Stunning map of the cosmos reveals over 1 billion stars

Gaia’s first sky map, annotated (ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

Gaia’s first sky map, annotated (ESA/Gaia/DPAC)

A stunning and vast map of the cosmos has been published by the European Space Agency (ESA), showing over one billion stars in the Milky Way and beyond.

The map represents “the largest all-sky survey of celestial objects to date” the ESA said.

A spacecraft called Gaia collected the information over more than a year, from July of last year to September, 2016.

“The beautiful map we are publishing today shows the density of stars measured by Gaia across the entire sky, and confirms that it collected superb data during its first year of operations,” Timo Prusti, Gaia project scientist at ESA, said in astatement.

The map shows the locations of more than 1.1 billion stars, as well as features like open clusters, globular clusters, and even other galaxies like the Large Magnetic Cloud, Small Magnetic Cloud, and Andromeda. The middle of the image shows the horizontal plane of the Milky Way, our own galaxy.

The ESA said that Gaia will eventually assemble “the most detailed 3D map ever made of our Milky Way galaxy” and that what it has already created is two times as precise as the previous best catalogue of the stars.

“Gaia is at the forefront of astrometry, charting the sky at precisions that have never been achieved before,” Alvaro Giménez, ESA’s Director of Science, said in the statement.

High-resolution images of the map– both annotated and not— are available for download via the ESA.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Hubble telescope captures jaw-dropping beauty of nearby galaxy

This breathtaking new image from the Hubble Space Telescope captures electric-blue wisps of gas and bright stars in the early stages of birth.

This breathtaking new image from the Hubble Space Telescope captures electric-blue wisps of gas and bright stars in the early stages of birth.(ESA/Hubble & NASA)

A spectacular new image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope shows bright-blue wisps of glowing gas and hot, sparkling, young stars within a satellite dwarf galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

The LMC is one of the smaller satellite galaxies that orbit the Milky Way, and it’s among a collection of galaxies known as the local group. It is one of the closest galaxies to Earth, at about 163,000 light-years away.

This dazzling new Hubble image peers into a stellar nursery known as N159, which measures more than 150 light-years across and houses many hot, newborn stars. [Hubble in Pictures: Astronomers’ Top Picks (Photos)]

“These stars are emitting intense ultraviolet light, which causes nearby hydrogen gas to glow, and torrential stellar winds, which are carving out ridges, arcs and filaments from the surrounding material,” Hubble researchers said in a statementwhen debuting the photo.

Within this stellar nursery lies a butterfly-shaped cosmic cloud known as the Papillon Nebula. The region consists of vast amounts of dense gas that give way to the birth of new stars.

N159 is located south of the Tarantula Nebula, which is designated heic1402 — another region known for massive star birth within the LMC. The Tarantula Nebula is located 170,000 light-years from Earth and is believed to house hundreds of thousands of stars. Inside the Tarantula Nebula lies an incredibly bright region known as 30 Doradus, which is considered a hotspot for star formation, according to the statement, released jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency.

This beautiful new image, one of many taken by the Hubble telescope, was captured using Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Original article on Space.com.

Rare discovery: Ancient synagogue mosaic may depict Alexander the Great

NOW PLAYINGDoes newly uncovered mosaic depict Alexander the Great?

A remarkable mosaic unearthed during the excavation of an ancient synagogue in northern Israel may portray Alexander the Great.

Experts are thrilled to reveal the mosaic that was discovered on the floor of the fifth-century synagogue in Huqoq. “The quality of the mosaic is extraordinary, the fact that it may depict a meeting between Alexander the Great and the Jewish high priest is also amazing,” Excavation Director and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor Jodi Magness told Fox News Monday.

The purported Alexander the Great mosaic is the first non-biblical story ever found decorating an ancient synagogue.

Magness explained that the mosaic is divided into three horizontal strips, known as registers, which are read from bottom to top. The top register, which is the largest, shows a meeting between two male figures that are bigger than the other figures portrayed, highlighting their importance.

