Category Archives: AUSTRALIA

Earth’s oldest known meteor crash site found in Australian Outback

A 2.2-billion-year-old crater is Earth’s oldest recorded meteorite impact

Throughout its life, our planet has been pummelled by countless asteroids and comets – even more so than the crater-ridden Moon. Today, thanks to Earth’s continually changing surface, there are remarkably few scars left to tell the tale.

Australia’s relatively stable and ancient landscape not only harbours potentially the largest of those blemishes, but scientists now think it also contains the oldest… by a long, long shot.

“When the age came back at 2.229 billion years, that blew our hair back,” geochemist Aaron Cavosie from Curtin University in Australia told ScienceAlert.

“We’ve known about this crater for almost 20 years, but nobody realised it was the oldest until now.” The Yarrabubba crater is a massive indent in the Western Australian outback, roughly 70 kilometres wide (44 miles).

The impact was always assumed to be ancient, but modern geological dating suggests this particular case is over 200 million years older than the next oldest impact. If humans represent the tip of your fingernail on the timeline of your outstretched arms, this would place the Yarrabubba collision smack dab in the centre of your chest, roughly half the age of Earth.

Researchers drew the estimated shape of the vanished Yarrabubba impact crater over this Google Earth image of Western Australia. The structure may be part of the oldest known impact crater on Earth.

We know this because when the meteorite hit, it sent a high-pressure shock wave through the area, rattling atoms and damaging minerals on a minute level.

“After the shock wave passes through rocks, they are compressed like a spring,” Cavosie told ScienceAlert.

“When they release, the instantly heat up, to temperatures higher than that found in a volcano. This makes some rocks in the centre of impacts vaporise, while others just melt at high temperature, often over 2,000 degrees C (3,600 F). “

Uranium is steadily converted to lead at a known pace, but when these crystals are shocked and heated up, they are suddenly rid of all lead, re-setting the ‘isotopic clock’.

Winding back the billions of years on this timeline is notoriously difficult because it essentially requires a collection of tiny isotopic traces in the crystal structure of grain no more than the width of a hair. Luckily enough, Yarrabubba had just what the researchers were looking for.

“[The] crater was made right at the end of what’s commonly referred to as the early Snowball Earth, a time when the atmosphere and oceans were evolving and becoming more oxygenated and when rocks deposited on many continents recorded glacial conditions,” says the earth and planetary scientist Chris Kirkland from Curtin University.

This means that when the meteorite hit Earth over 2 billion years ago, it may very well have collided with a continental ice sheet, kicking up huge amounts of rock, ash and dust – like a major volcanic eruption.

Running simulations, the authors calculate this situation would spread between 87 trillion and 5,000 trillion kilograms of water vapour into the atmosphere. Since water is an efficient greenhouse gas, this might have helped modify the climate and thaw the planet.

This is just a potential scenario; the exact climate conditions of this time are still under debate. Even still, the authors argue that considering Earth’s atmosphere contained only a fraction of today’s oxygen, “a possibility remains that the climatic forcing effects of H2O vapour released instantaneously into the atmosphere through a Yarrabubba-sized impact may have been globally significant.”

Impact craters like this one are precious windows into Earth’s past, and yet there are only about 190 of these structures in the world, some of which are hard to differentiate from tectonic deformation.

Palaeoclimate scientist Andrew Glikson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that while he considered the team’s dating “excellent”, in his opinion the oldest known impact structure was in Greenland 800 million years earlier, although there’s currently fierce debate over whether this impact structure was actually made by a meteorite.

Regardless of the results of that debate, research on Yarrabubba shows that extremely old impact events may very well have affected our climate history on a large scale.

“These kinds of discoveries re-write pages in the history books, and inform us about the early evolution of Earth,” Cavosie told ScienceAlert.

“That feeling never goes out of style.”

Scientists discover humans may have been living in Australia for 120,000 years

Scientists discover humans may have been living in Australia for 120,000 years

When did the first people arrive in Australia?…did they follow the routes we’re told about?

