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Perucetus Colossus

Last year, scientists in Peru announced they had discovered the world’s heaviest animal. Dubbed Perucetus Colossus or P. Colossus, for short, this ancient whale with a bloated body, small head and small fins, was estimated to tip the scales at a resounding 700,000 pounds. That’s larger than the largest animal up to that point—the Blue Whale—which can weigh up to 540,000 pounds.

The unusual fossils of P. Colossus believed to be nearly 40 million years old, were discovered in a desert in Peru. Whereas bones are normally spongy-looking, these fossils appeared dense and inflated, leading scientists to debate whether these were bones or rocks. It was determined they were, in fact, bones—vertebra bones, to be exact, each of which weighed at least 220 pounds. They also found ribs measuring nearly five feet across. All told, they found 13 vertebrae, four ribs, and part of a hip.

Using projections, it was estimated that this was the heaviest animal ever to have lived.

Headlines abounded, mentioning the size of this silly-looking beast.

skeleton, paleontology, Perucetus Colossus

Projected skeletal image of Perucetus Colossus


However, in late February 2024, scientists changed their tune. It turns out the estimates were off, and this chonky gal was merely big-boned, literally.

The new estimates put P. Colossus at 60 to 70 tons at 17 meters long and 98 to 114 tons at 20 meters long. It is still quite heavy, maxing out at 228,000 pounds, but not nearly as heavy as the blue whale, which maxes out at approximately 540,000 pounds or 270 tons.

Perucetus Colossus, Blue Whale, prehistoric fossils

P. Colossus as compared to a blue whale and a human

Cullen Townsend/Cullen Townsend (used with permission)

So what happened? Here’s some sciency language from the new study, “Downsizing a heavyweight: factors and methods that revise weight estimates of the giant fossil whale Perucetus Colossus."

“[The scientists who said P. Colossus was the heaviest animal] based their estimates on a new method, in which they first estimated the total skeletal mass of Perucetus through extrapolation from the skeletal material and then used the value to secondarily extrapolate its body mass, assuming skeletal to body mass ratios based on extant cetaceans and sirenians. A simple ratio mandates an isometric relationship between body and skeletal masses, and they justified this step by testing for isometry using a phylogenetically controlled regression.”

Ah yes, how many times a phylogenetically controlled regression has come around to bite us on the butt.

Translation: It’s understandable, sort of, why they used the wrong equation, but make no mistake—they used the wrong equation. And now, some science shade from the same paper:

“Their method involves questionable assumptions that suggest their body mass estimates are not reasonable…”

“It is important to note that the overall size estimate of Perucetus has remained the same,” Cullen Townsend told Upworthy. Townsend is an artist who renders prehistoric animals for the Natural History Museum Los Angeles, among others, and who created a corrected rendering to accompany the new paper.

Says Townsend: “What is now being debated is how heavy the animal potentially was. Our understanding of prehistoric animals is filled with holes and can change drastically with a new discovery or research. It is not surprising that scientists are coming to new conclusions. Our depictions of nearly every prehistoric animal have changed over time to better correspond with advancements in paleontology and our interpretation of the fossil record. Our current understanding of Perucetus is no different and will likely change again in the not-too-distant future. It is the nature of this field.”

So no "Real Scientists" reality show coming to cable TV anytime soon?

Or "Biggest Loser, Animal Style"? (P. Colossus wins, obviously)

The NatureWasMetal Reddit group saw this coming:

“Of course, Perucetus was going to be downsized… I’m never going to trust this sort of claim again, I felt like it couldn’t be true,” said Kaam00s.

“All my hopes and dreams shattered… I lived for that chonky whale man,” said Grouper3.

But Time-Accident3809 pointed out the silver lining:

“We are so lucky to coexist with the largest known animal to have ever lived. Now here’s hoping we don’t [mess] that up as well.”

While women in STEM careers are traditionally underrepresented, it doesn't mean they're not there, kicking ass and capturing data all around the world.

Enter Science-a-thon, a one-day celebration of women in science to raise money for the Earth Science Women's Network, a nonprofit helping women in the field.

On July 13, 2017 (and a few folks on the 14th), female scientists took to Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #DayOfScience to share photos and stories of their day, from routine observations to groundbreaking research.

The result is a rare look at what it's like to be a professional woman in science. It goes a little something like this.

1. It's never too early to get up and get to work. Science waits for no woman.

2. Some start the day with coffee. Others jump-start their mornings with natural uranium. To each her own.

3. Whether you're hard at work in the lab...

4. ...feeling the wind in your hair in the field...

5. ...or knocking out reports at your desk...

6. ...there's always something new to do and discover!

And confirming how awesome your discovery is is half the fun.

7. But that doesn't mean women in science are always off by themselves. After all, science is a team sport.

8. When it comes to saving the world, you can never have too much help.

9. Women in science also spend time teaching and presenting their findings.

10. Their lectures and mentorships mean we'll have #DayOfScience (and groundbreaking research) for years to come.

11. Being this badass doesn't happen overnight. It takes years of training, education, and hard work.

12. Especially when you're up against people who don't understand how valuable your work really is.

Cough cough, science is real, cough cough.

13. No matter what challenges stand in their way, women in science will continue to research, study, analyze, and record.

