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SKYE on AOL

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    We're big fans of the wingsuit videos hitting the Web these days, and this new short is no exception. Featuring pilot Espen Fadness, it opens with him perched on the edge of a mountain in what looks to be the Alps. Moments later, he leaps off the edge, wings out, taking flight.

    The perspective his helmet-mounted camera offers is simply breathtaking.

    "It's a choice I've made," Fadness says in the video, reflecting on his hair-raising flights, "making people who care about me worry."

    But when he jumps, he says, "There's only now."

    Via The Adventure Blog

     

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    Artist's conception of the GOES-13 satellite. (NASA)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. weather satellite that tracks the East Coast and Atlantic hurricanes is broken.

    Meteorologists are scrambling to fill in lost data for forecasters with a spare satellite and help from a European satellite.

    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesman Scott Smullen said engineers shut down the East Coast satellite on Sunday because of vibrations. They're still trying to diagnose the problem.

    Smullen said there may be a slight decrease in the accuracy of weather forecasts. NOAA is checking to see if it will affect hurricane forecasting.

    The $500 million satellite was launched in 2006, but it wasn't used regularly to monitor weather until 2010.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    (NOAA)

    MIAMI (AP) - U.S. forecasters say Miriam is currently a Category 2 hurricane churning well off Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

    Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said Miriam is packing top sustained winds near 105 mph. At 5 a.m. EDT Tuesday, the hurricane was centered about 405 miles southwest of the southern tip of the Baja peninsula.

    The center says Miriam was moving northwest at 6 mph (9 kph). No coastal watches or warnings are in effect, but ocean swells will impact Baja's southern and western shore over the coming days.

    In the open Atlantic, Tropical Storm Nadine was meandering far from land with top sustained winds of about 45 mph.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    The severe storm's high winds and pounding hail struck Mentor Headlands Beach on Lake Erie over the weekend, forcing one beachgoer to seek shelter from an unexpected object.

     

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    Rescuers search for survivors and victims in the debris field of an avalanche on Mount Manaslu in northern Nepal. (AP)

    KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) - The climbers killed in a weekend avalanche in the Himalayas were part of a crush of mountaineers who came to the slope because of heightened tensions between Chinese authorities and Tibetans.

    China rejected climbing permits for mountaineers hoping to scale peaks in the Tibetan Himalayas, forcing many to crowd onto mountains in Nepal, according to alpine companies.

    As a result, about 30 teams were registered to climb Mount Manaslu, a 50 percent increase over last year, said Ang Tshering, who runs the popular Asian Trekking agency in Nepal.

    About two dozen climbers were sleeping at a camp high on the mountain early Sunday when the avalanche swept over them. Rescuers have so far brought down the bodies of eight victims - four French, one each from Germany, Italy and Spain, and a Nepali guide.

    Tibet is a sensitive area for China, which sometimes limits access for foreign tourists. It has also in the past restricted the number of permits issued to climbers, and even stopped issuing them in 2008 while Chinese climbers took the Olympic torch to the top of Mount Everest before the Beijing Games.

    Relations between Tibet and the Chinese government have been volatile this year, as many Tibetans set themselves on fire to bring attention to what they say is their suffering under China's repressive policies. China claims Tibet has always been Chinese territory, but most Tibetans say the Himalayan region was independent for much of its history.

    Chinese officials did not accept applications for climbing permits this year, without giving any reason, said Tshering of Asian Trekking, who is also the representative for the China Tibet Mountaineering Association.

    As a result, climbers who were planning to climb Cho Oyu or Shisapangma in the Tibetan region changed their destination to Manaslu, a popular choice because it was not as difficult a climb as other high mountains, Tshering said. It also has a relatively cheap $5,000 permit, compared to $35,000 for Everest during the autumn season.

    Other mountains also saw an increase in traffic, Tshering said,

    Bikram Newpane of the Katmandu-based Himalayan Rescue Association, which helps mountaineers in distress, said China's ban on permits for climbing the northern face of the Himalayas in Tibet could have added to the dangers.

