ancestor: A predecessor. It could be a family forebear, such as a parent, grandparent or great-great-great grandparent. Or it could be a species, genus, family or other order of organisms from which some later one evolved. For instance, ancient dinosaurs are the ancestors of today’s birds. (antonym: descendant)
Arctic: A region that falls within the Arctic Circle. The edge of that circle is defined as the northernmost point at which the sun is visible on the northern winter solstice and the southernmost point at which the midnight sun can be seen on the northern summer solstice. The high Arctic is that most northerly third of this region. It’s a region dominated by snow cover much of the year.
atmosphere: The envelope of gases surrounding Earth, another planet or a moon.
basin: (in geology) A low-lying area, often below sea level. It collects water, which then deposits fine silt and other sediment on its bottom. Because it collects these materials, it’s sometimes referred to as a catchment or a drainage basin.
carbon dioxide: (or CO2) A colorless, odorless gas produced by all animals when the oxygen they inhale reacts with the carbon-rich foods that they’ve eaten. Carbon dioxide also is released when organic matter burns (including fossil fuels like oil or gas). Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, the process they use to make their own food.
colleague: Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.
common ancestor: Also known as shared ancestor. It’s an ancestor that two or more descendants have in common. Two siblings share a parent as a common ancestor. This also applies on the level of species and groups of organisms. Two or more species can share a common ancestor at the genus level. Two or more genera can share a common ancestor at the family level, and so on. Tigers and lions have a common ancestor, as do humans and Neandertals.
conifer: Cone-bearing trees or shrubs such as the pine, fir, spruce or yew. Conifers are usually evergreen and have either needle-shaped or scale-like leaves.
crust: (in geology) Earth’s outermost surface, usually made from dense, solid rock (in planetary science) the outermost surface of rocky planets, dwarf planets and natural satellites.
deciduous: (in botany) Those trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in winter, each year, then grow new ones the next spring.
dinosaur: A term that means terrible lizard. These reptiles emerged around 243 million years ago. All descended from egg-laying reptiles known as archosaurs. Their descendants eventually split into two lines. For many decades, they have been distinguished by their hips. The lizard-hipped line are believed to have led to the saurischians, such as two-footed theropods like T. rex and the lumbering four-footed Apatosaurus. A second line of so-called bird-hipped, or ornithischian dinosaurs, appears to have led to a widely differing group of animals that included the stegosaurs and duckbilled dinosaurs. Many large dinosaurs died out around 66 million years ago. But some saurischians lived on. They are now the birds we see today (and who have now evolved that so-called “bird-hipped” pelvis).
environment: The sum of all of the things that exist around some organism or the process and the condition those things create. Environment may refer to the weather and ecosystem in which some animal lives, or, perhaps, the temperature and humidity (or even the placement of things in the vicinity of an item of interest).
eruption: (in geoscience) The sudden bursting or spraying of hot material from deep inside a planet or moon and out through its surface. Volcanic eruptions on Earth usually send hot lava, hot gases or ash into the air and across surrounding land. In colder parts of the solar system, eruptions often involve liquid water spraying out through cracks in an icy crust. This happens on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn that is covered in ice.
extinction: The permanent loss of a species, family or larger group of organisms.
fossil: Any preserved remains or traces of ancient life. There are many different types of fossils: The bones and other body parts of dinosaurs are called “body fossils.” Things like footprints are called “trace fossils.” Even specimens of dinosaur poop are fossils. The process of forming fossils is called fossilization.
greenhouse: A light-filled structure, often with windows serving as walls and ceiling materials, in which plants are grown. It provides a controlled environment in which set amounts of water, humidity and nutrients can be applied — and pests can be prevented entry.
ice sheet: A broad blanket of ice, often kilometers deep. Ice sheets currently cover most of Antarctica. An ice sheet also blankets most of Greenland. During the last glaciation, ice sheets also covered much of North America and Europe.
Jurasssic: Lasting from about 200 million to 145.5 million years ago, it’s the middle period of the Mesozoic Era. This was a time when dinosaurs were the dominant form of life on land.
latitude: The distance from the equator measured in degrees (up to 90). Low latitudes are closer to the equator; high latitudes are closer to the poles.
lava: Molten rock that comes up from the mantle, through Earth’s crust, and out of a volcano.
ornithischians: One of the two major groups of dinosaurs, the other being the saurischians. Ornithischian hip bones were arranged like those of birds. Despite this similarity, ornithischians are not related to birds.
paleontologist: A scientist who specializes in studying fossils, the remains of ancient organisms.
Pangaea (or Pangea): A supercontinent that existed from about 300 to 200 million years ago. It was composed of all of the major continents seen today, squished together.
particle: A minute amount of something.
poles: (in Earth science and astronomy) The cold regions of the planet that exist farthest from the equator; the upper and lower ends of the virtual axis around which a celestial object rotates. (in physics and electrical engineering) The ends of a magnet. (in chemistry) two areas of opposite electrical charge, one positive and one negative.
pterosaur: Any of various extinct flying reptiles of the order Pterosauria. These animals lived 245 million years ago to 65 million years ago. Although not true dinosaurs, they lived during the reign of dinosaurs. Among members of this order were the pterodactyls of the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, which were characterized by wings consisting of a flap of skin supported by the very long fourth digit on each forelimb.
reptile: Cold-blooded vertebrate animals, whose skin is covered with scales or horny plates. Snakes, turtles, lizards and alligators are all reptiles.
sandstone: A type of sedimentary rock. It formed as sand-size grains of mineral grit became compacted or glued together over time.
siltstone: A hard, durable type of rock that developed when siltlike particles or dirt or debris became compressed under pressure for eons.
species: A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.
stereotype: A widely held view or explanation for something, which often may be wrong because it has been overly simplified.
sulfur: A chemical element with an atomic number of sixteen. Sulfur, one of the most common elements in the universe, is an essential element for life. Because sulfur and its compounds can store a lot of energy, it is present in fertilizers and many industrial chemicals.
theropod: A usually meat-eating dinosaur that belonged to a group whose members are typically bipedal (walk on two legs). They range from small and delicately built to very large.
Triassic Period: A time in the distant geologic past, about 200 million to 250 million years ago. It’s best known as the period during which dinosaurs first emerged.
tropics: The region near Earth’s equator. Temperatures here are generally warm to hot, year-round.
volcano: A place on Earth’s crust that opens, allowing magma and gases to spew out from underground reservoirs of molten material. The magma rises through a system of pipes or channels, sometimes spending time in chambers where it bubbles with gas and undergoes chemical transformations. This plumbing system can become more complex over time. This can result in a change, over time, to the chemical composition of the lava as well. The surface around a volcano’s opening can grow into a mound or cone shape as successive eruptions send more lava onto the surface, where it cools into hard rock.
weather: Conditions in the atmosphere at a localized place and a particular time. It is usually described in terms of particular features, such as air pressure, humidity, moisture, any precipitation (rain, snow or ice), temperature and wind speed. Weather constitutes the actual conditions that occur at any time and place. It’s different from climate, which is a description of the conditions that tend to occur in some general region during a particular month or season.