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Anthropocene epoch: Scientists want to record human impact on Earth

Life has existed on earth for at least 3.5 billion years. Humans have only been around for about 200,000 of them. And the past 60 or so have been so significant that some experts say it's already time to officially record the impact of humans in the geological record.

>> Read more trending stories

Today, mankind influences more than 83 percent of the Earth's surface in some way or another. Our movements, agriculture, industry — and our nuclear testing especially — have left permanent marks on the fossil record.

Scientists call the human epoch — or want to call it — the Anthropocene. It could have started as early as 1800 and was definitely underway by the 1950s. But geologists say these markers aren't significant enough to warrant a new era. There just isn't enough impact in the fossil record yet — despite everything we've done to the planet.

Since the 1950s, human activity has pushed Earth's natural systems so far there's concern the planet won't be able to accommodate human civilization as we know it in the future.

Scientists agree: Humans are driving potentially serious climate change. Global temperatures have climbed. Oceans have warmed and grown more acidic.

Human influence is thought to be driving declines in biodiversity. Extinction rates could be some 1,000 times faster than they were before humans showed up. Some models suggest we've already lost as much as 7 percent of known species.

And as the climate shifts, animals and plants could find it even harder to adapt. Extinctions could grow more common.

Plus, while we've created new species thanks to domestication and our movements around the globe, those species don't have the same genetic diversity as ones that have just now died out after millions of years.

In any case, impact on these animals will eventually make its way into the geological record. Whether it gets its own name or not, some of the first fossil evidence of overall human influence on the planet will be the bones of the domesticated chicken.

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NASA releases video of 3 hurricanes from space

Cameras outside the International Space Station captured dramatic footage of three hurricanes churning through the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

In a video released by NASA, Hurricane Gaston can be seen in the Atlantic Ocean, along with Hurricanes Lester and Madeline in the Pacific. Time-lapse video of the hurricanes, taken 257 miles above the Earth, shows the eye of each storm and white clouds wrapping around the center of the storm.

>> Read more trending stories  

Gaston was weakening but could impact the Azores as a tropical storm this weekend.

A hurricane watch for Lester was issued Thursday for the Big Island and Maui County.

Madeline was downgraded to a tropical storm on Wednesday.

First documented identical twin puppies born

This one's for the dog-lovers: An Irish wolfhound has given birth to the first documented set of identical twin puppies.

Kurt de Cramer, a veterinarian in South Africa, delivered the babies via cesarean section. He noticed a bump in the mother's abdomen, but didn't think much of it.

According to the BBC, de Cramer reportedly performs around 900 c-sections on dogs every year.

>> Read more trending stories  

De Cramer found two living puppies in the same placenta -- a first in his 26 years of veterinary practice.

The little ones had two separate umbilical cords, and a reproductive specialist told BBC the puppies had "small differences in the white markings on their paws, chests and the tips of their tails."

But vets weren't sure the puppies were actually identical at first -- it's not uncommon for puppies in the same litter to have similarities. Blood work later confirmed what de Cramer had thought. The puppies were identical twins.

This might not be the first set of identical twin puppies ever, but it is the first documented case.

It's difficult to say whether healthy identical twins in dogs are rare. The only reason this pair is known as identical is because they were born via C-section.

A lot of dogs give birth naturally and then eat the placenta of their young. According to the reproductive specialist on the case, this means many owners and vets are "blissfully unaware" if any identical twins are in a dog's litter.

The Irish wolfhound puppies reportedly have five other siblings. All are healthy and doing well.

What is SpaceX and what is the Falcon 9?

According to numerous reports, there has been an explosion at the SpaceX launch pad on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The Associated Press is reporting that a SpaceX rocket exploded on the launch pad during a test. There has not yet been a statement from SpaceX, the private company that manufactures and launches rockets. 

Report say the rocket involved could be the company’s Falcon 9. The Falcon 9 was set to launched Saturday,  carrying a satellite into space.

The explosion occurred during a static fire test of the rocket's engines, NASA told the Associated Press. The blast reportedly shook buildings "several miles away." According to sources, there were no injuries.

Related: SpaceX launch site explosion in Florida: What we know now

Officials say the explosion poses no threats to the general public, though one source said contractors were reportedly told to evacuate the area in case of dangerous fumes.

What is SpaceX  and what do they do? Here’s a quick look at the company founded by Elon Musk.

What is SpaceX?

SpaceX is a private company, founded by Elon Musk,  that “designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft." The company was founded in 2002 with a stated  goal of “enabling people to  live on other planets.”

The company has three space vehicles, the Falcon 9 being one of them, and employs more than 4,000 people. It is headquartered in Hawthorne, California, and has launch pads in Florida, Texas and California.

