Each week at Live Science we find the most interesting and informative articles we can. Along the way, we uncover some amazing and cool images. Here you'll discover the most incredible photos we found this week, and the remarkable stories behind them.
In what may be one of the weirdest animal mash-ups, scientists have found the 68 million-year-old fossilized skull of an early bird with a Velociraptor-like face and a toucan-like beak, a new study finds. This crow-size bird lived in northwestern Madagascar during the late Cretaceous, when dinosaurs walked the Earth. And its bizarre beaky face made it one of a kind.
"Birds from the Mesozoic [the dinosaur era], or any time for that matter, do not have faces built like this," study co-researcher Patrick O'Connor, professor of anatomy at Ohio University, told Live Science.
Researchers found the bird's partial but "exquisitely preserved" skull in 2010 in a block of muddy sandstone. They didn't CT scan it until 2017, O'Connor said. In that moment, they realized this 3-inch-long (8.5 centimeters) skull — so small it could fit in the palm of your hand — had "a beak never before seen in the Mesozoic," study co-researcher Alan Turner, associate professor of anatomy at Stony Brook University in New York, told Live Science.
A crack in the dish
Satellites spotted gashes in the damaged Arecibo Observatory, which is set to be decommissioned by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).
The 57-year-old radio telescope has sustained two cable failures which has made its massive dish too unstable to safely repair, according to the NSF. The cable failures have also damaged the massive dish, which spans a whopping 1,000 feet (305 meters) across, gouging holes in its delicate metal panels.
Those holes in the telescope's large dish and vegetation growing below the historic piece of technology can be seen from space in a new, high-resolution satellite image taken by the Dove satellite constellation operated by Planet, a company based in California. The image was produced on request from Nature, according to a statement.
The mummy's secret
An Egyptian mummy that was decorated with a woman's portrait contained a surprise — the body of a child who was only 5 years old when she died. Now, scientists have learned more about the mysterious girl and her burial, thanks to high-resolution scans and X-ray "microbeams" that targeted very small regions in the intact artifact.
Computed X-ray tomography (CT) scans of the mummy's teeth and femur confirmed the girl's age, though they showed no signs of trauma in her bones that could suggest the cause of her death.
The mummy, known as "Hawara Portrait Mummy No. 4," was excavated between 1910 and 1911 from the ancient Egyptian site of Hawara, and it dates to around the first century A.D., when Egypt was under Roman rule. One puzzling discovery revealed by the new scans was a small, elliptical object about 0.3 inches (7 mm) long, which the researchers found in the mummy's wrappings over the abdomen. It could be an amulet included because the child's body was damaged during mummification, the researchers said.
Who embedded a large metal monolith in the remote Utah desert?
State wildlife officials are scratching their heads after discovering a bizarre 10-foot-tall (3 meters) installation in Red Rock Country in southeastern Utah. The shiny silver rectangle sits in the center of the dead end of one of the many shallow rock ravines that scour this desert region. Its discovery had wildlife officials feeling as if they'd been dropped into an episode of "Ancient Aliens."
"OK, the intrepid explorers go down to investigate the, uh, alien life-form," one chuckles as he takes a video of his companions hiking to the monolith on Nov. 18.
The monolith failed to immediately do anything mystical, though officials noted with surprise that someone had taken the trouble to cut into the hard-packed earth to install the monument. There was no indication of who had left the monolith, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Scientists have discovered a cold, faint "super-planet" that has remained elusive to traditional infrared survey methods.
Observations from the Low-Frequency Array, or LOFAR radio telescope, revealed a brown dwarf, which researchers have designated BDR J1750+3809 and nicknamed Elegast. Brown dwarfs are sometimes referred to as failed stars or super-planets because they are too small to be considered stars, yet too big to be considered planets. Generally, brown dwarfs are discovered by infrared sky surveys. Elegast, however, represents the first substellar object to be detected using a radio telescope, according to a statement from the University of Hawai'i.
"This work opens a whole new method to finding the coldest objects floating in the sun's vicinity, which would otherwise be too faint to discover with the methods used for the past 25 years," Michael Liu, coauthor of the study and researcher from the the University of Hawai'i Institute for Astronomy, said.
African crested rats are rabbit-size fuzzballs with endearing faces and a catlike purr. But they're also highly poisonous, their fur loaded with a toxin so powerful that just a few milligrams is deadly enough to kill a human.
