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Youth get slice of science with ‘alien autopsies’

What exactly is inside the Tortilla volante of Europa? Mason Estrada of California, far left, and Bradley Richardson of Texas, in hat, volunteer Saturday afternoon to conduct an autopsy of the creature that was found in the ocean beneath the ice caps of one of Jupiter’s moon. Dave Dooling, education director of the New Mexico Museum of Space History, guides them in their work. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Making the first incision into the Tortilla volante — also known as the flying (or swimming) flapjack — elicited an “aaaah” from Brady Richardson of Texas as he spied the green goo.

Richardson and Mason Estrada of California were the two young volunteer investigators who conducted an autopsy of the mysterious creature from Europa. In the process, they were getting some lessons about anatomy and investigation skills from Dave Dooling, education director of the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo.

Dooling made his inaugural visit to the UFO Festival this year, holding six 20-minute workshops that drew crowds to the Tascosa Office Machines Building on North Main Street to observe the dissection of the tortilla creature or the spiny pickle worm.

Much longer versions of the workshops have been offered for about five years to schools, scouting groups, summer camps and other youth-oriented venues, Dooling said.

Kids learn a bit about quarantine procedures and are asked to figure out what such things as what a long pasta tube might be (an intestinal tract), or why a creature found in the ocean under the ice caps of Europa would have large eyes (because there is some sort of light source available) or why it would have spiny barbs on its back (because there are larger predators in the ocean).

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Richardson and Estrada had many ideas about the jello, gummy worms and toothpicks they found, including the observation that the feathery things on the outside might not only be gills but also mating displays.

Dooling said the workshops are helpful because some youth don’t want to dissect real animals.

“But I wanted to provide something different than you can get from a catalog,” he said, “and this proved to be popular.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.