Makes sense, doesn’t it?…coming down through Papua New Guinea, the Asian corridor to the top end of Oz, where we’re told the earliest evidence is found…but another site may push human migrations back even further…

A site filled with blackened stones in southern Victoria, Australia has raised the possibility that humans existed on the continent 120,000 years ago — twice as long as the previously established timeframe of early human life in the land “down under.”

Moyjil research has discovered a blackened stone, which scientists believe has been fractured by heat making it a possible hearthstone from a fireplace.

It seems when the topic comes up, it’s met with skepticism or almost claims of mental impairment…It’s safe to assume that anyone traveling, exploring or whatever to an unknown land would hug the coast…food is plentiful and fresh water can be found relatively close by…That’s where I believe the evidence would lie…think about it like this… you are at the beach all set up and the tide starts rolling in. What do you do? move further up the beach…

Some common counters are always along the lines of…show the evidence…it can’t be proven etc…and, to be honest, it’s probably a valid argument…but in some circumstances, the evidence may be difficult to produce…

As recently as 10,000 years ago…Tasmania was cut off from mainland Australia due to rising sea levels…

An example is a place an hours run south from Wollongong. During the ice age, the Shoalhaven and Crookhaven Rivers flowed across what is now the continental shelf. Silt deposits at the Nowra Bridge exceed 70 meters (with freshwater shells at that depth) and indicate that the river would have been flowing at the bottom of a 100m gorge.

The sea reached its present level approximately 6,000 years ago and from this time numerous archaeological sites survive…

In the past, scientific research suggestive of human habitation in Australia up to 120,000 years ago had been considered and then rejected.

Several habitation sites have produced discoveries pointing to a much earlier than expected period, but the controversy led to more conservative dating. The new finding should cause a rethinking of all relevant archaeological sites…

As far as I’m aware at no point has Asia and Australia been connected…or at least not recent enough as to allow a foot crossing…so at some point a sea voyage occurred, granted not a long one, but one all the same…

Research and analysis are still ongoing…but I think there’s a good chance a missing piece of the puzzle could be under the waves…

One other find of interest is a gene that potentially shows interbreeding with species not yet discovered…

Australia wildfires reveal ancient aboriginal aquaculture system built before the Egyptian pyramids

Australia wildfires reveal ancient aboriginal aquaculture system built before the Egyptian pyramids

Further parts of an ancient aquaculture system built thousands of years ago by indigenous people in Victoria Southwest were uncovered by fire.

Last year’s UNESCO World Heritage List was included in the Budj-Bim cultural landscape which includes an elaborate series of stone-lined channels and pools set up by the Gunditjmara to harvest eels.

Parts of the landscape which also features evidence of stone dwellings have been dated back 6,600 years – older than Egypt’s pyramids.

Traditional owners, who inspected the site after a bushfire was brought under control last week, spotted extra sites previously hidden under vegetation, that they believe are part of that aquaculture system. A fire sparked by a lightning strike nearby in late December was later subsumed by another fire ignited nearby, and only brought under control last week, after a mammoth firefighting effort.

It burnt through more than 7,000 hectares of land around Lake Condah and in the Budj Bim National Park, including some parts of the aquaculture system in an area known as the Muldoon trap complex.

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation project manager Denis Rose said when the fire first broke out he was not “too concerned” about how the fire would affect the system.

“There have certainly been many fires here in the thousands of years prior. “Our major concern was the effect after the fire, and we’ve still got some work to do there.

“We were concerned about the trees … particularly those taller trees that are growing in and around some of those fish trap systems and also our associated stone house sites, of [the trees] being weakened and damaged, and potentially falling over and the roots upending some of these ancient stone structures.”

When Rose and other traditional owners returned to the area after the fire, they were amazed by what they saw in the charred landscape.

“It was only maybe 20 meters off the track that we walk in, and it was hidden in the long grass and the bracken fern and other vegetation.

“We’ve noticed that in other parts of the lava flow as well, we’ve come across sites that just haven’t been recorded that have been very close by.”

UNESCO information on the site says the aquaculture system is built from cooled lava flows and is “one of the world’s most extensive and oldest”.

