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Thursday, Jul 31st

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Stephen Hawking warns over making contact with aliens

Mr Hawking says it is 'perfectly rational' to believe in aliensAliens almost certainly exist but humans should avoid making contact, Professor Stephen Hawking has warned. In a series for the Discovery Channel the renowned astrophysicist said it was "perfectly rational" to assume intelligent life exists elsewhere.

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Microbes galore in seas; "spaghetti" mats Pacific

Spaghetti-like bacteria that form whitish mats the size of Greece on the floor of the PacificThe ocean depths are home to myriad species of microbes, mostly hard to see but including spaghetti-like bacteria that form whitish mats the size of Greece on the floor of the Pacific.

The survey, part of a 10-year Census of Marine Life, turned up hosts of unknown microbes, tiny zooplankton, crustaceans, worms, burrowers and larvae, some of them looking like extras in a science fiction movie and underpinning all life in the seas.

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New species 'live without oxygen'

One of the species has been named Spinoloricus Cinzia, after Dr Danovaro's wifeThree species of creature, which are only a millimetre long and resemble jellyfish encased in shells, were found 2.2 miles (3.5km) underwater on the ocean floor, 124 miles (200km) off the coast of Crete, in an area with almost no oxygen.

The animals, named Loriciferans due to their protective layer, or lorica, were discovered by a team led by Roberto Danovaro from Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy.

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Photos released of two-million-year-old fossils

The skull of one of the partial skeletons found in a South African caveThe remarkable remains of two ancient human-like creatures (hominids) have been found in South Africa. The fossils of a female adult and a juvenile male - perhaps mother and son - are just under two million years old.

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Giant lizard species discovered in the Philippines

A close look at the giant Varanus bitatawaA new species of giant lizard has been discovered in the Philippines. The 2m-long reptile is a monitor lizard, the group to which the world's longest and largest lizards belong.

The monitor, described as spectacular by the scientists who found it, lives in forests covering the Sierra Madre mountains in the north of the country.  The striking reptile has bright yellow, blue and green skin, and survives on a diet of just fruit, yet until now it has escaped the eyes of biologists.

"It is an incredible animal," says Dr Rafe Brown, one of the scientists who describe the new lizard in the journal Biology Letters. In the journal, the researchers describe how rare it is to find such a large terrestrial animal new to science.

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Missing link between man and apes found

The new species of hominid, the evolutionary branch of primates that includes humans, is to be revealed when the two-million-year-old skeleton of a child is unveiled this week.

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Toads can 'predict earthquakes' and seismic activity

Common toads appear to be able to sense an impending earthquake and will flee their colony days before the seismic activity strikes. The evidence comes from a population of toads which left their breeding colony three days before an earthquake that struck L'Aquila in Italy in 2009.

How toads sensed the quake is unclear, but most breeding pairs and males fled. They reacted despite the colony being 74km from the quake's epicentre, say biologists in the Journal of Zoology. It is hard to objectively and quantifiably study how animals respond to seismic activity, in part because earthquakes are rare and unpredictable.

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