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One figure, an elderly bearded man dressed all in white, is believed to be a Jewish high priest. Magness explained that the other figure, who is younger, but also bearded, is dressed in an elaborate military outfit and has the trappings of a king, such as a diadem, or headband that indicates sovereignty, and a purple cloak.

“He is accompanied by all sorts of figures that indicate that he is a Greek king – there’s a Greek military formation next to him, there are battle elephants,” Magness said. “These are all things that are associated with the Greek kings from the time of Alexander the Great on.”

However, the professor notes that the meeting between Alexander the Great and the high priest depicted in the mosaic probably never occurred. “This was a story that was circulated a lot in antiquity,” she said. “In the centuries following Alexander the Great’s death when he became so famous that he became ‘the Great’, the Jews sought to associate themselves with Alexander and stories began to circulate about a meeting like this having taken place.”

Not everyone is convinced the mosaic shows the famous Macedonian king. Art historian Karen Britt of Western Carolina University, who is the excavation’s mosaics specialist, believes that Seleucid King Antiochus VII is depicted, according to National Geographic. Antiochus VII led a Seleucid attack on Jerusalem in 132 B.C. and Britt believes the mosaic shows him negotiating a truce with Jewish high priest and Judean leader John Hyrcanus I.

“We came to the conclusion that the story being depicted in the mosaic simply does not correspond to the Alexander traditions,” added Ra‘anan Boustan, an associate history professor at UCLA, in an email to FoxNews.com.

Boustan, who worked on the project with Britt, explained that the defeated army depicted in part of the mosaic does not fit the history of Alexander the Great’s early conquests in the Middle East. Instead, Boustan saw evidence of the later Hellenistic kings, who maintained Greek traditions.

“Right there in an impressive range of ancient sources, both Jewish and non-Jewish, we found a story about the siege of Jerusalem by a later Seleucid king named Antiochus VII Sidetes, who battled with and ultimately made peace with one of the most famous and admired Jewish leaders of the Hellenistic period, the high priest John Hyrcanus,” he wrote. “Not only did the story told in the sources match the details of the mosaic, but text and art both seemed to capture the spirit of the encounter between Jew and Greek, which was characterized by tension as well as mutual respect.”

The Huqoq Excavation Project involves the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baylor University, Brigham Young University and the University of Toronto.

The Huqoq site offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of an ancient Jewish village in Israel’s lower Galilee.

Excavations at Huqoq began in 2011, and the first mosaic was discovered the following year. Notable mosaics unearthed at the site include Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders, which was discovered in 2013.

This summer the excavation team also unearthed stunning mosaics depictingNoah’s Ark and the parting of the Red Sea. Further excavations at the site will continue next summer.

The mosaic allegedly depicting Alexander the Great was excavated in stages between 2013 and 2015. “Only a portion of it had been released to the public previously,” Magness told FoxNews.com. “This is the first time that an image of the entire mosaic has been released.”

The mosaics have been removed from the site for conservation and all the excavated areas have been backfilled, Magness said. “We hope that the site will be developed for tourism after the excavations end,” she added.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Curiosity rover sends back striking images of Mars rock formations

Sept. 8, 2016: This image take by the Mars Curiosity Rover shows a dramatic hillside outcrop with sandstone layers.

Sept. 8, 2016: This image take by the Mars Curiosity Rover shows a dramatic hillside outcrop with sandstone layers.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

NASA has released new color images taken by the Curiosity Mars rover, which it says will help increase understanding of the red planet’s landscape.

The pictures, taken on Thursday, were taken in the “Murray Buttes” region of lower Mount Sharp, an 18,000ft mountain, where the Rover has been based since 2014.

Curiosity is looking into how and when habitable conditions on Mars that were once present evolved into drier conditions less favourable for life on the planet.

Curiosity Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada said the team was “thrilled” to undertake the expedition, describing the landscape as “a bit of American desert Southwest on Mars”.

The striking rock formations captured by the rover’s Mast Camera, are the remnants of ancient sandstone which were formed when winds deposited sand on the lower regions of the mountain.

