Once upon a time, the most terrifying inhabitants of Australia weren’t snake-eating spiders or 4 metre great white sharks. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth (during the Middle Cretaceous period to be exact), the Australovenator was one of the country’s deadliest predators.
While little is known about this “cheetah” of the dinosaur world, ANSTO is now using nuclear science to delve deeper into the life of the Australovenator.
What do we know about the Australovenator?
Image: By Matt A. White, Phil R. Bell, Alex G. Cook, David G. Barnes, Travis R. Tischler,Brant J. Bassam,David A. Elliott
The Australovenator fossil was discovered in 2006 in Winton, Queensland. It’s one of the most complete dinosaur discoveries ever found in Australia (not including birds) with 30% of the skeleton recovered. Buried right beside it were two herbivorous sauropod dinosaurs, the Wintonotitan and the Diamantinasaurus.
This prehistoric predator was a carnivorous theropod, which means it walked on two legs and had a pelvic structure similar to that of a lizard. Tyrannosaurus Rex is one of the best known theropods.
It looked a bit like a raptor, standing at about 1.6 metres tall and 5 or 6 metres in length. Its muscular legs would have helped to make this dinosaur a fearsome and agile predator, and hook-clawed hands would make easy work of subduing prey.
Analysing the fossils at ANSTO
While we can piece together a few facts about the Australovenator’s life, there’s still plenty we’ve yet to discover from this prehistoric fossil. ANSTO scientists are collaborating with researchers from the University of New England to analyse the specimen using high resolution 3D X-ray imaging from the Imaging and Medical beamline (IBML).
The high-powered IBML is a fantastic solution for virtually dissecting the dinosaur’s femur without doing any damage. The X-ray produces a detailed image of the bone, complete with details about the composition of the fossil which could tell us about the dinosaur’s age and behaviour during its life.
Students in the lab
High school students from John Monash Science School (JMSS) in Victoria were lucky enough to get hands-on at the labs, helping the researchers with the IBML.
Parmis Hassani, a Year 10 student at JMSS, described the visit as, “An extraordinary and unforgettable experience full of innovative technologies and their use in the discovery of Jurassic life.”
ANSTO’s CEO, Dr Adi Paterson said the exercise was a great opportunity to inspire the next generation of innovative researchers in the field.
“ANSTO works to get young people more involved in the wonders, discoveries and opportunities that science has to offer, and events like today can start a lifelong interest or career,” he said.
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.