The complex channels, weirs, and damns are thought to have been used to trap, store and harvest kooyang (short-finned eel) for more than 6 thousand years. In the wake of the blaze, a cultural heritage survey will be carried out with input from archaeologists familiar with the site and indigenous rangers. Aerial photography using specialized software will be used to survey the landscape as well.

An aquaculture channel and pond at Budj Bim Cultural Landscape.

Rose said although the find was positive it took place in the sobering context of the destructive fires that continue to burn in other parts of the country.

“We have been extremely fortunate here,” he said. “We’ve had relatively cool burns – certainly nothing like the damage and the devastation over in the eastern parts of Australia.

“[These fires] have burnt the undergrowth, rather than scorching the forest the whole way through.” Firefighters have been managing fire in and around the Budj Bim National Park since the initial blaze that started a few days before Christmas Day.

Bushfires spreading through hills in Victoria.

Forest Fire Management Victoria manager Mark Mellington said firefighters had to work with the area’s rocky terrain, a result of its relatively recent volcanic past. “Earthmoving machinery is one of our typical uses for fire line construction, we look to potentially buy earthmoving equipment parts online so we are able to unearth these areas”, he said.

“[We knew] if we did have fires in that landscape, we would have to use lower-impact control techniques.” Rose praised the way firefighters tackled the blaze, avoiding bringing heavy machinery onto the site. “We certainly acknowledge the wonderful work that they have done in protecting the lava flow and the cultural features on here,” he said.

Gemstone Turns Out to Be Fossil of an Unknown Dinosaur

Gemstone Turns Out to Be Fossil of an Unknown Dinosaur

Unearthing a beautiful opal is usually a reward in itself. Discovering that your gemstone is actually an opalized fossil of a millions-year-old, previously unknown dinosaur, well that’s priceless. Precious stones recovered from the opal fields of Australia have turned out not just to be opalised fossils – but the opalised fossils of a dinosaur previously unknown to palaeontology.

The Right Lower Jaw of Weewarrasaurus Showcases the Rainbow Hues of Opal in the Fossil.

It’s called Weewarrasaurus pobeni – named for the Wee Warra opal field near the small country town of Lightning Ridge, where it was found, and opal buyer Mike Poben, who donated the specimens to science.

The species lived in the Cretaceous almost 100 million years ago when the Lightning Ridge Desert was still a lush, green space.

It’s also the first new dinosaur species to be named in the Australian state of New South Wales in nearly a century.

The only recovered part of Weewarrasaurus was its lower jaw, but with teeth intact – and that’s been able to reveal a lot. For a start, it wasn’t a big dinosaur, only about the size of a medium-sized dog.

Based on its teeth and the shape of its jaw, palaeontologist Phil Bell from the University of New England in Australia determined that it was a small species of ornithopod, a group of bipedal grazing herbivores that includes Iguanodon and Parasaurolophus.

Artistic reconstruction of Weewarrasaurus.

Lightning Ridge is one of Australia’s fossil hotspots. It was once a rich floodplain on the edge of a giant inland sea called the Eromanga Sea that spread across the Australian continent. The once abundant prehistoric life that filled the area would often be preserved in the mud, which over thousands and millions of years would turn to sandstone.

This is a process that can be seen around the world. But in Australia, something else happened. When the inland sea started disappearing 100 million years ago, acidity in the drying sandstone increased. This, in turn, released silica from the rock, which collected in hollows and pockets – such as those left behind by decayed bones, for instance.

As acidity levels then decreased, these silica pockets hardened into opal, resulting in perfect shimmering rainbow moulds of ancient remains. Nowhere in the world did this opalisation occur so abundantly as Lightning Ridge.

And this is what was found by Poben, who came across the two pieces of the opalised jawbone in a bag of rough opals he bought from miners, as John Pickrell reports for National Geographic.

So, Poben brought his find to Bell.

“I remember Mike showing me the specimen and my jaw dropped. I had to try hard to contain my excitement, it was so beautiful,” Bell said.

But it’s not just beautiful. In their paper, Bell and his colleagues note that, while Australia only seems to have been home to one or two large ornithopods, Muttaburrasaurus and one that is currently in the process of being studied, it seems to have been much richer in the smaller varieties.