Mr Vasavada said: “Studying these buttes up close has given us a better understanding of ancient sand dunes that formed and were buried, chemically changed by groundwater, exhumed and eroded to form the landscape that we see today.”

Since the images were taken, the rover has left the buttes and is set to continue its journey higher up Mount Sharp.

The Curiosity team plan to create several mosaics from the images, with NASA saying they compare to photos taken in American national parks.

Click for more from Sky News.

‘Magic’ picture frame slows time — or so it seems

Can a picture frame slow time? This one appears to.

Can a picture frame slow time? This one appears to.(Jeff Lieberman)

Have you ever wished that you could speed up time, slow it down, or stop it entirely? Maybe we all have, but unless you have Hermione Granger’s Time Turner, the ability to control the clock’s hands is probably not in your toolbox.

However, an invention called the “Slow Dance” frame opens a window into what it might look like to see things move in slow motion in the real world.

When you place them in the frame, delicate objects such as leaves and feathers quiver and undulate, as you might expect them to when they’re stirred by a gentle breeze. But there’s a subtle difference — the movements appear to happen at a fraction of their normal speed, taking place right in front of your eyes. [The Most Amazing Optical Illusions (and How They Work)]

Let’s do the time warp

Jeff Lieberman, the creator of “Slow Dance,” is no stranger to slow motion. He formerly hosted the Discovery Channel program “Time Warp,” a science-themed show that used high-speed cameras to film everyday actions, capturing up to 40,000 frames per second (a normal camera’s shooting rate is typically 30 frames per second). Using extreme slow motion, the show explored dynamic physics principles that were demonstrated by a diverse range of activities — from explosions to body piercing.

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Lieberman recognized that watching things happen in slow motion creates a sense of wonder, and allows the viewer to appreciate the beauty of movement — something that they might miss if they were watching it in real time, he said in a statement.

But could he take that sense of wonder from watching slow motion on a screen, and recreate it in reality? Lieberman decided to find out.

Building a mystery

Lieberman unlocked the secret of the slow-motion illusion he created in “Slow Dance” by using strobe lights that blink at a rate that’s too fast for the human eye to register. The pulsing lights flicker on and off 80 times per second, and are synced to vibrations that animate whatever object is suspended within the frame. While the light pulses are too fast to see, they combine with the high-speed vibration to imperceptibly vary the sequence of moving images, changing how they reach the eye and creating an illusion of movement that seems to be happening more slowly than normal.

“It creates a weird juxtaposition where everything in front of your eyes confirms the reality of this thing, but every other experience in your life has said that this is impossible,” Lieberman said in the statement.

Lieberman crafted the first version of “Slow Dance” as a wedding gift for two friends who happened to be dancers; they inspired him to create an object that captured the feeling of paired, graceful movement in a shared space. Enthusiastic responses from people who saw it in action prompted him to make the frame more widely available, through a campaign on Kickstarter.

The “Slow Dance” wooden frame measures 12.5 inches wide by 14.5 inches high. Lightweight objects can be attached to springs within the frame, and are illuminated by recessed lighting. Variable controls allow users to cycle between different “frame rates,” changing the motion patterns of the objects as they move.

“This piece is a metaphor for all the unseen aspects of reality” that are affecting us all the time, Lieberman said in the same statement. “It expresses a desire to remind myself, and anyone who uses it, that there is something beyond what we see with our senses” he added.

The Kickstarter campaign for “Slow Dance” launched on Aug. 15 with a goal of raising $70,000, and backers have been anything but slow in their response. As of Sept. 7 — with six days to go — total pledges amounted to more than five times that original amount, reaching over $440,000. The product is expected to ship in early 2017, with “Slow Dance” slated to appear in stores by late 2017 for $299.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Rare fossil captures a snake that ate a lizard that ate a beetle

snakelizardbeetle

(Springer Heidelberg)

The circle of life has been captured in a unique 48-million-year-old fossil.

Sometime in the very distant past, this is what presumably happened: A lizard ate an unlucky beetle, and then a roughly 41-inch snake gobbled down that unfortunate lizard. Then the snake, a Palaeophython fischeri, also met its end, and was fossilized. It was probably just a juvenile.

