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Earth's magnetic field was intense in dinosaur age

(CNN) -- Tyrannosaurus Rex might could have witnessed particularly colorful northern lights 100 millions years ago. The Earth possessed a magnetic field three times stronger than previously estimated, researchers said this week.

The magnetic field protects terrestrial life from dangerous space radiation. The field acts as a buffer when struck by the solar wind, a stream of highly charged particles emitted from the sun.

When it interacts with the Earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere, the solar wind creates spectacular aurora light shows, primarily in extreme northern and southern latitudes.

The University of Rochester scientists used a device normally reserved for computer chip design to study the magnetic "fossil record" left in ancient rocks.

The researchers, who published a report in the March 2 issue of the journal Science, will attempt to determine the magnetic field strength of the planet 2.5 billion years ago.

Meteorite thins complex primordial soup

(CNN) -- An object that landed in France more than a century ago has revealed new clues about the origin of life on Earth, scientists said this week.

The Orgueil rock could be the first meteorite traced to a comet instead of an asteroid, the commonly accepted source of most space debris on our planet.

Using sophisticated new tools, researchers found that the meteorite contains a relatively simple mixture of primarily two amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins used in living cells.

Scientists have traditionally held that a wide variety of amino acids were necessary for life to arise. But the Orgueil research supports the more recent theory that only a few simple amino acids were required.

An international team of scientists published the findings in the February 27 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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