Based on fossils found at Lightning Ridge, there were perhaps small ornithopod species thriving on the lush vegetation, and another four species in the southeastern state of Victoria. Only one small species has been found in the northeastern state of Queensland.

This is very different from America, where smaller herbivores would have had to compete for food with giants such as Triceratops and Alamosaurus.

So fossils like Weewarrasaurus are much more than just a pretty face – they can help us better understand how dinosaur biodiversity differed around the world, and piece together how that diversity may have come about.

Bell and his team are currently working hard to describe more opalised fossils – a tricky task since they are usually found broken as part of mining spoils.

Meanwhile, Weewarrasaurus has been given a new home at Lightning Ridge’s Australian Opal Centre, among its amazing collection of opalised fossils.

Ancient rock art at Carnarvon Gorge destroyed after walkway explodes in bushfire

The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia

The ancient aboriginal rock art in the Baloon Cave in Australia can not be restored following the fire damage, caused by a recycled plastic walkway, ignited into a fireball in 2018.

After the recycled plastic walkway, old rock art including handprints and carving petroglyphs was destroyed, supposedly protecting the site, exploded into a ball of flames during a bushfire in Carnarvon National Park last year.

The artwork dating back several thousands of years has now been lost forever as experts who assessed the site announced that it cannot possibly be restored.

Some of the painted hand stencils date back 8,000 years while others had been created in more recent times, and Dale Harding, a member of the Baloon Cave working group, told that the Aboriginal rock art was part of an ongoing cultural project providing links between his Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal ancestors. Now, after realizing the extent of the destruction caused at Baloon Cave during 2018’s devastating Queensland bushfires, Mr. Harding has called for the removal of “all flammable structures” at vulnerable sites across the country.

Furthermore, the Brisbane Times spoke with Griffith University anthropologist and archaeologist, Paul Tacon, who described the fire as “a huge bomb going off” and that he was “horrified” to see the damage and destruction first-hand at the site.

Aboriginal rock art (hafted stone axe and hand stencils) before the bushfire that destroyed the Baloon Cave in Queensland in 2018.

Talking of what the loss means, culturally, to the indigenous Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal communities, Mr. Harding said the art was the “foundation and the basis of who I identify as.” He added that his elders describe the whole Aboriginal rock art network as being “a university, a hospital and a cathedral” and that the incident was akin to the “destruction of Notre Dame Cathedral for the people of Paris, and that can’t be taken back,” he lamented.

Trying to understand how such a terrible thing could happen, Professor Tacon said the destruction would “not have occurred” if it hadn’t been for the installation of recycled plastic walkways, which he describes as “solidified petroleum.” Tacon said that if you have a hot fire underneath these plastics, they melt and then explode into a fireball, “and that’s exactly what happened.”

Detailing the damage, Professor Tacon said a chunk of rock from a set of “hafted stone axes” located high on the wall broke away and what’s left now has a large crack running through it. What’s more, the ancient cave art also suffered extensive water damage from the steam that was released from the plastic as it burned.

The same Aboriginal rock art as above but after the explosion.

What is perhaps most worrying in this story is that a similar incident occurred in 2008 when a fire at Keep River in the Northern Territory set off another recycled-plastic walkway, and that fireball also caused numerous paintings and engravings within a natural stone archway to crack and crumble away.

Professor Tacon said “this stuff is really dangerous,” and he wants to see political steps taken to assure “no-one ever uses this [recycled-plastic] in a rock shelter with art again.” He suggested replacing them with “non-destructive platforms made out of steel, or concrete and steel.”

Responding to the cultural catastrophe Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said that personally, she was absolutely devastated, being herself a Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island. After visiting the damaged site, she said she had “felt every bit of the pain that everybody else felt and that there were a lot of tears shed that day,” and that experts had assessed the site confirming it could not be restored.

Since last year, Ms. Enoch’s Environment department has removed plastic boardwalks from other sites of cultural heritage around Queensland, but she outright rejected Professor Tacon’s suggesting that wooden boardwalks should also be removed.

However, this case of destruction at the Baloon Cave is only the beginning of the end for Australia’s ancient arts, most of which are set to vanish as a consequence of environmental pollution.

