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NASA's Curiosity rover shows 360-degree images of Mars

NASA has released a 360-degree panoramic photo of Mars.

The rover, which was sent by NASA to explore the planet and determine if life once existed on its surface, captured the latest images on Aug. 5.

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The Huffington Post reported that the 360-degree video, posted to YouTube, shows the planet's features, including geographic formations like mesas, buttes, called the Murray Buttes, and a mountain dubbed Mount Sharp.

NASA said in a post on its website that a goal of the exploration is to learn if Mars had life in the form of microbes billions of years ago, based on its freshwater lake conditions and, if so, how it "evolved into harsher, arid conditions much less suited to supporting life."

NASA said the mission is also "monitoring the modern environment of Mars."

See NASA's 360-degree video below:

NASA hopes to sell International Space Station

Live-in office space for sale: six beds, two baths, over 32,000 cubic feet. Beautiful sunrises every 90 minutes, convenient 23-minute plummet to Earth. Don't open the windows.

NASA's operation of the International Space Station is scheduled to end in 2024. Now, officials say instead of letting it fall out of orbit, they're looking to pass the outpost on to someone with the resources to keep it running.

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"Ultimately, our desire is to hand the space station over to either a commercial entity or some other commercial capability so that research can continue in low-Earth orbit," NASA's Bill Hill said.

Companies like SpaceX and Boeing already run the commercial missions to resupply the station, and they'll start carrying crew in 2017. They seem well-positioned to take advantage, even if it's not clear yet what the private companies would do with their own orbiting lab.

In the meantime, other space firms are invested enough to want to improve the existing station. NanoRacks wants to add a private airlock to the ISS to launch its tiny satellites called cubesats.

That's the kind of science NASA wants to see. It's said it before: The ISS presents unique research opportunities that could help pave the way for more commercial activity in orbit around Earth.

Extremely rare 2,500-pound T. rex skull arrives at Seattle museum

An extremely rare 2,500-pound Tyrannosaurus rex skull discovered by Seattle paleontologists arrived at the Burke Museum Thursday.

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Burke paleontologists found the fossil remains of the 66.3-million-year-old dinosaur -- including the 4-foot-long, 2,500-pound skull, as well as lower jaw bones, vertebrae, ribs and teeth -- in the Hell Creek Formation in northern Montana.

The area is world-famous for its fossil dinosaur sites.

A team of more than 45 people helped excavate the T. rex over a month this summer. They first found large fossilized vertebrae that indicated that they belonged to a carnivorous dinosaur.

Before they could excavate the fossils, the team first needed to remove about 20 tons of rock from the hillside, so they could create a ledge at the level of the fossils. The difficult task took a team of eight to 10 people nearly two weeks of continuous digging with jackhammers, axes and shovels.

Once the ledge was in place, they switched to smaller hand tools and uncovered more bones. The skull was found several feet away.

"The combination of the skull features, the size of the bones, and the honeycomb-like appearance of the bones tell us this is a T. rex," said Burke Museum Adjunct Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology and University of Washington associate biology professor Dr. Greg Wilson.  "This was a very exciting moment for us."

So far, about 20 percent of a full skeleton has been excavated and scientists say there's likely more to discover.

The T. rex is the first major specimen in Washington.

The skull is one of only 15 reasonably complete T. rex skulls ever discovered.

The massive skull, which is encased in plaster for protection, was moved with a forklift from a flatbed truck to the Burke Museum loading dock.

The public can see the plaster-covered T. rex skull, along with other T. rex fossils and paleontology field tools, in a lobby display at the Burke Museum -- the Washington State Museum of Natural History and Culture -- beginning Saturday, August 20, through Sunday, October 2, 2016. 

Scientists keep finding odd animals in the ocean

There really isn't much known about what lives in the ocean.

Experts said 95 percent of our world's oceans have yet to be explored, which explains why new, bizarre-looking creatures are being found down there.

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Remember the goblin shark? Enough said. But that's old news compared to these unusual finds.

"They look like googly eyes!" one researcher said.

Last week, researchers with the Nautilus Live expedition spotted this "googly-eyed stubby squid" nearly 3,000 feet underwater off the coast of California.

