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Record-breaking Aussie dinosaur was as long as a basketball court

An illustration of Australotitan cooperensis, the largest dinosaur ever found Down Under.
An illustration of Australotitan cooperensis, the largest dinosaur ever found Down Under. (Image credit: Vlad Konstantinov, Scott Hocknull/Eromanga Natural History Museum)

A newly described long-necked dinosaur the length of a basketball court and hips the height of a two-story building is the largest beast to ever walk Australia, a new study finds.

Paleontologists discovered the enormous creature — a titanosaur, the largest of the long-necked sauropod dinosaurs — in Queensland’s outback. They named it Australotitan cooperensis, or "the southern titan from the Cooper" — a nod to the Cooper Creek system where it was found. But the team calls it "Cooper" for short.

When alive, Cooper would have stood about 21 feet (6.5 meters) tall at its hip and measured up to 98 feet (30 m) from its snout to the tip of its tail. It likely weighed between 25 and 82 tons (23 and 74 metric tons), or the equivalent of 1,400 red kangaroos, the researchers wrote in a blog post. These metrics mean that the plant-eating Cooper ranks among the top 10 to 15 largest dinosaur species worldwide, the researchers said.

Related: Gallery: Massive new dinosaur discovered in sub-Saharan Africa

Cooper's remains were first discovered in 2004 by 14-year-old Sandy Mackenzie, the son of study senior author Robyn Mackenzie, director at Eromanga Natural History Museum. The dinosaur's gigantic fossilized bones were in the Winton Formation, west of the town of Eromanga, and researchers have spent much of this time excavating and studying its many fossilized bones. 

"To make sure Australotitan was a different species, we needed to compare its bones to the bones of other species from Queensland and globally," study first author Scott Hocknull, a vertebrate paleontologist and senior curator of geology at the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, said in a statement. "This was a very long and painstaking task." 

To speed up the process, the researchers used 3D-scanning technology to digitally scan each bone, and then compared the scans with the bones of other sauropods. "The 3D scans we created allowed me to carry around 1000s of kilos [of] dinosaur bones in a 7 kilogram [15.4 lbs.] laptop," Hocknull said. "Better yet, we can now share these scans and knowledge online with the world."

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Paleontologist Scott Hocknull and Eromanga Natural History Museum director and paleontologist Robyn Mackenzie hold a 3D reconstruction of Cooper's humerus (upper front leg bone).

Paleontologist Scott Hocknull and Eromanga Natural History Museum director and paleontologist Robyn Mackenzie hold a 3D reconstruction of Cooper's humerus (upper front leg bone). (Image credit: Rochelle Lawrence)
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Cooper and its close related relatives. The green bones represent those that have been recovered.

Cooper and its close related relatives. The green bones represent those that have been recovered. (Image credit: Scott Hocknull/Queensland Museum)
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A virtual reconstruction of Cooper standing next on the dinosaur highway, with a human for scale.

A virtual reconstruction of Cooper standing next on the dinosaur highway, with a human for scale. (Image credit: Scott Hocknull/Queensland Museum)
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Students from Eromanga State School size up against a replica of Cooper's femur (thigh bone) at the Eromanga Natural History Museum.

Students from Eromanga State School size up against a replica of Cooper's femur (thigh bone) at the Eromanga Natural History Museum. (Image credit: Steve Young)
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A digital image of the newly described dinosaur, Australotitan cooperensis, next to its dig site.

A digital image of the newly described dinosaur, Australotitan cooperensis, next to its dig site. (Image credit: Eromanga Natural History Museum)
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Robyn Mackenzie, Eromanga Natural History Museum director and palaeontologist, sits next to the actual fossils at the museum.

Robyn Mackenzie, Eromanga Natural History Museum director and palaeontologist, sits next to the actual fossils at the museum. (Image credit: Steve Young)
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The landscape in "Cooper Country," where Cooper was found.

The landscape in "Cooper Country," where Cooper was found. (Image credit: Rochelle Lawrence)

The team's analysis revealed that Cooper was closely related to three previously discovered sauropod dinosaurs — Wintonotitan, Diamantinasaurus and Savannasaurus — whose fossils were also found in the Winton Formation and date back about 96 million to 92 million years, during the Cretaceous period.

"We found that Australotitan was the largest in the family, followed by Wintonotitan with big hips and long legs, whilst the two smaller sauropods, Diamantinasaurus and Savannasaurus, were shorter in stature and heavily-set," Hocknull said.

Moreover, the discovery of a rocky site in the Queensland outback, nearly 330 feet (100 m) long, appears to have been a sauropod highway, "where the dinosaurs walked along trampling mud and bones into the soft ground," Hocknull said. Some of Cooper's bones were even crushed, likely under the heavy weight of other sauropods, which also left their fossilized footprints behind on the highway, the researchers wrote in the blog post.

The study was published online Monday (June 7) in the journal PeerJ.

Originally published on Live Science.