Physicists to Shoot Extremely Fast-Moving Electrons at Dinosaur Skin Fossil

The actual color of dinosaur skin is still very much up for debate

Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus skeleton, Field Museum. Image: Field Museum Dinosaurs

We generally think of dinosaurs as green, lizard-like creatures. But the actual color of dinosaur skin is still very much up for debate. During fossilization the dinosaur’s skin rarely survives, and there are just a few tiny pieces of fossilized skin in existence. Physicists are about to shoot a bunch of extremely bright lights at one of them, in order to try and identify the color of the duck-billed dinosaur to which this small piece of skin belonged.

Those extremely bright lights will come from a synchrotron, which will let physicists at the Canadian Light Source research facility examine the fossils more closely. The synchrotron will shoot a beam of infrared light at the fossil. Some of that light will be reflected. By analyzing that reflection, scientists can try to figure out what the skin was made of. That’s because the chemical bonds in some compounds create different light frequencies than others. So if there’s protein, that will look different than sugar or fat.

Physicist Mauricio Barbi told the press, “If we are able to observe the melanosomes and their shape, it will be the first time pigments have been identified in the skin of a dinosaur. We have no real idea what the skin looks like. Is it green, blue, orange…There has been research that proved the colour of some dinosaur feathers, but never skin.”

The scientists are also curious about why this particular fossil has skin. What happened to this dinosaur, unlike nearly all the others, that allowed for its skin to be preserved?

Answering these questions will not only provide more accurate pictures of dinosaurs, but also might hint at where they can find more samples of preserved skin.

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