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Thursday, Oct 30th

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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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Big Bang machine smashes particles

A team of scientists in Switzerland have collided sub-atomic particles at record power, in an attempt to mimic conditions of the Big Bang that created the universe 13.7 billion years ago.

"This is a major breakthrough. We are going where nobody has been before. We have opened a new territory for physics," Oliver Buchmueller at the the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern), said.

The experiment in Cern's 27km long Large Hadron Collider (Lhc) will allow researchers to examine the nature of fundamental matter and the origins of stars and planets. The collisions took place at a record total collision energy of 7 billion electron volt, just a fraction of a second slower than the speed of light.

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NASA's $500 million launcher missing just one thing: the rocket it was made for

Anyone need a $500 million, 355-foot steel tower for launching rockets into space?  There's one available at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Brand new, never been used.

The mobile launcher has been built for a rocket called the Ares 1. The problem is, there is not yet any such thing as an Ares 1 rocket -- and if the Obama administration has its way, there never will be. President Obama's 2011 budget kills that rocket, along with the rest of NASA's Constellation program, the ambitious back-to-the-moon effort initiated under President George W. Bush.

People here were shocked when they heard the news last month. They were already facing the imminent retirement of the aging space shuttle, and the likelihood of thousands of layoffs in the contracting corps but many hoped to find a Constellation job, stay on site and essentially just switch badges.

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Earth 'entering new age of geological time'

Humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes on the planet that we may be ushering in a new period of geological history.Through pollution, population growth, urbanisation, travel, mining and use of fossil fuels we have altered the planet in ways which will be felt for millions of years, experts believe.

It is feared that the damage mankind has inflicted will lead to the sixth largest mass extinction in Earth’s history with thousands of plants and animals being wiped out. The new epoch, called the Anthropocene – meaning new man – would be the first period of geological time shaped by the action of a single species.

Although the term has been in informal use among scientists for more than a decade, it is now under consideration as an official term.

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T. Rex Ancestor’s Hip Found in Australia, Proving Life in South

A dinosaur bone found in Australia belonged to an ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex, according to a study that provides the first evidence that the fearsome predator’s predecessors lived in Southern continents.

The hip bone, which was found in Dinosaur Cove in Victoria state -- about 220 kilometers (136 miles) southwest of Melbourne -- was that of a tyrannosaur that lived about 110 million years ago, 40 million years before T. rex roamed the earth, researchers said in a Science study today.

The discovery disproves a previous theory that tyrannosaurs never lived in the Southern continents, and raises the question of why larger predators such as T. rex evolved only in the Northern hemisphere, said Roger Benson, a researcher at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. who led the study.

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Neither Neanderthal nor sapiens: new human relative Identified

At a press conference yesterday, researchers announced the completely unexpected: a Siberian cave has yielded evidence of an entirely unknown human relative that appears to have shared Asia with both modern humans and Neanderthals less than 50,000 years ago.

The find comes courtesy of a single bone from individual's hand. Lest you think that paleontologists are overinterpreting a tiny fragment, it wasn't the shape of the bone that indicates the presence of a new species—it was the DNA that it contained.

The paper that describes the finding comes courtesy of the Max Planck Institute's Svante Pääbo, who has been actively pursuing the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome. It seems likely that this particular bone fragment was targeted due to suspicions that it might also provide an additional Neanderthal sequence.

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Amphibious caterpillars discovered in Hawaii

Unlike other amphibious creatures that can survive underwater on stored oxygen but must come back up for air, these caterpillars can spend several weeks without ever breaking the surface, according to the paper, which was published online on Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It isn't yet clear how the insects do it. Rubinoff and co-worker Patrick Schmitz of the University of Hawaii did not find any water-blocking stopper over the caterpillars' tracheae or evidence of gills. The animals drowned quickly when kept in standing water, so they seem to need the higher levels of oxygen present in running water, and probably absorb it directly through pores in their body, the scientists said.

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