichton’s logic used in the novel to try and resurrect dinosaurs using the DNA found in preserved mosquitoes, as well as amphibians to fill in the holes, was flawless, but I’ve come a long way since then).  So, going on this trip seemed like it was going to be quite enjoyable from the start.  Our mission was simple enough: to go up and get some photos of the fossils that will eventually be on display in the museum’s upcoming new paleontology hall, opening summer 2012.

A coworker and I took the trip up to South Dakota in April, a time when Houston weather had consistently already warmed up to 90+ degrees outside.  However, surprising to all of us on the trip, we were greeted by snow in South Dakota!  Even though it was April, it was a Winter Wonderland—the color of the snow that covered the ground literally blended in with the sky’s horizon. Needless to say, it was pretty cold.  But I was able to get some pretty nice still shots out of it.

Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland!

Day one of our trip to South Dakota was a whirlwind of sights and sounds from within the Black Hills Institute. 

Everyone met up inside the Institute with the famed Peter Larson, the Yoda (though not quite as old) of casting fossils and of T. rex.  He gave us a brief history of his background and of the Institute while in the main lobby area, a who’s who of dinosaurs from several different eras.  In addition to the infamous SUE the T. rex, there were examples of Triceratops, Struthiomimus, Acrocanthosaurus, what seemed like an infinite amount of ammonites, and so much more, all filling an area about the size of an average backyard in the suburbs.  It was amazing—I’ve never seen so many dinosaurs in a compact area before.

Pete Larson
Pete Larson in the zone.
Dino Showroom
The Black Hills Institute Showroom

Onwards we continued to the prepping areas (a separate building from the museum itself), showcasing a few dinosaurs in the development and mounting stages. Pete told us about several of the specimens we’d be getting here at HMNS, before all of the paleontologists on hand broke into a discussion about the immaculate condition some of the fossils were in (I can’t give away too much about what in particular we’re getting—you’ll just have to wait and see!).  Before this trip, I thought I could hold my ground pretty decently well in matters of dino-speak.  But boy was I wrong.  Being surrounded by so many accomplished and literally world-renowned paleontologists (including Pete Larson, Dr. Robert Bakker, and so many others) was really very exciting.  But also quite humbling.

Pete then took us to the casting/molding area, where several Black Hills employees were diligently working to create some very impressive casts of fossils that they had.  They poured the liquid silicone rubber into the two mold halves, and, with some of the smaller ones, fastened them together with—interestingly enough—Legos! Turns out those colorful, little building blocks aren’t just fun to play with, but are also way more practical than you would think…

Pete Larson Bob Bakker
Pete Larson and Dr. Bob Bakker examining a recent find.

Our second (and final) day of the trip allowed for us to talk up close with Pete himself. 

Pete told us all about the Black Hills Institute itself and how it came to be—in 1974, as an earth science supply house, providing teaching specimens for colleges and universities, before branching out into doing museum exhibits.  In fact, as Pete points out, the products coming out of the Black Hills Institute can be found on every continent in the world (though he was mindful to exclude Antarctica from the list—hardly as impressive now, if you ask me).  After he answered our countless questions, Pete allowed for us to roam around the Black Hills Institute at our leisure, getting some shots of whatever it is that we wanted.  We took still shots of some of the specimens that will be making an appearance in the new paleontology hall, as well as some of the stars of the show.

After that, we grabbed a quick lunch at the corner bistro before heading back home to Houston.  Though we did make a quick stop on the way back… As we were only about 15 miles away from Mount Rushmore, we went ahead and visited the famed monument on our way to the airport. Quite breathtaking, I must say!  To me, the tranquility of the park where the monument is located, coupled with the remarkable stature of the presidents whose faces are forever immortalized in the mountain’s façade, were equally as impressive to me as the mountain goat we saw.

Mt. Rushmore
Mount Rushmore.

All in all, the trip to Hill City, South Dakota was so much cooler (both, literally and figuratively) than I originally anticipated.  While the city itself isn’t exactly the largest out there (population: 948), or the most exotic of your travel destinations, it should absolutely be a front-runner for all of you dino-enthusiasts out there.

Archaeopteryx has arrived in Sugar Land!

Last week a version of the show Archaeopteryx: Icon of Evolution‘ arrived at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land.  There are around 70 authentic fossils on display including the Geosaurs, Guitar Fish, several fossilized corals, insects, fish, plants and a cast of the Thermopolis Archaeoptertyx.

Check out the HMNS exhibit in Focus On: The Thermopolis Archaeopteryx [Pete Larson] from HMNS on Vimeo.

There have been lots of posts in the past year on the Archaeopteryx show here on the blog so take some time to refresh your memory on all there is to know!  And then come down the HMNS at Sugar Land to see these amazing and one of a kind pieces for yourself!

