Life on Mars is topic of next Cafe Scientifique event on May 7

LOCAL EVENT

Life on Mars is topic of May 7 event

(Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - “My Beloved Brontosaurus” by Brian Switek

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Cafe Scientifique in Arlington

If you’re looking for life, follow the water. That’s the approach that NASA has taken with its Mars rover missions. On May 7, an agency scientist will hold a happy-hour discussion on the latest findings.

“Mars Got Life?” will feature a presentation by James L. Green, the director of NASA’s planetary science division. He will discuss the rover missions, including the most recent by Curiosity, which landed on the Red Planet last summer and has found evidence of water.

Like all events organized by Cafe Scientifique, the presentation will combine booze and hard facts delivered in plain English, an attempt to make science fun and accessible to the general public. Past discussions have included “Are You a Cyborg?” and “Neuroweapons: Winning Minds and Hearts Through Drugs, Bugs & Slugs.”

The Mars event will kick off with a happy hour at the Front Page restaurant, 4201 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, at 5:30 p.m., followed by an hour-long talk and a Q&A session with Green.

For more information, call 703-228-0861, e-mail ballstonscience@yahoo.com or visit arlingtonvirginiausa.com/bsta.

PALEONTOLOGY

The new science of old bones

“My Beloved Brontosaurus” by Brian Switek

Fans of the brontosaurus — the long-necked “thunder-lizard” that battled an allosaurus in the 1925 silent film “The Lost World” and warmed hearts as the orphaned Little Foot in the animated children’s movie “The Land Before Time” — might say the iconic dinosaur suffered a crueler fate than death: The brontosaurus (known in some circles as the brontosaur) never existed, scientists say. The creature dubbed “brontosaurus” was just a misclassified apatosaurus.

The animal nonetheless lives on in pop culture and is now the star of a book about the evolving science of dinosaurs.

“My Beloved Brontosaurus” is, in many ways, science writer Brian Switek’s love letter to his favorite animal. Switek recounts his childhood dream of riding a pet dinosaur to school; his preschool theatrical debut as a stegasaurus; his one-man dig through his grandparents’ back yard in search of a triceratops nest.

But the book is more than a personal ode to fossils. Switek meets experts, tours museums and visits excavation sites. He is searching no longer for preserved eggs that might one day hatch dino-babies but rather for an understanding of what life in the age of dinosaurs was like.

“Understanding a dinosaur doesn’t stop with reassembling the puzzle of their bones,” he writes. “Everything from dinosaur sex lives to that most persistent of mysteries — what colors they were — is coming to the forefront.” (Sex was likely tricky, the book speculates, given the animals’ large tails; many dinosaurs were probably fuzzy and feathery, not scaly.)

“And the more we learn,” Switek continues, “the more peculiar and spectacular dinosaurs become.”

 
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