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Soft robots could make human interactions with robots safer

Soft things are cute. Soft things are also fun to touch. And that's part of the reason why you should care about this recently developed soft octopus robot.

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According to a study in the journal Nature, soft robots could even make human interactions with robots safer than with more conventional "rigid" robots.

The autonomous robot is "the first self-contained robot made exclusively of soft, flexible parts."

It's powered by gas. Harvard University explains it this way: "A reaction inside the bot transforms a small amount of liquid fuel (hydrogen peroxide) into a large amount of gas, which flows into the octobot’s arms and inflates them like a balloon."

The octopus was also the inspiration for another soft robot introduced this year. That wiggly robot was modeled after the flexible, color-changing skin of the animals.

And the flexible technology of both of these bots could mean big advances in health care. The soft, untethered technology of the most recent octobot could come in handy during surgeries.

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‘Modern-day dinosaur' found in Florida waters

A Florida fisherman got a humongous surprise recently when the 700-pound fish he’d hooked turned out to be a critically endangered prehistoric monster.

While filming an episode for extreme fishing show "BlacktipH Fishing," producer Joshua Jorgensen hooked a 17-foot sawfish, not realizing at first what he was getting himself into.

>> Read more trending stories

As the fish whipped its massive tail and serrated saw, the fisherman came to understand that he was going to have to hold on and enjoy the ride.

"I’m hooked up to an absolute monster," Jorgensen said, wondering if the fish was a giant ray. "He’s dragging this boat literally wherever he wants to drag it."

As soon as he realized what was on his line, Jorgensen looked into the camera and said he needed to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission because he’d hooked a sawfish.

"I’ve never seen one of these in my life and it’s a very endangered species," he said.

"How do we handle it?" Jorgensen asked an FWC agent on the phone.

He was told not to pull the fish out of the water but to try and get an accurate measurement before cutting the line.

"Research is underway to learn more about these elusive creatures, but one thing is for certain: They are dangerous," FWC said on its Facebook page. "If you catch a sawfish, be sure to keep it in the water at all times, cut the line as close to the hood as safely possible and report the encounter to (the FWC sawfish hotline) 947-255-7403 or"

The FWC also took a moment to point out that while the species is prehistoric, "sawfish are obviously not a type of dinosaur, nor are they sharks. They are actually a type of ray."

17-foot modern-day dinosaur found in Florida waters!What do you do when your “big catch” turns out to be a 17-foot...Posted by MyFWC on Friday, August 26, 2016

Students learn chemistry via beer-testing lab

A college professor is using beer to inspire chemistry students.

University of Southern Maine professor Lucille Benedict told the Portland Press Herald it can be challenging to keep students engaged in chemistry, so she started using beer as a testing medium.

Benedict oversees the school's new Quality Assurance/Quality Control and Research Laboratory.

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In a partnership with the Maine Brewers Guild, the lab will provide testing and training for breweries and brewmasters.

Students say the beer-testing lab allows them to use science to solve real-world problems. Students will focus on how a flawed brewing process can contaminate or ruin beer.

Classes for brewers begin in the fall. 

Brewers can also send samples to the lab for testing. The lab charges $25 for basic testing.

New Earth-like planet found orbiting nearby star

A new planet has been discovered that may be Earth-like, and it's really, really close. If we're ever going to look for life outside our solar system, this is probably where we'll start. Here's what scientists say about it.

>> Watch the video from Newsy

The planet might have liquid water, which is crucial to life as we know it. It's in the habitable zone, that sweet spot where it's neither too hot nor too cold to have water on its surface.

The planet orbits the closest-known star to ours, Proxima Centauri, which is about 4.25 light years away. It's in the southern sky, but it's too dim to see with the naked eye.

Four light years is nothing in space terms, but it's still too far to travel to any time soon. Our most pie-in-the-sky technology would still take decades to carry a probe there.

If we do ever travel there, it should feel somewhat familiar. The planet is about the same size as Earth, meaning gravity would be close to what we're used to. But its days and nights would be strange. It circles its sun every 11 days.

>> Read more trending stories

It's tempting to get excited about an Earth-like planet that couldn't be any closer, but there are some big unknowns. It's not clear yet whether the planet has an atmosphere or a magnetic field. Without those, the odds of finding life are pretty much zero.

Luckily, we don't have to wait too long to learn more. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is set to launch in 2018, and it will be able to look for an atmosphere. And Stephen Hawking is supporting a plan to send a probe to nearby Alpha Centauri.

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.

>> Read more trending stories

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.

>> Read more trending stories

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.

>> Read more trending stories

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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