Oldest lizard-like fossils found

October 6, 2013 

Just discovered: the oldest fossilized remains of a reptile closely related to lizards. Two new fossil jaws discovered in Vellberg, Germany, provide the first direct evidence that the ancestors of lizards, snakes and tuatara (known collectively as lepidosaurs), were alive during the Middle Triassic period – around 240 million years ago.

The findings are published in BMC Evolutionary Biology. The small teeth and lightly built jaws suggest that the extinct animal preyed on small insects. The new fossils are most closely related to the tuatara, a lizardlike reptile.

Tuatara can be found on 35 islands off the coast of New Zealand and were recently reintroduced to the mainland. They are the sole survivors of a group that was once as globally widespread as lizards are today. University College London

Oct. 11, 12: Learn about the moon

International Observe the Moon Night will be observed Friday at Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, near Brevard, in conjunction with the monthly “Evening at PARI” series. Weather permitting, PARI telescopes will be used for lunar observations. Amateur astronomers may also bring telescopes or binoculars and take advantage of PARI’s optimum dark-sky conditions.

The event begins at 7 p.m. with a presentation, followed by a campus tour, a trip to the exhibit gallery and an observing session. Reservations are required and will be accepted until 3 p.m. Thursday. Cost: $20; $15 for seniors/military; $10 for. Registration/details/payment: www.pari.edu; 828-862-5554.

Other Observe the Moon Night events will be held Saturday evening. They include:

N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, 121 W. Jones St., Raleigh. Free event, starting at 6 p.m., includes a 7 p.m. viewing of the moon from the ninth floor of the parking deck. Details: http://bit.ly/16YBPSG.

Astronomy observation, 7-9 p.m. at SciWorks, 400 W. Hanes Mill Road, Winston-Salem. Free planetarium orientation program is followed by free observation using professional-grade telescopes. Details: http://bit.ly/19lFavU.

Information on other Observe the Moon Night events www.observethemoonnight.org. Staff reports

Jumping droplets carry charge

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have discovered that tiny water droplets that form on a superhydrophobic surface and then “jump” away from that surface carry an electric charge. The finding could lead to more efficient power plants and a new way of drawing power from the atmosphere, they say.

The finding is reported in a paper in the journal Nature Communications. The MIT team had previously learned that under certain conditions, rather than simply sliding down and separating from a surface due to gravity, droplets can actually leap away from it. This occurs when droplets of water condense onto a metal surface with a specific kind of superhydrophobic coating and at least two of the droplets coalesce: They can then spontaneously jump from the surface, as a result of a release of excess surface energy.

In the new work, “We found that when these droplets jump, through analysis of high-speed video, we saw that they repel one another mid-flight,” researcher Nenad Miljkovic said. “Previous studies have shown no such effect.” MIT

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