    "It is never 100 percent safe up on the mountains and the risks are always there. But there were more people on the mountains this year," Newpane said.

    Overcrowding has been a concern because of limited space on trails and short windows of safety for summiting mountains.

    Four people were killed on Mount Everest during the May climbing season when a traffic jam pushed dozens of climbers on the same narrow path to the summit, forcing many to stay too long at high altitudes and exhaust their oxygen supplies.

    It is not clear if the extra people on Manaslu contributed to the tragedy. What does appear clear is that many would not have been on that mountain had their Tibetan climbing permits been accepted.

    However, a crush of climbers could have benefits too, providing extra hands for rescue operations. Newpane praised the swift rescue on Manaslu, carried out by the trekking agencies that organized the expeditions.

    Climbers also blame climate change for some of the recent tragedies on the Himalayan peaks, which have been hit by warmer weather that melts more snow and makes the surface unstable.

    "The uncertainty of the weather condition has increased in the past few years on the mountains. The melting glaciers on the mountains make the grounds unstable," said Zimba Zangbu of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

    Zangbu said it continued to rain for two weeks in Nepal during the monsoon season that just ended.

    "When it rains in the rest of the country, it snows on the mountains. Manaslu was also blanketed with soft snow," he said, adding that this type of snowfall does not get packed on the mountain surface and can lead to avalanches.

    The spring season is more popular for climbers because the weather conditions are better on higher peaks before the monsoon brings rain and snow. High winds in the area known as the death zone over 8,000 meters (26,400 feet) also make climbing difficult during autumn.

     

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    (AP)

    SEATTLE - The infection is as grim as it sounds: "Zombie bees" have a parasite that causes them to fly at night and lurch around erratically until they die.

    And experts say the condition has crept into Washington state.

    "I joke with my kids that the zombie apocalypse is starting at my house," said Mark Hohn, a novice beekeeper who spotted the infected insects at his suburban Seattle home.

    Hohn returned from vacation a few weeks ago to find many of his bees either dead or flying in jerky patterns and then flopping on the floor.

    He remembered hearing about zombie bees, so he collected several of the corpses and popped them into a plastic bag. About a week later, the Kent man had evidence his bees were infected: the pupae of parasitic flies.

    "Curiosity got the better of me," Hohn said.

    The zombie bees were the first to be confirmed in Washington state, The Seattle Times reported.

    San Francisco State University biologist John Hafernik first discovered zombie bees in California in 2008.

    Hafernik now uses a website to recruit citizen scientists like Hohn to track the infection across the country. Observers also have found zombie bees in Oregon and South Dakota.

    The infection is another threat to bees that are needed to pollinate crops. Hives have been failing in recent years due to a mysterious ailment called colony collapse disorder, in which all the adult honey bees in a colony suddenly die.

    The life cycle of the fly that infects zombie bees is reminiscent of the movie "Alien," the newspaper reported. A small adult female lands on the back of a honeybee and injects eggs into the bee's abdomen. The eggs hatch into maggots.

    "They basically eat the insides out of the bee," Hafernik said.

    After consuming their host, the maggots pupate, forming a hard outer shell that looks like a fat, brown grain of rice. That's what Hohn found in the plastic bag with the dead bees. Adult flies emerge in three to four weeks.

    There's no evidence yet that the parasitic fly is a major player in the bees' decline, but it does seem the pest is targeting new hosts, said Steve Sheppard, chairman of the entomology department at Washington State University.

    "It may occur a lot more widely than we think," he said.

    That's what Hafernik hopes to find out with his website, zombeewatch.org. The site offers simple instructions for collecting suspect bees, watching for signs of parasites and reporting the results.

    Once more people start looking, the number of sightings will probably climb, Hohn said.

    "I'm pretty confident I'm not the only one in Washington state who has them," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Biggest Insects

     

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    A crew member adjusts the space capsule of the Red Bull Stratos mission in the pressure chamber at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, on Sept. 24. (AP)

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - The countdown is on for skydiver Felix Baumgartner.