Related: Researchers discover 'googly-eyed' squid 2,950 feet below ocean

Even though it looks like an octopus or a squid, it's actually more closely related to the cuttlefish, like the one seen in the video below.

The same expedition also discovered a mysterious purple orb late last month. They're still not quite sure what it is.

Perhaps just as stunning is this new species of scorpionfish found in the deep-reef waters off the island of Curaçao in July.

And, they may not be pretty, but these two new species of bioluminescent deep-sea fish, also known as "barreleyes," are fascinating, too.

The strange discoveries will most likely keep on coming. In 2014, scientists said they identified almost 1,500 new species in the world's oceans, and that number continues to increase.

Louisiana flooding: What is a 500-year flood and why is it happening so much?

As  of Wednesday morning, 11 people have died and more than 40,000 homes have been damaged in ongoing flooding  in southeastern Louisiana.

Up to two-and-a-half feet of rain that swelled rivers and swamped the area in and around Baton Rouge, La., has led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to classify the flooding as a once-in-every-500-years event.

Obviously, by definition, the events are rare – except this is the eighth time one of the 500-year events has happened in the United States in a little more than 12 months.

>>READ MORE: Got a question about the news? Read more Explainers here

Six states – Louisiana, Texas, West Virginia, South Carolina, Maryland and Oklahoma --  have all had unprecedented rainfall events that, according to NOAA research, they should have only had a less than one percent chance of experiencing in any given year. 

So what is a 500-year flood and why are they happening more frequently? Here’s a quick look at what the historic rainfall means.

What is a 500-year flood?

The U.S. government, when creating the National Flood Insurance Program, used a measure called the 1-percent annual exceedance probability flood (AEP) to estimate the chance of repeat flooding of a certain level  in a certain area. The AEP defines a flood that, statistically, has a 1-in-100 chance of  being equaled or surpassed in any one year, thus the term “100-year flood” was born. The 500-year flood” is equal to an AEP of 0.2 percent, or a 1-in-500 chance an area will see a repeat of flooding at a certain level. 

In some areas of Louisiana, the flooding is being classified as a 1000-year-event – or an 0.1 percent chance of seeing flooding like that in any given year.

How are flood risks determined?

Scientists and engineers take annual measurements of the strength of the flow of a body of water and the peak height of the water as recorded by devices called streamgages. These devices are placed in spots along a river. They use those numbers, collected over time, to determine the probability (or chance) that a river will exceed those measurements during any given year.

Does a 500-year flood really mean that a flood of that type happens only once every 500 years?

No, not exactly. We are talking math. The term means  that, statistically, there is a 1-in-500 chance that an area will have a large flood in any given year. You could have a large flood two years in a row, but, chances are, you won’t. 

Why are we seeing eight such floods in the U.S. in a little over a year then? Does climate change have anything to do with it?

Climate scientists sure think it does. Many say they believe that global warming has everything to do with it and say we can look forward to more of these events. They have warned that warming temperatures on both land and sea, and the build-up of moisture in the atmosphere, will inevitably cause more large flooding events.

“We have been on an upward trend in terms of heavy rainfall events over the past two decades, which is likely related to the amount of water vapor going up in the atmosphere,” said Dr Kenneth Kunkel, of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, told The Guardian.

“There’s a very tight loop – as surface temperatures of the oceans warm up, the immediate response is more water vapor in the atmosphere. We’re in a system inherently capable of producing more floods.”

David Easterling told The New York Times that the flooding “is consistent with what we expect to see in the future if you look at climate models. Not just in the U.S. but in many other parts of the world as well.” Easterling is a director at the National Centers for Environmental Information, which is operated by the NOAA.

Sources: NOAA; The New York Times; The Guardian; The Associated Press; The National Weather Service

NASA chooses 6 companies to make livable space habitats

NASA has partnered with six U.S. companies to make livable habitats on Mars.

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The agency announced Tuesday the second part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, program to advance deep-space exploration and development.

The six partners will have approximately 24 months to develop prototypes of "deep space habitats" where humans can live and work for months or years at a time on the red planet.

The companies selected are Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corp.'s Space Systems and NanoRacks.

NASA says the prototypes will be the testing ground for long-term human, robotic and spacecraft missions to the planet.

