Colorful Fossils

Professor Andrew Parker, a scientist at the Natural History Museum, has discovered a way to discover the iridescent colors in animals from fossils of extinct animals. Tiny structures on the surface of the animal fossil cause sunlight to be split (like a prism) into the colors of a rainbow. Colors that result from these tiny structures are known as iridescent colors, like the colors that you see on a CD. These colors are very different from the chemically generated colors found in paints, skin, hair, or animal fur.

The tiny structures act as a diffraction grating (which is a reflecting surface covered in small parallel grooves), and exists in a lot of things naturally. You can find them in the antennae of seed srhimp, in the wing of a butterfly, and also in 515 million-year-old Burgess Shale fossils (shown right).

In the past, any color given to the skin, feathers, or fur of extinct animals have mostly guesswork, but now with this new discovery, we can pinpoint more accurately the color of extinct animals. But the next question that Parker wants to answer is: "Why were the animals at that time so colorful? When did the first eye exist on Earth and what happened when it did?"

Source:Colouring in the Fossil Past

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