SpaceX is the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, and to dock a spacecraft – Dragon – to the International Space Station.  The Company has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly cargo resupply missions to the ISS, and a total of more than $10 billion in contracts for launches of commercial satellites and the NASA missions, its website says.

What is Falcon 9?

According to the company, Falcon 9 is a two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX to transport satellites and Dragon into orbit. The company says it is the first rocket to be completely developed in the 21st century. It has nine “first-stage” engines, and,  in 2012, it delivered Dragon into orbit so it could rendezvous with the International Space Station. The company says the Falcon 9, along with the Dragon, was conceived and built ultimately to carry humans into space.

What does it usually do?

Falcon 9 is used to get satellites to “destinations in low Earth orbit and geosynchronous transfer orbit.”

Crew members 'return to Earth' after yearlong mock Mars mission in Hawaii

Six people returned to Earth after a year on Mars ... kind of. 

>> Watch the video from Newsy

The six crew members of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation program, or HI-SEAS, spent the past year living in total isolation on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. 

The crew members lived inside a 1,200-square-foot dome and donned simulated space suits anytime they left the dome for outside research. Their communication with the mission support team was designed with a 20-minute delay to simulate the delay that would come with actually being on Mars. 

The primary goal of the yearlong mission was to study the behavioral effects of being disconnected from Earth. 

>> Read more trending stories

The HI-SEAS crew's architect said, "The UH research going on up here is just super vital when it comes to picking crews, figuring out how people are going to actually work on different kinds of missions."

This is the fourth and longest HI-SEAS mission. The next two missions are scheduled for 2017 and 2018, and each one will be eight months long.  

African forest elephants will need 90 years to recover from poaching

It will take an estimated 90 years for a species of elephants to recover from the devastation poachers caused over the course of just over a decade.

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Poachers helped reduce Africa's forest elephant population by roughly 65 percent between 2002 and 2013.

That same species has one of the slowest reproduction rates of any mammal. A female forest elephant has a baby once every five to six years, and she doesn't start reproducing until she's over 20 years old.

Researchers in a new study say the forest elephants' slow birth rate and poachers killing them for their tusks are two reasons why it will take just under a century for the species to reach the same population level it had in 2002.

Poachers have caused so much damage already that if all the killings stopped immediately, it'd still take about 40 years for forest elephants to recover.

The species isn't quite an endangered population yet, but it is considered vulnerable.

Forest elephants also have an important role in their ecosystem; many tree species rely on the animals to spread their seeds.

This new study comes just days before one of the world's largest conservation events begins. This year, a motion is up for a vote that would call on governments to close ivory markets within their borders.

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Who is Valery Spiridonov? 5 things to know about Russian volunteer for first human head transplant

An Italian neuroscientist is making headlines after announcing plans to next year perform the world’s first head transplant on a Russian man who has volunteered for the controversial operation.

Valery Spiridonov, 31, has agreed to allow Dr. Sergio Canavero, Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren and a team of about 80 other doctors to decapitate him and place his head on a donor body. Though Ren has reportedly performed the surgery, successfully, on a mouse and a monkey, it would be a first for the human race.

>> Read more trending stories

Much has been written about Canavero, who first announced his plans last year. But who is Spiridonov? Here are five things to know about the man willing to go under the knife.

>>READ MORE: How would a head transplant be done?

  • Spiridonov works from his home in Vladimir, about 120 miles east of Moscow, running an educational software business, according to a story in the September issue of the Atlantic.

  • Spiridonov is terminally ill. He is bound to a wheelchair by Werdnig-Hoffmann disease, a genetic disorder that causes muscles to waste away and motor neurons to die. The illness has limited his movements to feeding himself, typing and steering his wheelchair with a joystick.

  • Spiridonov has already beaten the odds. Doctors have told him that he should have died of the disease years ago, according to the Atlantic’s profile.

  • Spiridonov has come up with a novel way to help fund the surgery, estimated to cost between $10 million and $100 million. He has begun selling hats, T-shirts, mugs and iPhone covers, all with an image of his head on a new body, online as a way to raise funds for the experiment.

  • Spiridonov is not the only person who has volunteered to be the first potentially-successful head transplant patient. Nearly a dozen others, including a man whose body is full of tumors, have approached the doctors asking to go first, the Atlantic reported.

  • To learn more about the controversial and groundbreaking surgery planned to save Spiridonov’s life, read the Atlantic’s profile

    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.

    >> Read more trending stories

    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 sawfish@myfwc.com."

    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.

    >> Read more trending stories

    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.

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