The rats don't produce the poison themselves. Rather, they borrow it from a poisonous plant by chewing on the bark, mixing the toxin with their saliva and then grooming the lethal liquid into stripes of specialized hairs on their flanks, a new study shows.
Some mammal species, such as shrews, moles and vampire bats, possess a toxic saliva, while slow lorises — the only venomous primate — homebrew their venom by mixing saliva with a secretion from their armpits. But the crested rat (Lophiomys imhausi) is the only mammal to derive its poison protection directly from plants.
[Read more: Crested rats can kill with their poisonous fur]
Pinwheel in the rocks
Just before going into a hallucinogenic trance, Indigenous Californians who had gathered in a cave likely looked up toward the rocky ceiling, where a pinwheel and big-eyed moth were painted in red.
This mysterious "pinwheel," is likely a depiction of the delicate, white flower of Datura wrightii, a powerful hallucinogen that the Chumash people took not only for ceremonial purposes but also for medicinal and supernatural ones, according to a new study. The moth is likely a species of hawk moth, known for its "loopy" intoxicated flight after slurping up Datura's nectar, the researchers said.
Chewed globs that humans stuck to the cave's ceiling provided more evidence of these ancient trips; these up to 400-year-old lumps, known as quids, contained the mind-altering drugs scopolamine and atropine, which are found in Datura, the researchers said. Radiocarbon dating shows the cave was used on and off again from about 1600 to the late 1800s. And Indigenous people used the cave for many other purposes: The archaeologists also found projectile points and an arrow shaft straightener — indicating the cave may have served as a place for preparing hunting tools.
Fleeing the fires of Vesuvius
More than 150 years after the first remains of the victims of the Mount Vesuvius eruption were discovered, scientists have found two more bodies in the ruins near Pompeii.
The two individuals were men, one in his late teens or early 20s and one in his 30s. Both apparently died trying to flee a suburban villa as a torrent of hot ash and gases called pyroclastic flow buried the region.
The bones of the victims were removed and analyzed, and then the voids within the hardened ash where the bones had rested were scanned with a laser. Finally, archaeologists poured plaster within the human-shaped spaces, creating casts of the two dead men. These casts show details such as the folds of the woolen tunics worn by the victims.
The shark's smile
Imagine you're a fish swimming through the ocean millions of years ago, when a shark lunges at you, gaping its mouth to bite. The horror of your predicament increases as the predator's lower jaw also stretches downward on both sides, so that newer, sharper teeth that were previously lying flat along the side of the jaw now curve up.
Scientists recently discovered this nightmarish trait in a fossil of a 370 million-year-old shark that once inhabited waters near what is now Morocco. The previously undescribed species, dubbed Ferromirum oukherbouchi, had a jaw that rotated inward when the mouth was closed, and outward when the mouth was open.
Unlike modern sharks, in which worn-down teeth are constantly displaced by new teeth, this shark sprouted its newer teeth in a row on the inside of the jaw, next to the older teeth. As the new teeth grew, they curved toward the shark's tongue. When the shark opened its mouth, cartilage at the back of the jaw flexed so that the sides of the jaw "folded" down and newer teeth rotated upward, allowing the shark to bite into its prey with as many teeth as possible, according to a new study.
The black hole's shadow
In images from the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists have spotted an entirely new phenomenon. Reaching tens of thousands of light-years into the void of space, vast shadows stretch from the center of the galaxy IC 5063, as though something is blocking the bright light from therein.
You've probably seen something very like it before – bright beams from the Sun when it's just below the horizon and clouds or mountains only partially block its light, known as crepuscular rays. According to astronomers, the shadows from IC 5063 could be something very similar. They're just a whole lot bigger – at least 36,000 light-years in each direction.
IC 5063, a galaxy 156 million light-years away, is a Seyfert galaxy. This means it has an active nucleus; the supermassive black hole at its centre is busily guzzling down material from a dense accretion disc and torus of dust and gas around it. Although the supermassive black hole itself gives off no light, the intense forces involved in this massive accretion process generate so much heat and light from the region around the black hole that the galactic nucleus absolutely blazes across space. It's this light, astronomers think, that is being shadowed. The obstruction? Likely caused by dust.
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Originally published on Live Science.