    In just two weeks, Baumgartner will attempt to go supersonic when he jumps from a record altitude of 23 miles over New Mexico. Project managers announced Tuesday the feat will take place Oct. 8.

    The Austrian parachutist jumped from 13 miles in March and 18 miles in July. This time, he hopes to break the all-time record of 19.5 miles set in 1960.

    A giant helium balloon will hoist a pressurized capsule with Baumgartner inside, dressed in a pressure suit.

    Baumgartner expects to reach a top speed of 690 mph and break the sound barrier with only his body, less than a half-minute after he hops from his capsule.

    The same capsule was used for Baumgartner's two practice jumps but was damaged in the latest touchdown. It smashed down hard despite its parachute, and the outer shell had to be replaced with parts from a backup capsule. The entire craft was taken apart and reassembled.

    The repairs and retesting pushed the final flight from August to October.

    "I feel like a tiger in a cage waiting to get out," Baumgartner, 43, said in a statement.

    Project officials note that excellent weather will be needed to launch the 30 million-cubic-foot helium balloon from Roswell. Early fall is generally an optimal time for such endeavors.

    The entire flight will be monitored by a NASA-like Mission Control; the mission is known as Red Bull Stratos, short for stratosphere. One of the lead team members is record-holder Joe Kittinger, who was an Air Force captain when he took part in the military high-jump project.

    This time, the effort is privately funded by the energy drink maker.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos of Daredevil Skydiver Felix Baumgartner

     

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  • 09/25/12--06:33: A Campfire for Any Occasion
  • The scent of stale coffee wafts through otherwise all-too-sterile office halls. The guy in the cubicle to your left must have showered in Axe Body Spray. And somebody microwaved Indian food in the communal kitchen again. Groan.

    Itching to get away?

    For every inner outdoorsman who's chained to a desk, bathing in florescent light from 9 to 5, the folks at Antler & Co. have the answer: Campfire Cologne. Yep, it's a real thing, but the word "cologne" might be a little misleading. Campfire Cologne is closer to incense than any eau de toilette.

    According to its website, Campfire Cologne is "a nostalgic ode to cooking over the fire, secret swimming holes and the unending days of youth."

    Just light a few sticks, extinguish the flames, close your eyes and breathe in the sweet scent of the great outdoors.

    Ahhhh.

    Via Adventure Journal

     

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    Residents of Footdee, a small fishing village in Aberdeen, Scotland, awoke to find their houses, cars and streets covered in white this morning. No, it wasn't an early snowstorm that blanketed the town. It was sea foam -- or spume -- blown in from the North Sea by heavy winds and crashing waves.

    A Marine Scotland spokesman told BBC News: "Sea foam is created by the interaction of sea water movement and plant plankton residues." The organic mixture turned the area into a natural bubble bath, making for an incredible scene.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Truly Bizarre Creatures of the Deep

     

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    Brown marmorated stink bugs feed on "about anything that makes a seed or a fruit," said Ames Herbert, a Virginia Tech University entomologist. (David R. Lance, USDA | Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported)

    By Eli MacKinnon

    An invading force is laying the groundwork for a coup in the United States this year, and it's going on right under our noses. The brown marmorated stink bug, an insect species from Asia that has been steadily expanding its range since it landed on the East Coast 15 years ago, will begin to sneak into the homes of unprepared Americans by the hundreds in the coming weeks, entomologists say.

    And because of an unusual late-season surge in the invasive pest's numbers, scientists and crop specialists worry that the bug could make one of its strongest showings ever when it comes out of hiding in the spring.

    "We've seen increases in populations over the last month or so," said Tracy Leskey, a research entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "This is something that's different than in 2011."

    Behind the invasion

    In early fall, the stink bugs start to look for shelter in warm, indoor crannies, and attics are among their favorite places to set up thousands-thick overwintering settlements. A late batch of stink bug nymphs was born last October, but the majority probably perished in the field before maturing, Leskey told Life's Little Mysteries.

