In 2003, when a Cretaceous-era dinosaur adorned with long feathers was discovered in China, it sparked a debate as to if and how such a creature could fly. And to help resolve that debate, researchers at the University of Southampton in the UK put a scale model of the dino in a wind tunnel to see just how bird-like the microraptor really was.
The researchers initially set out to figure out how the dinosaur flew; whether with both its feathered wings and feathered legs spread out like a prehistoric biplane, or with its legs tucked close to its body like modern birds.
They found that both positions were similarly aerodynamic, allowing the dino to glide short distances. But what was more surprising was that the feathers, in this case from a duck, had no impact on the raptor's ability to fly. So the researchers are now left wondering why exactly these dinosaurs developed feathers in the first place. Was it just for mating purposes to attract a mate? Or were feathers just envogue at the time? The last thing you want to do is show up at a dead carcass wearing last year's style. [NewScientist]