Saturday, October 6, 2012

Weekly Science Roundup #9

Back in action! This week, meet a spiky dinosaur face-to-face, learn the truth about Vitamin C, and holy cow, a new comet!

1. The Newest Fanged Plant-Eating Dinosaur of AWESOME

Pegomastax africanus is the newest heterodontosaur dinosaur discovery, and is possibly the most bizarre one yet. Heterodontosaurs are dinosaurs that have differently shaped teeth, and were some of the earliest dinosaurs to ever evolve. This new specimen dates to around 200 million years ago.

Pegomastax has a beak-like front to his jaw, curved like a parrot's, then has big sharp fangs (possibly for battling other Pegomastax), and finally in the back, several tall teeth good for eating plants.

Paleontologists aren't completely certain that the fangs weren't for meat-eating, but it seems unlikely based on their wear patterns. There are modern animals (muntjacs, anyone?) that both have fangs and live as herbivores, and that seems to be the case here.

Also, did I mention this dinosaur is tiny? It's only around the size of a house cat. And it's covered in bristly spines. Is there anything about this animal that isn't amazing to imagine?

2. You don't need to take daily Vitamin C and D pills. Really.

Really. Yes, we need these vitamins in our lives, but at least for people who eat a typical diet (read: almost everyone), you get all you need from your food.

"But what about when preventing colds?" you ask, "Doesn't extra C help keep you from getting sick?"

No. Taking vitamin supplements doesn't prevent colds. This has been demonstrated time and time again with Vitamin C, and the newest study takes down Vitamin D as well.

There's zero evidence that either type of supplement lower your risk for getting sick. There is possibly evidence that Vitamin C speeds up your recovery during a cold by potentially up to 12 hours, but that result hasn't been replicated with much accuracy. The bottom line, is that as long as you're drinking OJ/eating a piece of fruit/enjoying some broccoli in your life with some frequency, you're golden on your vitamin levels.

Still unconvinced? Hoping to harness the (possible, maybe half-day speedier) beneficial effects of Vitamin C when you're sick? Just drink an extra half glass of OJ, and you're more than set. It's cheaper, more natural, and tastier. Done and done.

3. New Comet Discovered!

A new comet has been sighted! The Russian discoverers saw comet 2012 S1 passing by Saturn last week, and it's been since revealed that this comet should pass by Earth at the end of next year. That is, if it survives its trip past our sun in a few months.

The comet is over a mile wide, and could potentially be one of the brightest comets in history. As it sails past the sun, gas and dust will be blasted off it, giving it a huge tail and creating conditions for it to be super reflective as it goes by Earth. Scientists can't be certain of just how bright it will actually look (or even if, once again, it'll survive long enough to pass us), but if things go as predicted, it should put on a seriously awesome show next year. How awesome? Well, imagine a ball of ice dashing past us and shining as bright as---

Wait. No. I must restrain myself from over-hyping how cool this thing will look could end up being until the actual flyby date gets closer...


Still restraining...

...This is going to be a long year.

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