Like Russian nesting dolls, the resulting fossil shows a three-part sequence— a beetle inside a lizard inside a snake.

The rare find originated from theMessel Pit Fossil Site in Germany, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“In the year 2009, we were able to recover a plate from the pit that shows an almost fully preserved snake,” Krister Smith, of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum Frankfurt, said in astatement. “And as if this was not enough, we discovered a fossilized lizard inside the snake, which in turn contained a fossilized beetle in its innards!”

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There are other fossils similar that show what a deceased animal had in its stomach— for example, scientists have found leaves and grapes in the stomach of fossilized horses at Messel, according to the snake/lizard/beetle study, which was published in the journal Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments in August. But there is only one other three-part fossil like this one, and it’s an ancient shark.

The lizard, for its part, was a Geiseltaliellus maarius, which was the type that could disconnect its tail, although in this case it didn’t do so.

“Since the stomach contents are digested relatively fast and the lizard shows an excellent level of preservation,” Smith added, in the statement, “we assume that the snake died no more than one to two days after consuming its prey and then sank to the bottom of the Messel Lake, where it was preserved.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

NASA spacecraft beams back incredible images of Jupiter

This Aug. 27, 2016 infrared image provided by NASA shows the southern aurora of Jupiter, captured by NASA's Juno spacecraft.

This Aug. 27, 2016 infrared image provided by NASA shows the southern aurora of Jupiter, captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS via AP)

A NASA spacecraft has captured the best views of Jupiter yet, revealing turbulent storms in the north pole.

Jupiter’s northern polar region is stormier than expected and appears bluer than the rest of the planet, said mission chief scientist Scott Bolton of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

“This image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter,” he said in a statement.

NASA on Friday released a batch of close-up pictures taken by the Juno spacecraft last week when it flew within 2,500 miles of Jupiter’s dense cloud tops.

During the rendezvous that took Juno from pole to pole, the solar-powered spacecraft turned on its camera and instruments to collect data.

The first glimpse of Jupiter’s poles came in 1974 when Pioneer 11 flew by on its way to Saturn.

The detailed pictures taken by Juno look “like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” Bolton said.

Juno also sent back unique views of Jupiter’s bright southern lights considered the most powerful in the solar system.

The flyby was the first of three dozen planned close passes during the 20-month mission.

Unlike rocky Earth and Mars, Jupiter is a gas giant that likely formed first, shortly after the sun. Studying the largest planet in the solar system may hold clues to understanding how Earth and the rest of the planets formed.

After a five-year journey, Juno slipped into orbit around Jupiter in July to map the massive planet’s poles, atmosphere and interior. It’s the first spacecraft to carry a titanium vault designed to shield its computer and electronics from intense radiation.

Juno is only the second mission to orbit Jupiter. When it completes its job in 2018, it will deliberately crash into Jupiter’s atmosphere and disintegrate. NASA planned the finale so that Juno won’t accidentally smack into Jupiter’s moons, particularly the icy moon Europa, a target of future exploration.

Innovative Lego-like armor is replacing sandbags

McCurdy's Armor

McCurdy’s Armor(Dynamic Defense Materials)

Blast and bullet resistant, giant Lego-like blocks are making the old-fashioned sandbag a thing of the past.

For hundreds of years, sandbags have been the standard for rapidly building fortifications— but now there’s a smarter and superior solution. It’s calledMcCurdy’s Armor. You can use them to build walls, guard posts and more, or even build a shed in your backyard to withstand a zombie apocalypse.

Made by Dynamic Defense Materials, the product is named after Ryan McCurdy. McCurdy was a Marine who was killed by a sniper while trying to save another Marine.

Joe Dimon, general manager of Dynamic Defense Materials, explained that he served with McCurdy in Fallujah. “He is someone that I feel would still be alive today if we had this technology when we were serving in Iraq,” he said.

