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Atlantis Blasts Off on End-of-Era Spaceflight

Atlantis blazed a path into history Friday as it rocketed off the launch pad for a final time, marking the last-ever liftoff of the 30-year-old American space shuttle program.

The storied spacecraft is carrying a crew of four U.S. astronauts toward the International Space Station on a 12-day mission to re-stock the orbiting lab.

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Spacecraft Eyes Raging Storm, Lightning on Saturn

It began as a bright white dot in Saturn's northern hemisphere. Within days, the dot grew larger and stormier.

Soon the tempest enveloped the ringed planet, triggering lightning flashes thousands of times more intense than on Earth.

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'Mega-Wombat' Unearthed in Australia

The fossil of a car sized mega-wombat has been unearthed in northern Australia, scientists said Wednesday -- the most complete skeleton of its kind.

Weighing in at a whopping three tons, the herbivorous diprotodon was the largest marsupial to ever roam the earth and lived between two million and 50,000 years ago.

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New Mouse in The House: Brazil Unveils Species

A new species of mouse has been discovered in Brazil, the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation announced Tuesday


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Geophysicist Says Iceland's Hekla Volcano 'Ready to Erupt'

One of Iceland's most feared volcanoes looks ready to erupt, with measurements indicating magma movement, Icelandic experts said Wednesday, raising fears of a new ash cloud halting flights over Europe.

The Hekla volcano is close to the ash-spewing Eyjafjoell, which last year caused the world's biggest airspace shut down since World War II, affecting more than 100,000 flights and eight million passengers.

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Bahamas Bans Shark Fishing

The Bahamas on Tuesday announced a ban on shark fishing, becoming the latest country to protect the ancient sea predator which is considered at risk due to demand for its fins in Chinese cuisine.

The Atlantic Ocean archipelago said it was banning the commercial fishing of sharks in its 243,000 square miles (630,000 square kilometers) of water, along with the sale, import or export of shark products.

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Mass Tourism Threatening Venice Lagoon, Say Ecologists

An Italian environmental group warned on Monday that mass tourism is slowly eroding the Venice lagoon, which it said is also threatened by major real estate development and an inadequate transport network.

Architect Cristiano Gasparetto said a 1988 study indicated that while the acceptable maximum number of tourists for Venice is 33,000 daily, today the average figure is 59,000.

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Key Color Pigment Found in Ancient Birds

An international team of researchers using sophisticated x-ray technology has found chemical traces of a key color pigment in 100-million year old fossilized birds that once formed their feather patterns.

The study, reported Thursday in the journal Science, provides a glimpse into the biochemistry of prehistoric animals and greater understanding of their diets and environment.

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Bright Galaxy Sheds Light on Early Universe

Astronomers said on Wednesday they had snared light from a bright, ancient galaxy with a super-massive black hole at its core, a finding that would help explain aspects of the young Universe.

The phenomenon is called a quasar, which are very bright but very distant galaxies with a mighty black hole at their heart.

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Gene Analysis Drives Effort to Save Tasmanian Devils

Modern conservationists could use gene analysis to better select endangered Tasmanian devils to capture in order to save the species from extinction, said a study on Monday.

The furry marsupials have been hit hard by a contagious cancer called devil facial tumor disease (DFTD) that has wiped out 70 to 90 percent of the population in some areas of its native Australia since it surfaced 15 years ago.

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