A Creative Spirits article explains that the “groove depth” measured on petroglyphs has decreased significantly over the last few decades because of a sharp increase in the number of cars in Australia.

Robert Bednarik, the founder of the Australian Rock Art Research Association, said small changes in carbon dioxide levels, temperature, and humidity, influence the growth of microorganisms and algae, which cause irreparable damage.

Even if an ancient engraving is not directly exposed to rain, Aboriginal rock engravings crumble by about half a grain of rock per year, through dew and fog settling in the grooves. While traditionally it was customary for indigenous specialists to repair and renew their ancestral artworks, National Parks today forbid Aboriginal people to do this. Thus, the only petroglyphs that you will see 100 years from now, according to Dr. Bednarik, are those very deeply carved, representing a small minority.

Talking of cultural issues in the land down under, it would seem Australian political culture has run ahead of itself and the relentless fight for control is having a catastrophic effect on the environment and on Aboriginal culture. Only yesterday a Daily Mail article reported that the Green’s political party leader, Richard Di Natale is regularly criticized by the Conservatives for opposing “hazard-reduction burns,” and Facebook critics have accused the Greens of being responsible for the current bushfires.

The bushfire that ravaged Carnarvon National Park and destroyed the Aboriginal rock art in 2018.

Now, the Australian environment minister is resisting getting rid of dangerous wooden walkways and cultural authorities won’t allow the repainting of rock art by indigenous craftspeople. Even though Dr. Bednarik says without this type of preservation most of them will be gone within a century. We do indeed live in a topsy-turvy world, in which carts so often lead horses, and politicians advise scientists.

Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found

Newly Discovered Human-Sized Dinosaur Footprint Is The Largest Ever Found

The prints indicate enormous animals that were probably around 5.3 to 5.5 metres at the hip.

Australian researchers digging in the area known as “Australia’s Jurassic Park” have found the world’s biggest dinosaur footprint yet to be discovered.

According to their findings published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, the University of Queensland and James Cook University paleontologists found 20 more dinosaur footprints while digging around the Kimberly area in Western Australia.

Until now, the biggest known dinosaur footprint was a 106cm track discovered in the Mongolian desert.

At the new site, along the Kimberley shoreline in a remote region of Western Australia, paleontologists discovered a rich collection of dinosaur footprints in the sandstone rock, many of which are only visible at low tide.

The prints, belonging to about 21 different types of dinosaur, are also thought to be the most diverse collection of prints in the world.

Steve Salisbury, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Queensland told ABC News: “We’ve got several tracks up in that area that is about 1.7 meters long.

So most people would be able to fit inside tracks that big, and they indicate animals that are probably around 5.3 to 5.5 meters at the hip, which is enormous.”

The prints, found along the Kimberley shoreline, belong to about 21 different types of dinosaur and are thought to be the most diverse collection of prints in the world.

Salisbury said the diversity of the tracks was globally unparalleled and made the area the “Cretaceous equivalent of the Serengeti”. He also dubbed it “Australia’s own Jurassic Park”.

“It is extremely significant, forming the primary record of non-avian dinosaurs in the western half the continent and providing the only glimpse of Australia’s dinosaur fauna during the first half of the early Cretaceous period,” he said.

The findings were reported in the Memoir of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“There are thousands of tracks,” said Salisbury. “Of these, 150 can confidently be assigned to 21 specific track types, representing four main groups of dinosaurs.”

The largest tracks belonged to sauropods, huge Diplodocus-like herbivores with long necks and tails.

The scientists also discovered tracks from about four different types of ornithopod dinosaurs (two-legged herbivores) and six types of armored dinosaurs, including Stegosaurs, which had not previously been seen in Australia.

At the time the prints were left, 130m years ago, the area was a large river delta and dinosaurs would have traversed wet sandy areas between surrounding forests.

The latest investigation was prompted after the region was selected as the site for a liquid natural gas processing precinct in 2008.

The area’s traditional custodians, the Goolarabooloo people, who were aware of the prints, contacted Salisbury and his team and asked them to investigate.