McCurdy’s Armor can withstand RPGs, Molotov Cocktails, small arms fire and even serious explosive blasts including 32 pounds of TNT – that’s about the equivalent of two 155 artillery shells.

There are transparent gun ports to provide soldiers with situational awareness while completely protected. When soldiers need to return fire, the ports can quickly open into firing position.

How does it work?

They can be set up on any terrain. Three people working together can set up an entire guard post without any hand tools or heavy equipment in less than ten minutes. The system can be dismantled and redeployed just as rapidly.

Also designed for easy storage and transport, McCurdy’s Armor can be packed away in a trailer to relocate and quickly be set up elsewhere.

Where would they be used?

These giant armored blocks have been quietly replacing sandbags as the far smarter and effective solution to rapid protection in war zones. Hundreds of these posts have been delivered to the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Other users include the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, Afghan Border Security and Mexican Federal Police.

Beyond the war zone, they could also be used to protect places that are attractive targets to terrorists like government buildings, airports, train stations, and hotels, to name a few.

Modern twist on gladiator shields

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Also made by Dynamic Defense Materials is an individual shield that allows protection on the go. It is designed to meet challenges like active shooters and checkpoints.  It can also be useful on roofs, and blend into structures like U.S. embassies.

The Mobile Ballistic Shields provide full protection against small arms, high caliber rifles and multiple hits. The mobility means they can be handy for law enforcement during riots, for example.

It also has robust wheels for rugged terrain. And like Legos, the shields can connect to others to build a moving wall of protection.

Allison Barrie consults at the highest levels of defense, has travelled to more than 70 countries, is a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees and now the author of the new book “Future Weapons: Access Granted”  covering invisible tanks through to thought-controlled fighter jets. You can click here for more information on FOX Firepower columnist and host Allison Barrie and you can follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie.

How LSD permits leaping word associations

brain istock

(iStock)

The drug LSD may make it easier for the brain to access distantly related words, a new study finds, suggesting that the drug activates certain language networks in the brain.

The researchers also found that people under the influence of LSD self-monitor their own language less than people who haven’t taken the drug, according to the study, published Aug. 18 in the journal Language, Cognition and Neuroscience.

The study didn’t address questions about the effect of the psychedelic drug on creativity or mental health, but could lead to new research in those areas, said lead researcher Neiloufar Family, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany.

“Our results do hint toward having access to further-away associations under the influence of psychedelics,” Family told Live Science.

The brain on LSD

In the study, Family and her colleagues asked 10 people to complete a rather dull picture-naming task while either under the influence of LSD or not. The participants came to the lab on two different days to do the experiment, and weren’t told which day they were getting the drug, although the psychedelic effects probably made clear if they had received it, the researchers wrote.

LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a compound that is similar in structure to the neurotransmitter serotonin. It can thus act on cellular receptors that recognize serotonin, in particular one called 5-HT2AThe drug’s action on this receptor has a wide array of effects, including odd visual distortions and “ego dissolution,” or the sense that the boundaries between the self and the rest of the world have disappeared.

A growing area of research is investigating whether some of these psychedelic effects might have promise for treating people who have mental illnesses; in 2014, for example, researchers reported that taking LSD in a very controlled, supported environment improved people’s anxiety symptoms over time.

Family said she and her colleagues were interested in studying LSD’s effect on language processing in part because by altering the brain with the drug, they could learn about thought processes that are usually hidden. Language is largely automatic and unconscious, Family said, so people can’t explain how they pick words or why they might stumble now and then.

“You’re looking at an altered state of consciousness to get a better idea of how the brain works in its normal state,” she said of the LSD experiment.

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Language and LSD

The participants were shown 32 different pictures in three different categories — clothing, body parts and vehicles — and told to name the objects. Pictures were cycled through again and again, so participants had to name more than 700 in total. It’s a long, boring and repetitive task, Family said, and that’s no accident: The researchers wanted the participants to get a little bored, so the experiment could test whether any errors the individuals made resulted from the drug or just a wandering mind.