    This year, however, two full generations have already managed to reach maturity -- likely due in part to an early spring -- so more will be ready to weather the winter and start multiplying as soon as spring arrives, according to Leskey. [Image Gallery: Invasive Species]

    In the United States, brown marmorated stink bugs are most prevalent in the Mid-Atlantic states. A recent national survey conducted by Hometeam Pest Defense found that 59 percent of Washington, D.C., homeowners had had problems with the bugs, making the nation's capital their densest urban stronghold. But the invasive species has now spread to 38 states, including California and Oregon, according to USDA-funded research.

    Who should worry?

    Beyond the unpleasant smell they release when frightened or smashed, the pests pose no threat to homeowners. But their wide-ranging appetites and their dearth of natural predators in the United States make them a costly concern to farmers.

    "About anything that makes a seed or a fruit they'll eat," said Ames Herbert, an entomologist at Virginia Tech University who researches ways to protect Virginia's soy bean crop from the brown marmorated stink bug.

    Herbert said crop infestations in Virginia were not as densely populated this year as they were in 2011 but that the bug has roughly doubled its range since last year, with colonies registered in about 40 of the state's 95 counties.

    There are no comprehensive estimates on the economic damage caused by stink bugs, but an analysis by the U.S. Apple Association found that stink bugs cost Mid-Atlantic apple growers $37 million in 2010.

    What to do?

    Both Leskey and Herbert are hopeful that coordinated research and surveillance efforts will help turn the tide against the stink bug. Leskey said researchers have isolated an important stink bug pheromone, which could revolutionize trapping efforts.

    She also said an Asian wasp that is one of the bug's natural predators is being tested for introduction to the United States.

    Homeowners who want to avoid harboring stink bugs for the winter should make sure their homes are well-sealed, Leskey said.

    Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    Image Album: Invasive Species
    Clumsy Insects Inspire Clever Flying Robot
    West Nile Outbreak Concerns Rise: Is Pesticide Spraying Safe?

    Copyright 2012 Lifes Little Mysteries, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Biggest Insects

     

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    Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, the photo was assembled by combining 10 years of NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken of a patch of sky at the center of the original Hubble Ultra Deep Field. (NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth, D. Magee, and P. Oesch (University of California, Santa Cruz), R. Bouwens (Leiden University), and the HUDF09 Team)

    By Clara Moskowitz

    The Hubble Space Telescope has captured the farthest-ever view into the universe, a photo that reveals thousands of galaxies billions of light-years away.

    The picture, called eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, combines 10 years of Hubble telescope views of one patch of sky. Only the accumulated light gathered over so many observation sessions can reveal such distant objects, some of which are one ten-billionth the brightness that the human eye can see.

    The photo is a sequel to the original "Hubble Ultra Deep Field," a picture the Hubble Space Telescope took in 2003 and 2004 that collected light over many hours to reveal thousands of distant galaxies in what was the deepest view of the universe so far. The XDF goes even farther, peering back 13.2 billion years into the universe's past. The universe is thought to be about 13.7 billion years old.

    "The XDF is the deepest image of the sky ever obtained and reveals the faintest and most distant galaxies ever seen," Garth Illingworth of the University of California at Santa Cruz, principal investigator of the Hubble Ultra Deep Field 2009 program, said in a statement. "XDF allows us to explore further back in time than ever before."

    The photo reveals a wide range of galaxies, from spirals that are Milky Way-lookalikes, to hazy reddish blobs that are the result of collisions between galaxies. Some of the very tiny, faint galaxies could be the seeds from which the biggest galaxies around today grew. [Most Amazing Hubble Discoveries]

    The XDF is a portrait of a small area of space in the southern constellation Fornax, and spans only a small fraction of the area of the full moon. Within that region, Hubble has revealed 5,500 galaxies, many of which existed shortly after the birth of the universe.

    The farthest-away galaxies are 13.2 billion light-years from Earth, meaning their light has taken 13.2 billion years to travel to Hubble's cameras.

    "The light from those past events is just arriving at Earth now, and so the XDF is a 'time tunnel into the distant past,'" according to a NASA statement. "The youngest galaxy found in the XDF existed just 450 million years after the universe's birth in the Big Bang."