The prototypes won't come cheap, though. NASA's bill is estimated to be around $65 million from 2016 to 2017, with additional funding continuing to 2018 if necessary.

Of course, NASA isn't sure if these prototypes will be ready by the end of the 24 months — or ever. But for all the space nerds out there, this could get us one step closer to colonizing Mars.

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Greenland shark named longest-living vertebrate

Think tortoises live a long time? The oldest known tortoises have gotten close to 200 years. That's pretty old.

But it's got nothing on the Greenland shark, which is huge, rare and, it turns out, extremely long-lived.

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Greenland sharks are the new record holders for longest-living vertebrates after a new study put their maximum lifespan at an incredible 400 years.

The study also found they don't even reach sexual maturity until around 150 years old. So at an age when tortoises are becoming elderly, Greenland sharks are just leaving childhood.

In fact, lots of ocean dwellers live longer than tortoises. Bowhead whales can live more than 200 years. Even a humble koi fish is thought to have survived to age 226. 

The sharks have one thing in common with tortoises, though: They both move very slowly. Greenland sharks tend to swim at about 1 or 2 miles per hour.

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Study finds reading books could help lengthen your life

Reading a chapter a day may keep the doctor away. That's according to a new study of the benefits of reading books. 

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Researchers say they found book readers live an average of two years longer than people who don't read at all.

The study's authors analyzed data from more than 3,500 people who were participating in a larger health study. They were all over the age of 50 and answered several questions about reading.

Researchers then divided the participants into three groups: those who didn't read any books, those who read books for up to three and a half hours a week and those who read books longer than that.

After controlling for certain factors such as gender, education level, income and race, the authors found those who read for up to three and a half hours per week were 17 percent less likely to die over 12 years of follow-up. 

And those participants who reported reading more than that were 23 percent less likely to die.

The study's senior author told The New York Times, "People who report as little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read."

The reason why book lovers appear to live longer is still unclear, but several recent studies have shown books can have a positive impact on a person's life.

Researchers found children who had access to books were able to expect a higher adult income than those who didn't in a report published in The Economic Journal back in the spring.

You can read more about this most recent study in the journal Social Science & Medicine. After all, it's good for your health.

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Company given go-ahead for first commercial mission to the moon

For the first time, a private company has gotten the go-ahead to fly beyond Earth's orbit and land on the moon.

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The Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday approved an application for Florida-based Moon Express Inc. to land on the planet in 2017, according to the company.

“We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth's eighth continent, the moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth's economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said in a statement.

The company plans to “land a washing machine-sized vehicle on the moon that would take hops across the lunar surface using engine firings instead of roving on wheels,” The Associated Press reported.

Moon Express already has five customers lined up for its maiden voyage, according to the wire service – including a company that plans to take people's ashes to the moon.

Richards told the AP that Moon Express plans to launch a spacecraft late next year, most likely out of New Zealand. However, the company has yet to finish building its lander.

"In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to Earth,” Moon Express Chairman Naveen Jain said. “In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of Earth's economy and potentially our second home. Imagine that."

Moon Express applied for permission to launch its lunar mission in April. It was approved after the company consulted with the FAA, the White House, the State Department, NASA and other federal agencies.

If the company is successful, it would win the Google Lunar X Prize for being the first private group to make it to the moon, The New York Times reported. The prize carries a $20 million reward.

Previously, only governments have flown into outer space. Only three countries have ever landed spacecraft on the moon: the United States, China and the former Soviet Union.

Why do sunflowers follow the sun?

Why do sunflowers follow the sun? More sunlight equals better growth, and the plants know it.

New research shows this sun-tracking is a circadian rhythm. The plants turn overnight to face east because their internal clocks anticipate sunrise.

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Biologists at the University of California, Davis demonstrated this regulation and its reliance on the sun when they moved the plants into a room with constant overhead light. Their east-west rhythm deteriorated in a few days.

And when researchers staked plants in place or turned their pots away from the sun in the mornings, they didn't grow as big as the rest.

This sun-following behavior eventually stops naturally when the sunflower matures and its priority shifts from growth to pollination.

Mature sunflowers face east constantly to catch the first rays of the sun. According to the researchers, "bees like warm flowers" — as much as five times more than cold ones.

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