Treks and T. Rex

Treks and T. Rex

Treks and T. Rex

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 13 2005 9:11 PM

Treks and T. Rex

One of the best parts about being a major superstar celebrity of skepticism (what? You doubt me? Good!) is that I get to travel to way cool places and give talks about antiscience (and sometimes real science too).

Last week, I trekked to Bozeman Montana to talk about Mars at the Museum of the Rockies. They have an astonishing collection of dinosaur fossils there (as befits a museum whose curator is the guy they based Sam Neil's character in "Jurassic Park" on). The Hall of Horns and Teeth is an incredible place, with literally tons of triceratops bones as well as other big menacing beasts.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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I ran across this guy while wandering the halls...

which was bad enough (look at those teeth!), but when I went around to the other side and took a picture, I saw this...

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... and I swear that twinkle in his eye is hunger. And it followed me as I walked around*.

I was treated to a fantastic behind-the-scenes tour as well. My host, Molly Ward, made sure I got to see two amazing things. One was the room where they hack away (delicately!) at fossils embedded in stone. I saw a triceratops tibia, T. Rex teeth, a diplodocus (or was it a hadrosaur?) shoulder, and lots of other cool stuff.

It's funny-- you watch movies and see the dinosuars, and you know they're not real. And you see the bones, and it's hard to see them as actual animals. But then one of the techs pointed out that the side of a fossil shoulder blade had been gnawed on. Evidently after that dinosaur died, some scavengers took advantage of the free meal. You could see where their teeth had gouged into the bone... and suddenly that bone was not a piece of rock, but the remains of a magnificent creature that walked the Earth a hundred million years ago. The sense of time, of age, came over me, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

Then I was taken to a back room where one of the paleontologists was constructing a T. Rex skull from fragments. That was totally cool. He had to use a lot of plaster to replace missing parts, but it was still pretty amazing. The skull was easily four feet long, and full of horrifying teeth. It was sleek, streamlined, and clearly belonged to a beast that was meant to kill. It was not hard at all to imagine that skull sitting on top of a multi-ton carnivore, prowling the Montana riverside for prey. I wish I could have taken pictures of it, but it's still proprietary work. I feel bad now for stealing that occipital bone, but really Molly should have kept a closer eye on me.

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After all that, I had a great time talking to staff about the infection of Intelligent Design (I would sure hate to be a dinosaur exhibit docent right about now with that garbage on the rise), and then I gave my Mars talk to about 150 enthusiastic Montanans.

What a place! I hope to go back, and soon. I need to get my creationist astronomy debunking talk prepared so they'll invite me back. And this time I'll make sure I have more time to just stare at the fossils... and imagine trying to run away from a 20 foot high monster that's all teeth and claw...

* OK, fine, that hole is actually a nasal/sinus cavity and not his ocular orbit. But still, yikes.