    Hubble was only able to image these objects by amassing light in 2,000 images of the same area, with a total exposure time of 2 million seconds, through two of its cameras: the Advanced Camera for Surveys and the Wide Field Camera 3.

    Hubble was launched in April 1990, and has been visited by space shuttle crews five times since then for upgrades. The telescope, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, is still going strong, and scientists say the scope should be able to function through at least 2018.

    Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    Celestial Photos: Hubble Space Telescope's Latest Cosmic Views
    Hubble's Extreme Deep Field Sees Farther Back In Time | Video
    Hubble Telescope's Hidden Photo Treasures: 2012 Winners Gallery

    Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: More newly released photos from space

     

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    Priest Lake, Idaho. (iStockphoto)

    SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - A human finger found inside a fish at Idaho's Priest Lake has been traced to a wakeboarder who lost four fingers in an accident more than two months earlier.

    Fisherman Nolan Calvin found the finger while he was cleaning the trout he caught Sept. 11. He put it on ice and called the Bonner County, Idaho, sheriff's office, the Spokesman-Review newspaper reported.

    Detectives were able to get a fingerprint off the severed digit. They matched it to a fingerprint card for Haans Galassi, 31, of Colbert, Wash., and called him Tuesday morning.

    Investigators learned that Galassi lost four fingers from his left hand in a June 21 accident on the same lake where the fish was caught.

    "The sheriff called me and told me he had a strange story to tell me," Galassi said Tuesday. "He said that a fisherman was out on Priest Lake, and I pretty much knew exactly what he was going to say at that point.

    "I was like: Let me guess, they found my fingers in a fish."

    The fish was caught about eight miles from where Galassi had lost his fingers, the sheriff's office said.

    Galassi had been on a camping trip at the scenic lake when he decided to go wakeboarding. He told the newspaper his hand got caught in a loop in the towline, and he couldn't pull it out before the line tightened behind the boat that was going to pull him.

    When he finally broke free, he didn't feel much pain. But then he looked at his hand.

    "I pulled my hand out of the water and it had pretty much lopped off all four fingers," he said. "It was a lot of flesh and bone, not a lot of blood."

    He was taken by helicopter to a Spokane hospital.

    Galassi has been undergoing therapy twice a week for his injured hand. He still has half of his index and pointer fingers on that hand.

    "I can still grip things and grab and hold the steering wheel with it," Galassi said.

    The sheriff's office offered to return the finger, but Galassi declined.

    "I'm like, 'uhhh, I'm good,'" he said.

    Detective Sgt. Gary Johnston of the sheriff's office said the agency will keep the digit for a few weeks in case Galassi changes his mind.

    "There's still three more, too," Johnston said. "It's hard to say where those are going to end up."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Truly Bizarre Creatures of the Deep

     

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    Nebraska Farmer Gives Thanks Despite Drought

    BENNINGTON, Nebraska (AP) - One 79-year-old U.S. farmer let The Associated Press show the world what he's weathered during the country's worst drought in decades.

    Using a camera powered by solar panels and mounted on a pole overlooking Duane Braesch's cornfield in Nebraska, AP photographer Nati Harnik chronicled the wilting effects of extreme heat over August and much of September that turned Braesch's crop from a vibrant emerald to a sickly yellow.

    Snapping a picture every 10 minutes, the camera was shrouded in plastic to shield it from rainfall. But significant rain came just twice in 59 days. Braesch and his son ultimately reaped just half of what they would typically expect in a harvest.

    Yet during a summer in which many other farmers simply declared their crops a complete bust and knocked them down for feed to livestock, Braesch says, "we're just pretty lucky we got what we got."

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - U.S. forecasters say Miriam is rapidly weakening and has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm well off Mexico's Baja California peninsula.

    The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Miriam had top sustained winds of 70 mph at 5 a.m. EDT Wednesday, down sharply from a day earlier. The storm was centered about 430 miles west-southwest of the southern tip of the Baja peninsula.