The scientists from Queensland University and James Cook University, along with Indigenous representatives, spent 400 hours documenting the prints.

“Dinosaur tracks have been known through that area, probably for thousands of years. They form part of the song cycle,” Salisbury said told ABC News.

“We got contacted to come in and have a closer look, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that … there was a spectacular dinosaur track fauna preserved there that was at risk.”

Scientists Spot Merchant Vessel Sunk During World War II

Long-lost shipwreck found off Victorian coast, 77 years after being torpedoed by Japanese submarine in WWII

The wreckage of an Australian freight ship sunk by a Japanese submarine during World War II has been uncovered by archaeologists off the coast of Victoria.

The ore freighter SS Iron Crown sank within 60 seconds in June 1942 after it was hit by a torpedo while travelling through Bass Strait, killing 38 people.

The shipwreck was discovered by marine archaeologists aboard CSIRO research vessel Investigator, using sonar equipment and a special drop camera.

Maritime archaeologist at Heritage Victoria Peter Harvey said he hoped the discovery would bring closure to the families of the seamen who died.”The ship is in a really good state of preservation, although I’m pretty sure the stern of it, where it was hit by the torpedo, was pretty broken up,” he said.”

The archaeology of these sites enables us to finally find out what happened and why it happened.”

It tells us the human story of the wreck.”SS Iron Crown was a 100-metre-long freighter that was chartered by BHP to transport ore from Whyalla in South Australia to Newcastle in New South Wales.

There were 43 crew from the Australian Merchant Navy on board, but only five sailors survived.

According to the Heritage Council of Victoria, the survivors managed to grab lifejackets, jump clear of the ship and cling to wreckage until they were rescued by SS Mulbera.”

There were roughly 13 Japanese submarines operating on the Australian coast around that time that resulted in quite a number of casualties that nobody really knew about until well after the war,” Mr Harvey said.”

“The loss of 40 lives is a terrible thing in any measure, but I think if it had been common knowledge at the time, I think Australians would’ve been quite alarmed.

I don’t think the majority of the population was aware that there was so much enemy activity off the coast of south-eastern Australia.”

Chief Scientist at the Australian Maritime Museum, Emily Jateff
Chief Scientist at the Australian Maritime Museum, Emily Jateff

Voyage chief scientist Emily Jateff from the Australian National Maritime Museum said the shipwreck was found 100 kilometres off the Victorian coastline.”The wreck of Iron Crown appears to be relatively intact and the ship is sitting upright on the seafloor in about 700 metres of water,” she said.”

We have mapped the site and surrounding sea floor using sonar, but have also taken a lot of close-up vision of the ship structure using a drop camera.”

Ms Jateff said it was an important discovery.

“The fact that so many lives were lost … was something that hit home with all crew working onboard Investigator.”

The finding has been reported to the Australian Government and a memorial service will be planned for the site.

One of the saddest’ parts of seaman’s life

Tasmanian man George Fisher worked on the Iron Crown as a deck boy when he was 18 and was one of the five survivors.

George Fisher was a deck boy on the SS Iron Crown when he was 18.
George Fisher was a deck boy on the SS Iron Crown when he was 18.

He was the last surviving crew member before his death in 2012. In an interview with the Australians at War Film Archive in 2003, Mr. Fisher was asked whether the sinking of the Iron Crown haunted him.”

No, not really,” he said.

“At times I get sort of upset when I sort of think of it.

That’s a very sad part of my life, perhaps. One of the saddest.”His partner Lorraine Silvester said she was emotional when she heard about the discovery.”George was so passionate about having his shipmates remembered,” she said.”

It’s a pity it wasn’t found before he died.”Ms Silvester said Mr Fisher had been coming up from below deck when he heard a terrible explosion.”

He grabbed the life jacket and he was calling to all the others to get out, get out,” she said.”They knew the ship was going down. He jumped overboard, and it was the life jacket that saved him.”Mr Fisher kept in touch with the other survivors, including his close friend Bruce Miel from Adelaide.

Before Mr. Fisher died, he organized a plaque to be placed near the cenotaph in Mallacoota in Victoria to honor his shipmates.