Case of the fossilized dinosaur egg

June 07, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are trying to crack the 65 million-year-old mystery of a dinosaur egg that never hatched.

Using sophisticated X-ray equipment more often aimed at bomb parts than ancient eggs, they are peering inside the fossilized egg that had been buried in China for millions of years.

Locked up in this stone, which is not much larger than a tall can of beer, is an embryo, a tiny dinosaur that grew for a while before dying inside its shell. Its little bones might convey some new information about dinosaurs near the end of their era.

Everyone knows the embryo is there, because one end of the egg was broken off at some point and a sliver of the embryo is visible. But nobody wants to crack the egg to get to the embryo, not after it has survived for so long.

University of Notre Dame paleontologist Keith Rigby helped dig the egg up; the Beijing Museum of Natural History and the China University of Geosciences allowed him to take it home to Indiana. There, it was X-rayed with the same kind of scanning equipment used to look at your knee after a skiing accident.

The result? Nothing, said Ken Sauer, the electrical engineer who tried. To an X-ray, it all looks pretty much the same -- it's all rock, and it all shows up as the same color.

But Mr. Sauer knew Lawrence Livermore had some very advanced X-ray scanning equipment that generated three-dimensional computer images of great resolution. He had the egg shipped there.

"Hopefully we can make the outer part of this egg transparent and see what's inside," said said Stephen Azevedo, a Lawrence Livermore electrical engineer. "We have the equipment. If anybody can do it, maybe we can."

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