Your Archaeopteryx Questions: Answered! [Pete Larson]

Pete Larson’s new research into the Thermopolis Archaeopteryx specimen currently on display here at the Museum is fascinating (who knew feathers could fossilize?) and we recently hosted an online discussion with Pete to showcase the new findings and give people a chance to get all their burning Archaeopteryx questions answered.

We were so happy to hear the response, the great interaction and the insightful questions asked during the event. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to them all, so Pete graciously agreed to respond to all unanswered questions in a post here on our blog.The following questions were submitted either during the event itself, or from people who couldn’t attend, in the comments section of the post announcing the event.

And so, without further adieu…your Archaeopteryx questions, and Pete’s answers:

What is your view on the origin of avian flight?

There are two basic hypotheses for the origin of flight: A.) From the ground up – a running start from a fleet footed meat eating dinosaur. B.) From the trees down – theropods climbed into trees and at first glided from tree to tree, to escape predators or to find food. I think that the later idea is most credible. The claws on the hands of early birds, like Archaeopteryx, could have been used, in conjunction with the claws on the feet, to climb into the trees (like juvenile Watsons [sp.?] do today). This also would have limited the stress on the flight feathers and the necessity for a keeled sternum (something that Archaeopteryx does not have).

The Archaeopteryx is angry.
You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

What would cause such rapid burial underwater?

A change in temperature could have precipitated the crystallization of tiny calcite crystals that rained down on the organisms. The warmer the water, the more it can hold in solution. Perhaps even daily fluctuations from night to day caused this accumulation over the centuries.

With the great preservation of bones and some soft parts, what was the level of anoxia in the water column?

Because of the reef that protected this “lagoon”, the wave action was limited within the lagoon itself. If you were to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen, you would see a decrease with depth, depleted, at least in part, by resident organisms. Presumably, the bottom was very anoxic, to the point that it could not support animal life. This, however, created a great environment for fossil preservation.

What does the Archeopteryx fossil do for the “evolution of evolution,” . i.e. the progression from Darwin’s theories of natural selection and evolution to modern evolutionary theory to future understanding, both paleo and contemporary?

Soon after its discovery, arguments were made dismissing this discovery as the missing link between birds and dinosaurs. “Dinosaurs do not have feathers (let alone flight feathers), dinosaurs do not have furculae (wishbones), Archaeopteryx does not have serrated teeth (dinosaurs do), etc.”  It turns out that some, if not all, theropods (meat eating dinosaurs) have feathers, including flight feathers. Theropods have furculae (even T. rex). And some theropods have non-serrated teeth, etc.. Archaeopteryx IS the link between dinosaurs and their evolutionary offspring, birds.

In regards to the shark fossil, Hybodus what would be a modern ancestor?

Hybodus is part of the Order Hybodontiformes, of the Superorder Selachimorpha (Sharks). The entire group became extinct at the end of the age of dinosaurs – the KT boundary, 65MYBP.

When you first find these fossils are they of a different color and then change once they hit our oxygen air another wards does our oxygen change these fossil in anyway shape or form?

As one who has collected a lot of fossils from a lot of different localities and ages I can tell you that you often witness color changes. Usually this is due to the drying out of the surface of the fossil (You can test this by licking an unconserved fossil – or even a rock – and see an immediate “brightening” of the colors.) Occasionally a thin white film of gypsum (if there is pyrite in or near the specimen) can grow quickly over the surface of a fossil, literally overnight, that will hide its true color. Atmospheric oxygen is not a big problem, however some fossils, particularly those preserved with unstable minerals near or within can combine with atmospheric water and create such chemicals a sulfuric acid, that can destroy the fossil.

Can you briefly summaries the other fossil evidence for early bird-like creatures other than Archaeopteryx?

We actually have a very good record of fossil birds from a second locality (Liaoning, China where we also find feathered non-avian theropods) that is about 20 million years after Archaeopteryx (Archaeopteryx is 145 MYBP and Liaoning is 122 MYBP) in the Early Cretaceous. [For those of you who wonder what MYBP stands for it is “Millions of Years Before Present”, not “Millions of Years before Pete.”] Here we see a wide variety of forms, some with more advanced characters and some with very primitive characters, ie. The clawed manus (hand) and toothed skulls persists in some species but have already been lost in others. For the Jurassic, however, diversity was small and all we see are these things we call Archaeopteryx lithographica (but are probably at least two species that some would argue were at least two genera).

Can you see muscle scars on the Archaeopteryx that indicate the presence of muscles which might be used in flight, or are they too small?

Points for insertion of tendons (the tissue that bonds muscles to bones) can be seen on the bones of Archaeopteryx. They do not exactly duplicate what we see in modern birds, But then an animal that lacks a keeled sternum would be built differently then their descendents.

Did you participate? Leave us a comment here to let us know what you thought – and what we can do better next time.

Sad you missed the event? Click here to watch a recording.

Fascinated? Us too. See the exhibit.

VIDEO: Tour the Archaeopteryx exhibit with Pete Larson

VIDEO: Focus on: The Thermopolis ArchaeopteryxF