In general, the types of errors people make when they speak can illuminate their brain functions. For example, if someone stutters over the beginning of words, it suggests they’re paying too much attention to their word production. If they’re making mistakes with sound, it might show something about how the brain represents different sounds.

In the new study, the researchers found two differences in the types of errors produced by the participants when they were on LSD versus when they were sober. One was that the participants made more errors when on LSD than when sober, but not just any errors. They made their mistakes fully, without catching themselves. Instead of seeing a picture of a car and saying, “Trrr — car,” for example, they’d say the complete word “Truck” before realizing they were wrong.

LSD also made people more likely to mix up similar concepts.

“They would say ‘foot’ for ‘hand’ or ‘sock’ for ‘shoe,'” Family said. This result suggests that LSD was increasing the activation of what linguists call semantic networks. That means that related words were closer to the surface of a person’s consciousness, and were competing to be expressed.

The study is the first since the 1960s to look at LSD’s effect on language (though a 1996 study looked at language processing under the influence of the similar psychedelic drug, psilocybin, or magic mushrooms). The new research suggests that LSD might make linguistic free-association flow more smoothly, Family said, but the study was small and more work needs to be done. She said she hopes to conduct further studies on language and LSD using psilocybin to elucidate what’s going on in the brain while people are under the drug’s influence.

LSD research got a bad rap in the 1960s when the CIA funded secret research investigating the drug’s use for mind control. Today, doing research with the drug requires cutting through a lot of red tape, and the subject is still taboo enough that funding is hard to come by, Family said. Nevertheless, scientific interest in psychedelics and the brain is growing, she said.

“Because societal attitudes are slowly moving away from the hysteria that surrounds these substances, research has been gaining momentum,” Family said.

Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

New pterosaur species with intact skull uncovered in Patagonia

An artist's reconstruction of a new species of pterosaur, Allkaruen koi.

An artist’s reconstruction of a new species of pterosaur, Allkaruen koi.(Gabriel Lío)

A new species of pterosaur named for its “ancient brain” has been found in Patagonia.

The flying reptile lived in the early Jurassic period, between about 199.6 million years ago and 175.6 million years ago. Paleontologists found the new fossil in north central Chubut province in Argentina. To their delight, the fossil included an intact braincase, offering them a new look at pterosaur neuroanatomy.

The researchers named the new species Allkaruen koi. All means “brain,” andkaruen means “ancient,” in Tehuelche, a language indigenous to Patagonia. [Photos of Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs]

“Allkaruen, from the middle lower Jurassic limit, shows an intermediate state in the brain evolution of pterosaurs and their adaptations to the aerial environment,” study researcher Diego Pol, a paleontologist at the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio in Argentina, said in a statement. “As a result, this research makes an important contribution to the understanding of the evolution of all of pterosaurs.”

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The new pterosaur was found in a bone bed that contains many pterosaur remains. Archaeologists uncovered a vertebra, jaws and a braincase. The braincase was only a few dozen millimeters long, indicating that it was from a small pterosaur species, the researchers said.

It’s rare to find an intact pterosaur braincase, according to the researchers, and little has been known about the way pterosaur skulls (and thus brains) evolved over time. The researchers used computed-tomography scans to build digital models of the reptile’s inner ear and the interior of its skull.

This technique, in turn, let the scientists put Allkaruen in its place in the pterosaur family tree. For instance, the researchers learned that some skull features associated with Pterodactylus — one genus of pterosaurs — had evolved by the early to middle Jurassic, even though pterodactyls themselves had not yet evolved.The research appeared Tuesday in the open-access journal PeerJ.

Pterosaurs had a suite of adaptations that made them strong fliers. Their bones were feather-light, and they sported air sacs extending from their lungs to keep their body density down and their air exchange efficient, a 2009 study found. While some pterosaur species were tiny, others grew to be the size of giraffes. These behemoths may have used their limbs to leapfrog into flight, paleontologists say.

In 2015, researchers reported the discovery of a 200-million-year-old pterosaur in Utah that had a wingspan measuring 4.5 feet long, and 110 teeth, including four that were 1 inch long.

Original article on Live Science. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.