    Miriam is moving northwest at 6 mph. No coastal watches or warnings are in effect and more weakening is expected.

    In the open Atlantic, Tropical Storm Nadine remains far from land. It is about 530 miles south-southwest of the Azores islands with top sustained winds of about 45 mph.

     

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    A vampire squid in a typical feeding position, drifting horizontally in the deep sea with one of its filaments extended. (Credit: (c) 2011 MBARI)

    Despite their name, vampire squid are not deep-sea bloodsuckers. In fact, new research finds these mysterious creatures are garbage disposals of the ocean.

    Using long, skinny tendrils called filaments, vampire squid capture marine detritus hovering in the water - from crustacean eyes and legs to larvae poop - then coat it in mucus before chowing down, according to the new findings.

    The discovery is a first for cephalopods, which include squid, octopus and cuttlefish, said study researcher Henk-Jan Hoving.

    "It's the first record of a cephalopod that doesn't hunt for living prey," Hoving, a postdoctoral scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, told LiveScience.

    A mystery squid

    Vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), which grow to be about a foot (30 centimeters) long, are widespread but not well-known. Even their life spans remains a mystery. Their name comes from their dark coloring, red eyes and the cloak-like webbing between their arms. And as namesakes of the undead, vampire squid apparently have little need for breathing. They thrive in oceanic oxygen minimum zones, where the oxygen levels are sometimes less than 5 percent that of the surrounding air.

    Adding to their mystique, vampire squid are capable of bioluminescence. They use this self-made light to blend in with sunlight filtering down to the deep sea.

    Along with their eight arms, vampire squid have two long, whiplike filaments. Researchers have long suspected that these long tendrils might help the squid feed, but the new study is the first to clarify how. [Under the Sea: A Squid Album]

    Hoving and his colleagues observed captured vampire squid in the lab and also pored over 24 hours of videotape of vampire squid seen between 1992 and 2012 in their natural environments in Monterey Bay submarine canyon off the coast of Northern California.

    Hoving said he first noticed that after researchers added some food to a tank containing a captive vampire squid, the animal retracted its filament and wiped it off on its suckered arms. And in the videos, Hoving noticed vampire squid with "amorphous masses" in their mouths.

    After Hoving examined the digestive tract contents of museum specimens of squid, he began to put the pieces together. Instead of containing chewed-up fish or crustaceans as the stomachs of most cephalopods do, the vampire squid stomachs held bits of flotsam and jetsam: fish eggs, bits of crustacean antennae and eyes and legs, larvae and even larvae feces, among other things. These scraps were cemented together by chunks of mucus.

    Vampire feeding strategy

    An anatomical examination of the squid revealed their suckers have no suction power; rather, they excrete mucus. What appears to happen, Hoving said, is that squid hover in the water, extending out a filament (which can be up to eight times as long as their own body). Such behavior was seen in 33 percent of video observations.

    Marine detritus, including bits of dead crustaceans, larvae, eggs and even tiny jellyfish-like creatures called salps, fall and float past the filament, getting caught on sticky hairs on the structure. The squid can then pull in the food and brush it onto their arms, which coat the food with mucus to stick it together. Finger-like appendages called cirri then move the food toward the mouth at the base of the arms. [10 Scariest Sea Creatures]

    This passive eating style enables the squid to live in low-oxygen zones in the ocean, Hoving said. Vampire squid also have extremely low metabolisms and a specialized protein in their respiratory system that clings strongly to oxygen molecules, he said.

    With this knowledge, Hoving said, researchers can study how fast the squid grow and how long they live.

    "It shows again that cephalopods are extremely adapted in a wide variety of ways to the ocean habitat," Hoving said. "They're very successful in the world's oceans. It's amazing that some of these cephalopods have even found ways to live under conditions that are adverse to most other animals."

    The researchers reported their findings on Sept. 25 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

    Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    In Photos: Spooky Deep-Sea Creatures
    Famous Fangs: Tales of Our Favorite Vampires
    Marine Marvels: Spectacular Photos of Sea Creatures

    Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    Aerial view of illuminated cityscape, Beijing, China (Alamy)

    By Louise Watt

    BEIJING (AP) - Beijing authorities have completed a network of monitors that will more accurately measure air quality in the smog-ridden city after being pushed into it by public pressure and pollution reports from the U.S. embassy.

