Dinosaurs come alive at Space Museum
The Hong Kong Space Museum’s latest Omnimax Show “Dinosaurs Alive” will take audiences on an exciting journey to discover the earliest dinosaurs of the Triassic period to the monsters of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
Screening from tomorrow (September 2) until February 28, 2010, the film explores the exotic, trackless expanses and sand dunes of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and the dramatic sandstone buttes of New Mexico.
For more than 150 million years, dinosaurs roamed every corner of the planet. Only a very few left evidence of their existence, their fossilised bones. And this fossil evidence is allowing palaeontologists to reconstruct not only their strange skeletons but also their lives.
The Gobi Desert spans a half-million square miles of Mongolia and China. Beneath sands lay a vast treasure trove of fossils undisturbed for more than 70 million years that would forever change people’s view of dinosaur life. In the 1920s, a team of scientists from the American Museum of Natural History set out to explore the little-known Gobi. To their amazement, they found that each new storm uncovered a wealth of dinosaur bones, never before seen, and perfectly preserved in the desert sands. Until recently it was thought that sandstorms buried these creatures. New evidence suggests that every few centuries, rainstorms of immense power swept down on this arid world with catastrophic effect. Bones become fossilised when they are quickly buried, protecting them from weather and predators.
The expeditions in the Gobi Desert also found a number of new dinosaurs and also the first dinosaur eggs lying in large round nests in the ground. This amazing find confirmed that dinosaurs actually laid eggs. On top of one nest, they made a puzzling discovery, the skeleton of a bird-like, meat-eating dinosaur, which, the scientists thought, was brooding eggs. Today, dozens of new dinosaur species are being discovered in the north of China. They are preserved in extremely fine volcanic ash and, for the first time, people can see distinct impressions of feathers associated with their delicate bones, confirming that non-flying dinosaurs were the first feathered creatures on earth.
To go further back in time to find the earliest dinosaurs, scientists go to places like the high desert badlands of New Mexico. It is one of the few places in the world where rock layers span the Age of Dinosaurs. The deeper the layer, the older the rock is. At the top, there is rock from the Cretaceous. Below that is the Jurassic. And near the bottom is the oldest Triassic, when dinosaurs first appeared.
In the 1940s, palaeontologists discovered rich fossil beds 220 million years old with hundreds of bones of a small, early dinosaur now considered a kind of blueprint for the carnivorous dinosaurs named Coelophysis. It could grow to 2.8 metres long and weighed 45 kilograms. Its size and leg bones indicate an ability to run fast. On each hand it had three-clawed fingers for catching and holding prey. Its large eye sockets suggest very acute vision. It all adds up to a small but effective predator.
When dinosaurs first appeared, this part of North America was a very different environment. Tall evergreen-like trees grew along the banks of streams and rivers cutting through a vast floodplain. It had a tropical climate and seemed to have been a rich habitat for life. But how did early dinosaurs interact with other animals?
Reptiles appeared on earth before dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are reptiles too, but over 200 million years ago they branched off from the evolutionary line leading towards crocodiles. Effigia, a new creature found in Ghost Ranch, was an early crocodile relative up to 2.7 metres long and weighing about 91 kilograms. It really looks like a dinosaur, but strangely Effigia walked upright on two legs. Undoubtedly, Effigia and Coelophysis came across one another in the canyons and forests of the Triassic Southwest.
Year by year, we learn more about dinosaurs. We know that they made nests, protected their eggs, probably cared for their young. From some fossils we have learned who were hunters and who were the hunted. We also know that feathers first appeared on non-flying dinosaurs before birds evolved. But what we have discovered is less than two percent of all the dinosaur species that once lived. All those dinosaurs out there are yet to be found.
The 40-minute Omnimax Show, “Dinosaurs Alive”, will be screened daily at 1.30pm, 5pm and 8.30pm at the museum’s Stanley Ho Space Theatre. The museum is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays).Tickets are available at the Space Museum Box Office and at all URBTIX outlets for $24 (front stalls) and $32 (stalls). Full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities will receive a half-price concession.
The Space Museum is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. For further information, call 2721 0226 or visit the website at http://hk.space.museum/.
Ends/Tuesday, September 1, 2009