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Stephen Hawking: Be wary of answering if space aliens come calling

Physicist Stephen Hawking said he is convinced that humans are not the only intelligent life form in the universe.

In a newly released 25-minute film from Curiosity Stream — an online video on demand site — Hawking discusses his quest to find alien life.

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In “Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places,” Hawking told USA Today that scientists have found thousands of planets outside our solar system in recent years. 

“Some are burning hells, gates of fire and lava, others are solid diamond made in deadly X-rays from a dying star, but some are more like home,” he said. 

Hawking takes viewers to Gliese 832c, which could be one of the closest habitable planets discovered so far.

He said one day we might receive a signal back from a planet like Gliese 832c.

“We should be wary of answering back,” he said.  “Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus — that didn’t turn out so well.”

Hawking said the discovery of intelligent life would be the greatest scientific discovery in history.

“It would force us to change,” he said. “We would have to give up the idea that we are unique and start acting with more compassion and humility."

Autumn equinox 2016: What is it; when is it?

If you are going to enjoy summer 2016, you better hurry.

It’s over on Thursday at 10:21 a.m. (ET). That’s when the autumn equinox happens.

>> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here

What's an equinox? The equinox triggers autumn on calendars in the northern hemisphere and marks the day when the sun will shine, almost directly, over the Earth’s equator.

What does that mean? Here are a few autumnal equinox facts:

1. The word “equinox” comes from the Latin word meaning “equal night.” It refers to the roughly equal amounts of daylight and night time that happens on Thursday.

2. An equinox happens when there is an alignment between the sun and Earth in which the sun appears positioned directly above the Earth’s equator.  During the autumn equinox – and the spring one – the sun rises due east and sets due west.

3. There is ancient Maya step pyramid – El Castillo at Chichén Itzá in Mexico – where at sunset on the equinox sunlight hits the building’s staircase and creates a snake-like shape that appears to slither up the stairs.

4. From Sept. 22 onward, the days will get shorter until the Winter Solstice in December (less sunlight each day).

5. As far as meteorologists are concerned, the first day of autumn was Sept. 1. They mark meteorological seasons on Sept. 1, Dec. 1, March 1 and June 1. 

Sources: National Geographic; Encyclopedia Britannia; The Weather Channel

Dolphins might have a 'highly developed spoken language'

Apparently dolphins chat it up like you and me.

For the first time, researchers claim to have recorded a pair of dolphins having a conversation. They said they found dolphins have "a highly developed spoken language, akin to the human language."

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And apparently, the animals even wait for the other to stop talking.

The conversation between two Black Sea bottlenose dolphins was in a concrete pool at the Karadag Nature Reserve in Crimea.

According to the study published last month, dolphins speak by creating pulses or whistles. It also said they form words by changing the frequency and level of pulses. 

Researchers said the results of this study lead them to believe toothed whales have a similar "highly developed spoken language."

"The analysis of the dolphin spoken language in this study has revealed that it either directly or indirectly possesses all the known design features of the human spoken language," the study said.

But not so fast. Some scientists are skeptical. One told The Huffington Post, the study isn't "really a novel item" because similarities between how dolphins and humans communicate have been reported.

A 2007 study also claimed dolphins have their own language. The researcher found dolphins used nearly 200 different whistles.

The possibility that dolphins use a highly developed language shouldn't be surprising. Studies have found dolphins have complex brains.

Scientists just realized there's more than one kind of giraffe

You may think you know everything you need to know about giraffes. They have long necks, live in Africa, eat leaves and that's it.

But you probably didn't know there are four different kinds of giraffes. You didn't know that because scientists just found out themselves.

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A new study published in the journal Current Biology says the different giraffes should be considered different species because of their genetic diversity and the fact that the species don't interbreed in the wild.

Now we have the northern giraffe, the southern giraffe, the Masai giraffe and the reticulated giraffe. There are a few differences in the appearances of these giraffes, but they're still pretty similar looking.

That's probably why scientists didn't notice the four different kinds until they examined the massive mammal's DNA.

Study co-author Dr. Axel Janke guessed that no one noticed the differences until now because giraffes just don't get as much attention as other animals, like lions and elephants.

The distinction may seem like splitting hairs, but it could be important for the survival of all four species. The giraffe population has dwindled from 150,000 to 90,000 over the past three decades.

But when you look at the population of each individual species, the numbers become a lot more concerning

Janke told The New York Times: "These 90,000, split up over four species, makes it immediately clear that the giraffes are threatened. You see immediately there is urgent need for protection."

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Juno images of Jupiter’s north pole surprise scientists

NASA’s Juno spacecraft snapped photos of Jupiter’s north pole during a six-hour fly-by on Aug. 27, and scientists are excited by the images that have been transmitted from the solar system’s largest planet.

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 “First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said in a statement. “It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to — this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter. We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.”

The spacecraft dipped to within 2,500 miles above Jupiter’s clouds, reported. It took NASA a day-and-a-half to download six megabytes of data transmitted back to Earth. Scientists said it would take more time to analyze all of the information, but NASA released the first group of images over the weekend.

JunoCam, the onboard camera, noted that there was a difference between the north poles of Jupiter and Saturn. While Saturn’s north pole is accented by a hexagonal formation, Jupiter’s is not.

 “The largest planet in our solar system is truly unique,” Bolton said.

JunoCam was one of eight instruments activated during the fly-by. The Jovian Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) caught glimpses of the Jupiter’s poles in infrared.

Juno has 35 more fly-bys scheduled for the next 20 months, before the probe dives to its demise in Jupiter’s clouds.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.  

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