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5 January 2013 | NewScientist | 13
Tooth hints at truly monumental dino
THEY were the biggest animals ever to walk the Earth – now a new fossil suggests our estimations may not do justice to the size of sauropod dinosaurs.
Sauropods were enormous plant-eating beasts. The biggest are aptly named titanosaurs, and could reach 30 metres long.
But some titanosaurs may have been even bigger than that, says Rodolfo García at the National University of Río Negro in Argentina. He has found a 7.5-centimetre-long titanosaur tooth at Salitral de Santa Rosa in Río Negro – that makes it 32 per cent longer than the previous record holder (Cretaceous Research, doi.org/j2w).
Did it belong to a titanosaur even bigger than any found so far? García says it’s possible: the tooth probably came from an enormous skull, he says, which suggests a monumental body.
Philip Mannion of Imperial College London points out that we do not yet have good fossil skulls of the largest titanosaurs, so the tooth might simply belong to one of them. We’ll need to find more of the dinosaur from which the tooth came to convince him that it was an even bigger beast.
Victorian counting device gets speedy quantum makeoverA QUANTUM version of an old mechanical counting machine could be just the trick to take computing to the next level.
Quantum computers have long promised to crunch numbers faster than ordinary hardware, but so far no one has managed to create one that can beat even a pocket calculator. So Scott Aaronson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently suggested tackling something easier: a quantum version of a Galton board, invented by Victorian scientist Francis Galton.
The upright board is studded with pegs that scatter balls dropped in at the top so that they land in the slots below according to the binomial distribution, a key concept in statistics. Now a number of teams, including Aaronson’s and one led by Ian Walmsley at the University of Oxford, have built versions that swap balls for photons.
The quantum “pegboard” has intersecting channels snaking from one end to the other. Photons travelling down the channels interfere and emerge
IT MAY sound like folklore, but a handful of people really can see colourful “haloes” around others.
Some people claim to experience a form of synaesthesia – a crossing of the senses – that makes them see a coloured light around other people that varies in hue with emotions.
A 23-year-old man with Asperger’s disorder, identified as T. K., says he has the condition and it helps him with emotional reciprocity. To explore this claim, Vilayanur Ramachandran at the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues put a volunteer – who
T. K. said had a blue halo – in front of a white screen. T. K. was slower to identify blue letters when they were projected onto the volunteer’s blue halo than if they were projected elsewhere on the screen. He had no difficulty identifying orange letters, wherever they were on the screen.
Non-synaesthetes were as quick to identify letters regardless of their colour or placement (Neurocase, doi.org/dgh32j).
Other researchers contacted by New Scientist said that the consistent response times would be difficult for T. K. to fake.
Haloes are real – what colour is yours?
at the far end according to a distribution governed by quantum mechanics (Science, doi.org/j3q and doi.org/j3r).
Although the new devices are not true computers, they can calculate these statistics and, in principle, do the job faster than a conventional computer. So far, though, no team has sent more than three photons through – not enough to show a performance boost over classical computing. But scaling up the devices should be much easier than with a true quantum computer.
Barren space rock is cosmic oddity
IT WOULD not have added much spice to the primordial soup. The remains of a meteorite that recently fell in California are strangely low in organic materials. The discovery adds a slight wrinkle to the theory that meteorite impacts seeded the early Earth with the raw ingredients for life.
In April last year, a van-sized meteor streaked across the sky and exploded over the Sierra Nevada foothills. Teams quickly collected the fragments, which turned out to be made of a rare type of rock called a CM chondrite.
A detailed analysis by Peter Jenniskens of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, and colleagues suggests that the object can be traced back to a family of asteroids already thought to be CM chondrites. The team also found that levels of organics in the fragments were scanty relative to previous meteorites of the same type (Science, doi.org/j3v).
Bill Bottke of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, says that from the standpoint of amino acids arriving from space, the object was a disappointment. “It shows that not all asteroids can deliver sufficient quantities,” he says. But he adds that this was an unusual case: most meteorites like it are loaded with organic compounds.
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