Just for fun, pause for a second and ask yourself: what was the single greatest thing you could have found when you were a kid?
Of course, this is a personal thing and there is no one correct answer. But if you thought “dinosaur footprints” then you would be right with me. Maybe for some it was a treasure chest – overflowing with pirate loot, but more practically (as kids tend to be) the chance of discovering an Alamosaurus footprint was much more likely.
I thought about it a lot, hopeful that I would stumble upon what no one else had stumbled upon before, something right nearby that others had overlooked. I thought about how much bigger their feet would be than mine (something my friends might now poke fun at!). I thought about how many layers of sand and rock would have covered a footprint and why it would have stuck there in the first place, so many millions of years ago.
Finding dinosaur footprints doesn’t happen often, but it happens. On Friday, August 17 it happened for NASA, right in their earthen backyard.
In case there wasn’t enough excitement going on, twelve days after Curiosity landed on Mars, Cretaceous footprints belonging to a mother and possibly her baby nodosaur were discovered at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Back then, these large, plant-eating dinosaurs were likely hustling to avoid becoming prey to something with much bigger teeth. More than a hundred million years later, scientists walking the same path are realizing just how small we really are.
We live in a fast-paced world. If NASA hadn’t shared that photo with State of the Environment, I very likely would have missed the story myself. I couldn’t help but marvel at the luck of it all.
When discoveries are made, whether they’re out of this world or right under our feet, they never cease to amaze and remind me of just how incredible our planet really is and that there is so much yet to learn.
One thing I know for sure though: in between taking more time to gaze at the stars, I’m on the lookout again for footprints larger than mine.
About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.