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Fossilized Feathers Hint At Dinosaur Color

Dinosaurs are often portrayed as a drab green or grey, but some may have been much brighter. Reporting in Science, Jakob Vinther and colleagues analyzed the fossilized feathers of 150-million-year-old dinosaur Anchiornis huxleyi and found its plumage was surprisingly flashy. Watch the Science Friday video.

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Transcript

IRA FLATOW, host:

Up next, Flora Lichtman and our Video Pick of the Week. Hi, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: What have we got? Something cool this week, too, as always.

LICHTMAN: Double feature.

FLATOW: Double feature.

LICHTMAN: Double feature this week.

FLATOW: Thats one thing, you know, we never hear in the movies anymore.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, were giving you a two-for-one.

FLATOW: Yeah. This is where I came in.

LICHTMAN: I mean two for two.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: What have we got?

LICHTMAN: Okay. Up first, we have I mean, I daresay its a myth buster.

FLATOW: A myth buster?

LICHTMAN: Kind of. That might be a stretch, okay. So its a new research about dinosaurs.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: And when we look, you know, when you see a movie or watch a TV show, dinosaurs are always a sort of drab, brown or gray...

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: ...or green. But it may not be so, at least for some feathered dinosaurs, according to this new study in the journal Science.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Because we now believe that birds were descendants of dinosaurs...

LICHTMAN: Right.

FLATOW: ...or actually are dinosaurs, if they believe them.

LICHTMAN: Right, that birds came from these sort of two-legged winged dinos...

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: ...that may not have been flying but had feathers or feather-like structures. So this group at Yale and in China, the lead author, or one of the authors is Jakob Vinther. He looked at this 150-million-year-old dinosaur fossil under a scanning electron microscope, and he saw these tiny organelles that hold melanin, which is the pigment thats in our hair and colors our skin.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: And using this technology or looking at these organelles, you can tell what color the dinosaur was.

FLATOW: Wow, because the birds today have the same sort of pigmentation in them.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, thats right.

FLATOW: Wow. And he found some gorgeous colors, didnt he?

LICHTMAN: Yeah, theyre really flashy. I mean, theyre way sort of jazzier than you might expect.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: And so weve got those pictures...

LICHTMAN: Yes, you can see the recreation of this dinosaur on our Web site.

FLATOW: Our Video Pick of the Week at ScienceFriday.com, up there in the left-hand corner, thats our dinosaur. All right, whats the second?

LICHTMAN: Okay, the second one is a very ultramodern, super high-tech adaptation of Shakespeare. This is...

FLATOW: Whoa.

LICHTMAN: ...courtesy of a grad student at Texas AMU, Kevin Pratt. He sent along this video footage of A Midsummer Nights Dream and it is not only comprised of humans.

FLATOW: Whoa.

LICHTMAN: Whoa. There are robots playing...

FLATOW: Oh.

LICHTMAN: ...playing the fairies, and...

FLATOW: Really, robots?

LICHTMAN: Yeah, and theyre dressed up in tutus. Its adorable. Its really cute.

FLATOW: You know, if you cant find people to be in the movie, make an avatar, so to speak.

LICHTMAN: Right, right, right. And, you know, theyre flying around. And one of the funny things he said is that, you know, in the field they use these robots for disaster relief, and so theyre they have all these safety precautions about how to operate them. But the actors were kind of like, oh, cool, and would just sort of yank them out of the air and throw them around. So it was a good testing ground for how people interact with these robots.

FLATOW: And so how long - do they actually act out the words of Shakespeare?

LICHTMAN: Unfortunately, they do not have speaking parts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Shakespeares rolling over.

LICHTMAN: Yes.

FLATOW: How can you have Shakespeare without a speaking part?

LICHTMAN: Well, the people do the speaking.

FLATOW: I see. I see.

LICHTMAN: The robots do mostly flying around the stage.

FLATOW: I see. And so you put the video together. And we always ask people for the videos.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. So this is a great example of a user-submitted one of our listeners hearing the show and submitting this cool science-and-arts video.

FLATOW: What, do we have a name for this video?

LICHTMAN: I think its robots, or bots take on the bard.

FLATOW: Ooh...

LICHTMAN: You know, bard...

FLATOW: ...you were up all night thinking about that.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, thats true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Bots take on the bard.

LICHTMAN: Right.

FLATOW: And with that, we have the colorful dinosaurs. So...

LICHTMAN: Yeah, and the colorful dinosaurs.

FLATOW: So weve got a two-for this week on SCIENCE FRIDAY Video Pick of the Week. Thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: Up there on ScienceFriday.com also, you can download it in our iPhone apps if you want to watch the videos on our apps. You can do that also. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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