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Notable discovery: Dinosaur footprints at NASA Goddard

Description: Two 110-million-year-old footprints that a massive plant-eating dinosaur and, perhaps, its offspring left behind has been uncovered on the campus of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. That age dates it to the Cretaceous Period, the last of the Mesozoic Era. NASA Goddard facilities officials are not revealing the exact location of the footprint but said it isn't going anywhere — moving it would violate laws protecting archaeological and paleontological artifacts found on federal lands.

Researchers: Amateur dinosaur hunter Ray Stanford, with help from Johns Hopkins University paleontologist David Weishampel, discovered the adult-sized footprint. Rob Weems, emeritus paleontologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, discovered a smaller print from what appears to be a younger dinosaur of the same species.

Stage of research: Stanford revealed the location of the larger print Aug. 17. He had determined it to be from a nodosaur, a "tank"-sized leaf eater of which he had previously discovered a new species in College Park, with help from Weishampel. Pollen grains sealed inside the sedimentary rock in which the dinosaur track was imprinted helped date it to 110 million to 112 million years old. The footprint is about a foot wide. Weems visited the site Aug. 23 and confirmed the print was indeed that of a nodosaur, and he also found the smaller print. Scientists will next determine whether more excavation and preservation of the footprints are warranted.

Implications: The finding helps add to a picture of what the region was like during the time of dinosaurs. In a NASA news release, Stanford called the location "poetic," given the space science being studied nearby.

sdance@baltimoresun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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