    The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said Saturday that another 15 monitoring stations had begun releasing real-time data on small particulates known as PM2.5. The tiny pollution particles that may result from the burning of fuels in vehicles and power plants can penetrate deep into the lungs, so measuring them is considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods.

    Chinese citizens have prodded their government into publishing more detailed pollution data since the U.S. Embassy started publishing PM2.5 readings taken from its rooftop on Twitter.

    Beijing started releasing PM2.5 data in January. It now has 35 monitoring stations set up in central Beijing and its suburbs, including near tourist favorites Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Beijing Botanical Garden.

    The monitors will run for a three-month trial, and then the city's environmental protection department will formally use PM2.5 to evaluate the city's air quality, rather than relying on the larger particles it currently measures.

    White mist sat stubbornly among the captial's skyscrapers on Sunday as people traveled home on the final day of an eight-day public holiday that had brought with it mostly blue skies as industry shut down.

    "Is it fog or is the PM2.5 higher than normal?" Zhao Yiyi, at Beijing Airport, wrote on the popular microblogging site Sina Weibo. She added, "Such air quality, it's horrible."

    Just after lunchtime, the U.S. Embassy, which measures the air from its rooftop, tweeted that the PM2.5 reading, at 137 micrograms per cubic meter, was unhealthy.

    The Beijing environmental monitoring website reported a similar reading from a nearby station for that hour, but it didn't interpret the data. Guidance on the website suggested that such a reading would be termed satisfactory if it became part of the daily air quality roundup. The U.S. Embassy rates pollution levels according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard, which is more stringent than the one used by the Chinese government.

    Appearing frustrated with the dueling standards, the Chinese government told the embassy to stop publishing the data in June. It said it wasn't fair to judge Chinese air by American standards because China is a developing country and noted that U.S. environmental guidelines have become more strict over time.

    U.S. consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu also post readings of the cities' air quality on Twitter.

    Last month, the U.S. ambassador to China indicated that its remaining consulates in Shenyang and Wuhan would also monitor air pollution levels.

    "We've been criticized by the Chinese government for having such a monitor, but we feel it's a duty - our duty to inform our dependents and our Americans of the air conditions there so they can make appropriate decisions regarding the health of their children and themselves," Gary Locke said, according to the transcript of the event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. "We're expanding this to all the different consulates throughout China."

    Explaining PM2.5 to the audience, Locke said: "It's the really invisible stuff that can really cause a lot of damage to respiratory systems and health. It's almost akin to being exposed to secondhand smoke constantly, or even smoking several packs a day."

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    The International Space Station (Wikimedia)

    By Marcia Dunn

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - A private company is on the verge of launching another cargo ship to the International Space Station.

    On Sunday night, California-based SpaceX will attempt to send a Dragon capsule to the orbiting lab and its three-member crew.

    Liftoff of the company's unmanned Falcon rocket is scheduled for 8:35 p.m. EDT. Forecasters put the odds of acceptable weather at 60 percent. Thick clouds and rain are the main concerns.

    A Dragon cargo ship successfully docked to the space station last May, but that was considered a test flight. The coming mission is the first under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA that calls for a dozen resupply flights by SpaceX, essential in the post-shuttle era.

    "We got there once. We demonstrated we could do it, so there might be a teeny, teeny bit of relaxation. Not a lot, though," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told reporters Saturday night.

    NASA was monitoring a potentially threatening piece of orbiting junk, but said that even if the space station had to steer clear of the object, that would not delay the SpaceX mission.

    This newest Dragon will haul about 1,000 pounds of food, clothes and gear, including ice cream for the American, Russian and Japanese astronauts on board. (The ice cream will go up in freezers meant for research). Even more cargo will be coming back.

