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A star system containing two potentially habitable Earth-like planets is being targeted by scientists searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

In the coming months, astronomers will turn an array of radio telescope dishes towards Kepler-62, a star smaller and dimmer than the Sun about 1,000 light years away in the constellation Lyra.

A pair of so-called "super-Earths" have been detected within the "habitable zone" of the star, the orbital region where temperatures are just warm enough to allow bodies of surface water such as oceans and lakes.

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To the doom merchants he will always be Dr Strangelet, the mad scientist meddling with forces that should be left well alone.

Professor David Evans, from the University of Birmingham, heads a British team working right on the frontiers of science at the Large Hadron Collider.

From early on, his experiments have fuelled fear and suspicion among groups who believe they are living in an episode from Quatermass.

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A new species of dinosaur whose translated name means "lonely small bandit" has been discovered in Madagascar.

Dahalokely tokana was between nine and 14 feet (2.75 to 4.3 metres) long and lived around 90 million years ago.

Its name, derived from the Malagasy language, refers to the animal's carnivorous diet and the fact that it evolved when India and Madagascar were one landmass cut off from the rest of the world.

Creature bridged ape-human gap

By Daniel Smith on Apr 15, 13 01:25 PM

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A creature bridging the gap between apes and humans with a "mosaic" of missing-link features has been described by scientists.

Several partial skeletons of the two million-year-old species Australopithecus sediba were discovered in South Africa in 2008.

After four years of work, an international team of scientists today presented results from one of the most extensive studies of an extinct hominin, or human-like animal, ever conducted.

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Fingers are crossed that the UK's giant panda couple Tian Tian and Yang Guang will mate within days.

Edinburgh Zoo said female Tian Tian is about 10 days away from her short fertile window, perhaps less.

The pair were introduced to each other before last year's breeding season but did not mate.

Monkeys show signs of speech

By Daniel Smith on Apr 9, 13 02:34 PM

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Friendly lip-smacks made by a large African monkey show striking similarities with human speech, say scientists.

Geladas, close cousins of the baboon that only live in the remote mountains of Ethiopia, produce "unnerving" sounds that can easily be mistaken for human voices.

Researchers who analysed recordings of the vocalisations uncovered a structural rhythm that closes matched that of people speaking.

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Climate change will bring greater extremes in weather, the Government's outgoing chief scientific adviser has warned as he called for urgent action to tackle global warming.

Professor Sir John Beddington said the effects of climate change on the weather were already being felt in the UK.

"In a sense we have moved from the idea of global warming to the idea of climate change, and that is rather important - yes, indeed, temperatures are increasing but the thing that is going to happen is that we are going to see much more variability in our weather," he told BBC Breakfast.

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More signs of past water on Mars have been uncovered by the American space agency Nasa's Curiosity rover.

Powder drilled from a Martian rock last week revealed evidence of drinkable water and conditions favourable to life.

Now instruments on the rover have found more water-bearing minerals in the area around the rock.

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Astronomers have detected clouds of carbon monoxide and water vapour around a huge gassy planet orbiting a star 130 light years away.

The study is the most detailed yet of the atmosphere of an "exoplanet".

In future, scientists hope to use similar techniques to uncover signatures of life in the atmospheres of Earth-like worlds.

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ET may not be calling any time soon, according to an expert who claims belief in a universe teeming with life is misplaced.

Professor Charles Cockell argues that Earth may be a lonelier place than is popularly thought. This is despite recent discoveries of a plethora of distant solar systems and potentially habitable planets.

On Earth, living organisms fill just about every environment capable of supporting them.
This leaves the wrong impression that life is bound to arise anywhere it can, says Prof Cockell.

Giant camels roamed the Arctic

By Daniel Smith on Mar 5, 13 04:00 PM

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Camels might be known as ships of the desert but they had giant ancestors that once roamed the Arctic.

Bone fragments belonging to a camel almost a third larger than any now living have been recovered from a remote site in the far north of Canada.

The animal lived 3.5 million years ago, when the High Arctic was warmer than it is today and covered in forest.

Rare comet makes Earth fly-by

By Daniel Smith on Mar 4, 13 11:40 AM

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A comet with a glowing tail makes a once-in-a-lifetime appearance in the evening sky this month.

Comet 2011 L4 Panstarrs has taken millions of years to travel out from the Oort cloud - a huge colony of icy objects at the edge of the Solar System.

Throughout the month Panstarrs will be visible low in the west.

One million Romans in Britain

By Daniel Smith on Feb 26, 13 01:12 PM

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Around one million men in the UK can claim to be direct descendants of the Romans, scientists have revealed.

The Roman army invaded Britain in 43 AD and left around 400 years later, in the early 5th century.

But historians and scientists claim that the legions left behind their legacy in the genes of many Britons.

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British conservationists are tracking endangered red-breasted geese to solve the mystery of thousands of birds lost in migration.

More than 90 birds were caught and tagged in Bulgaria to try to find out what happened to more than 50,000 geese which disappeared from their wintering grounds along the Black Sea coast about 10 years ago.

British conservationists from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) are working with the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) to identify whether the birds found a new site in Asia or fell victim to hunting, development or changes in farming along their 6,000km migration to breeding grounds in Arctic Russia.

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A weird "slime" is baffling boffins at a nature reserve.

The jelly-like substance has been found at the RSPB Ham Wall Nature reserve in Somerset.

As yet the mystery slime has not been identified.

Dogs understand the human mind

By Daniel Smith on Feb 12, 13 03:13 PM

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Pet dogs may understand a human's point of view, according to new research which suggests they are more likely to steal food when they think nobody can see them.

Dr Juliane Kaminski, of the University of Portsmouth's department of psychology, found that when a human forbids a dog from taking food, dogs are four times more likely to disobey in a dark room than a lit room, suggesting they take into account what the human can or cannot see.

Dr Kaminski said: "That's incredible because it implies dogs understand the human can't see them, meaning they might understand the human perspective."

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Earth-like planets could be all around us - and some may harbour life more advanced than on Earth, astronomers believe.

A space telescope has found that 6% of red dwarf stars are circled by potentially habitable worlds.

Since red dwarfs are the most common stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way, the closest Earth-like planet could be just 13 light years away.

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A new finding has cast doubt on the theory that ancestors of modern humans interbred with Neanderthals over thousands of years.

Scientists have re-dated fossil bones from two sites in southern Spain and discovered they are much older than previously thought.

According to the new evidence, it is unlikely Neanderthals and modern humans ever lived together in the region. Researchers now think the Neanderthals had long gone before the arrival of the first Homo sapiens.

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A DNA study has begun to unravel the mysterious mating habits of an endangered sea turtle.

Scientists hope the research will aid conservation efforts to protect the hawksbill turtle, a victim of the tortoiseshell trade.

The findings show that female turtles store sperm for up to 75 days after mating before laying multiple beach nests.

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Acting the part of a superhero can make you start to behave like one in real life, a study has found.

Scientists created a virtual reality environment in which volunteers had the ability to fly through the air like Superman or rode as passengers in a helicopter.

Using their alter egos, both groups were then assigned one of two tasks - either helping to find a missing diabetic child, or exploring a virtual city.

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Authors

Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith - a long time ago, in a galaxy far away just north of Watford, Daniel fancied himself as a scientist but turned out to be the worst scientist since that bloke who mapped out all those canals on Mars that turned out to be scratches on his telescope's lens. Luckily, he is now not working on the Large Hadron Collider inadvertently creating a black hole that would swallow the world but is safely behind a desk writing this blog, bringing you the fantastical underbelly of nature... weird science.

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