After all, it's what they do. And they're really freaking good at it.

14. At the end of the day, even these science superheroes get a break from saving the world.

15. After all the work they do, they certainly deserve it.

Miss out on Day of Science? No worries, there are still plenty of ways to get involved.

Visit a science museum. Tell your legislator that science and research are important to you. Learn more about the research happening at your local college or university. Donate to the Earth Science Women's Network, or other organizations that support women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and math. Remind the children in your life that women in science do legendary stuff every single day. And check out the hashtag #DayOfScience to see it for yourself.

Last week, President Donald Trump announced he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. Other world leaders are not hesitating to capitalize on that decision.

The day before Trump's announcement to leave the international commitment to fight climate change, French President Emmanuel Macron trolled Trump, retooling the U.S. president's campaign catchphrase in a speech, encouraging everyone to "Make Our Planet Great Again."

This week, Macron doubled down on the sentiment and launched a website to help those passionate about climate change research emigrate to France.

And what's the address to this digital one-stop shop for those looking to move to France?


[rebelmouse-image 19527066 dam="1" original_size="400x222" caption="Oh snap! GIF via "The Maury Show."" expand=1]Oh snap! GIF via "The Maury Show."

The site serves as a clearing house for information about education, work, and research opportunities as well as links to the necessary applications and documents one would need to emigrate to France.

For those unsure if France is right for them or overwhelmed by the daunting process of emigration, users can describe where they're from and the work or research they do and receive information appropriate to their situation. There are different pages for students, researchers, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs.

While this particular call to acton is not limited to Americans, Macron has previously invited American scientists to continue their research in France.

Macron made an appeal in February, before he was elected president, encouraging Americans to consider working in France in the wake of Trump's skepticism about climate change.

GIF via Tristan Oliver/YouTube.

With the launch of the site, it's clear Macron is standing by his campaign promise and looking around the globe for top talent, no matter whose toes he may step on.

And his offer to researchers isn't just lip service; there are funding opportunities to back it up.

After successfully submitting project proposals and other relevant documents, senior and junior researchers may be eligible for a four-year grant covering their salary, staff and student salaries, and work expenses, up to 1.5 million euros.

That may be a difficult offer to turn down, especially as America's local and federal governments grapple with potential budget cuts, especially for climate related research.

A NASA flight crew member works inside a NASA Operation IceBridge DC-8 research airplane. NASA's Operation IceBridge has been studying how polar ice has evolved over the past eight years. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Macron and 193 other world leaders have committed to getting serious about climate change.

Trump's efforts to put politics over the planet will not stop climate change or the people working to solve it.

No matter our countries of origin, this is a global problem that will require global solutions. Kudos to Macron and other world leaders who are giving this issue the time, attention, and resources it deserves.

Greg Dunn and Brian Edwards are scientists-turned-artists.

In their new project "Self Reflected," Dunn and Edwards used a new technique called micro-etching to illuminate one specific organ in the human body.

The pair developed the technique, which combines hand drawing, gilding, and photolithography along with data visualizations to create amazing art. It allows dynamic control of an image and its colors using reflective gold surfaces.

They took a slice of tissue of this mystery human organ and magnified it 22 times. And what they created was beyond incredible.

Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

The kaleidoscopic vividness is surreal, but the sheer beauty of the images is only part of the story.

Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

Each image looks wholly unique, but all the images are from a single human organ.

Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

Can you guess what organ it is? We'll give you a hint...

Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

If you zoom out a bit you'll see that...

Self-reflected in violets — the entire self reflected in micro-etching under violet and white light. Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

...it's the brain!

Surprising, I know. My eyes still don't believe that this is a slice of the visual cortex.

The visual cortex, the region located at the back of the brain that processes visual information. Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

Or that this is a 22-times magnification of our brain stem.

Raw colorized micro-etching data from the reticular formation and brainstem. Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

But that's the beautiful gilded truth.

The midbrain, an area that carries out diverse functions in reward, eye movement, hearing, attention, and movement. Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

“Self Reflected was created to remind us that the most marvelous machine in the known universe is at the core of our being and is the root of our shared humanity,” they wrote on their site.

The thalamus and basal ganglia, sorting senses, initiating movement, and making decisions. Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

Combined, all the images in the series show only 500,000 neurons and circuits of the billions in the human brain. The images were hand-gilded with 1,750 sheets of 22-karat gold leaf.

The pons, a region involved in movement and implicated in consciousness. Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

The first version of "Self Reflected," which consists of 25 etched panels of the brain, is on permanent display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. The micro-etching technique makes the appearance of the art completely dependent on lighting that can change the viewers’ experience each time they look at it.

The entire Self Reflected micro-etching under white light. Photo by Greg Dunn and Will Drinker.

The ornate beauty of these images offers much more than what's on its surface. They are a glimpse into the organ that sets us apart as a species, that allows us the ability to create and appreciate art like this.

What Dunn and Edwards have done with this project is more than science and more than art — they've examined the deepest areas of our mind and found beauty reflected back at them.

Watch the video below to learn more about the project:

Clarification 4/29/2017: The article was updated to clarify that this photo project shows about 500,000 neurons and circuits in the brain, but in total the brain contains millions of them.