    The capsule will remain docked to the space station for most of October. Astronauts will fill the capsule with blood and urine samples, other experiments and old equipment, for its return to Earth at the end of the month. By then, the complex will be back to a full crew of six.

    The nearly 500 tubes of blood and syringes of urine have been stashed in space station freezers since the last space shuttle flight, by Atlantis, in July 2011. The decommissioned Atlantis, and sister ships Discovery and Endeavour, are now museum relics.

    NASA nutritionist Scott Smith said these blood and urine samples - part of medical studies - will be the first to be returned since Atlantis' final voyage.

    "This is the first real return vehicle for this type of sample," Scott said.

    The cargo ships periodically flown by Russia, Japan and Europe do not have the capability to return anything; they burn up upon re-entry. The SpaceX Dragons parachute down into the Pacific, reminiscent of NASA's old-time capsules.

    "While it may seem very strange to some folks, my typical line is that, 'It may be urine to you, but it's gold to us,'" Smith said. "There's a lot of science that comes out of this."

    NASA's space station program manager, Mike Suffredini, is also thrilled about having an American spacecraft bearing goods. It's much easier to get last-minute equipment aboard a U.S. capsule, he noted. The Dragon, for example, will carry up a new pump for the space station's urine-into-drinking water recycling system.

    "Shipping and customs can kill you when you're trying to get overseas," Suffredini said.

    SpaceX - or Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - is run by billionaire Elon Musk, a co-founder of PayPal who also directs the electric car maker Tesla Motors.

    His space company is working to turn the unmanned Dragon vessels into craft that could carry Americans to the space station in the coming years. Until SpaceX or another U.S. company can do that, NASA astronauts will have to keep riding on Russian rockets at a steep cost.

    SpaceX estimates it will be ready to launch crews aboard Dragons in three years.

    NASA, meanwhile, expects to name within a few weeks the U.S. astronaut and Russian cosmonaut who will spend an entire year aboard the space station, beginning in spring 2015, twice the usual length for a mission. Suffredini said the list of potential candidates is "very short."

    Another NASA official said only previous space station crew members are under consideration for the two slots because they're already trained in the systems of the orbiting complex.

    On Friday, the space agency said it would commit to a yearlong mission to learn what it will take for humans to journey beyond low-Earth orbit - Mars, for example.

    Russia already knows. Three cosmonauts spent at least a year aboard the old Mir space station; the record for a single stint is almost 15 months.

    No American has spent more than seven months in space at a time.

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    Breaking Weather: Dull, Damp and Dreary


    Much of the East will begin the workweek with chilly temperatures on Monday morning, as a cold dome of high pressure extending from Southern Plains through the Ohio Valley shifts northeastward into the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic. Many areas from the Southern Plains into the inner Northeast will remain under various Freeze Watches and Frost Advisories through the early morning as temperatures remain near freezing. After a chilly start to the day, daytime temperatures in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and parts of the Midwest will struggle to recover during the afternoon. Daytime highs are expected to range from the mid-40s in the northernmost parts of the Upper Midwest and Northeast to 60s throughout much of the northeastern quadrant of the nation. Meanwhile, cold flow associated with this system will spread across the warmer waters of the Great Lakes and trigger lake-effect precipitation downwind of the lakes.

    Elsewhere in the East, a cold front and wave of low pressure will become nearly stationary across the southeastern corner of the nation. Showers and thunderstorms will develop from the Florida Peninsula northward through the Mid-Atlantic during the day and along the Northeast coast by Tuesday.

    Behind this activity, a storm system skirting along the U.S.-Canadian border will drop southeastward toward the Upper Great Lakes by Monday night. Light rain showers will accompany this system across parts of North Dakota, northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. High pressure filling in behind this system will help kick up possible snow showers in the Northern Rockies.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Sunday have ranged from a morning low of 6 degrees at Laramie, Wyo., to a high of 93 degrees at El Centro, Calif.

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    This time-lapse video features images taken at Concordia Research Station in Antarctica. The station resides on the Antarctic Plateau and operates year-round.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Dazzling Photos of the Northern Lights

     

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