A creature from the past has finally walked again, thanks to the power of animation. Researchers from the University of Manchester and the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, used the power of technology to make science come alive by creating a speculative video showing the way an extinct arachnid most likely walked.
They based the video on what they observed from an exceptionally well-preserved fossil from the Natural History Museum in London. They published their findings in an issue of the Journal of Paleontology that was released on Wednesday.
Jason Dunlop, a co-author of the research study and a curator at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin, said in the press release, "These fossils - from a rock called the Rhynie chert - are unusually well-preserved. During my PhD I could build up a pretty good idea of their appearance in life. This new study has gone further and shows us how they probably walked. For me, what's really exciting here is that scientists themselves can make these animations now, without needing the technical wizardry - and immense costs - of a Jurassic Park-style film."
Dunlop underscored the importance of new technology in what he was able to do with the video, saying, "When I started working on fossil arachnids we were happy if we could manage a sketch of what they used to look like; now we can view them running across our computer screens."
Using what they could see from the fossil, scientists worked out the likely range of motion in the legs of the extinct arachnid. Together with this information and what they know about how modern arachnids move, the research team put together a video showing an animation of the way the ancient arachnid likely moved when it was alive. They rendered the animation using a computer graphics program called Blender. The video has swept the web, opening doors to a lost time and showing how cool science can be when visualized properly.
"When it comes to early life on land, long before our ancestors came out of the sea, these early arachnids were top dog of the food chain," said one of the paper's authors Dr. Russell Garwood, a paleontologist in the University of Manchester's School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. "They are now extinct, but from about 300 to 400 million years ago, seem to have been more widespread than spiders. Now we can use the tools of computer graphics to better understand and recreate how they might have moved - all from thin slivers of rock, showing the joints in their legs."
This is a very exciting moment in scientific discovery. With Blender, an open source software that anyone can use for free, there's no telling what scientists might discover in the next few years.