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Astronomers learn more about former '10th planet'
Eris, the one-time "10th Planet" that knocked Pluto out of the planetary pantheon, has revealed more of its secrets, astronomers report. Using NASA's Swift space telescope, astronomers led by Henry Roe of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., confirm that the minor planet, 1.3 times larger than Pluto, spins once on its axis every 26 hours, slightly longer than a day on Earth.

"A coherent picture of Eris is emerging," the team concludes in the current Icarus journal. "The surface is primarily covered in bright methane frost, much like the brightest patches of Pluto's surface." Brightness measurements reported by the team indicate that frost patches on Eris heat during the planet's summer, when it closes to within nearly 9 billion miles of the sun, forming a temporary atmosphere that later snows down to resurface the icy minor planet.

Eris, named after the goddess of discord, was discovered in 2003, kicking off a dispute over the definition of a planet among astronomers.

Scientists discover unknown penguin species
Researchers studying a rare and endangered species of penguin have uncovered a breed that disappeared about 500 years ago.

The research suggests that the first humans in New Zealand hunted the newly found Waitaha penguin to extinction by 1500, about 250 years after their arrival on the islands. But the loss of the Waitaha allowed another kind of penguin to thrive -- the yellow-eyed species that now also faces extinction, Philip Seddon of Otago University, a co-author of the study, said Wednesday.

The team was testing DNA from the bones of prehistoric modern yellow-eyed penguins for genetic changes associated with human settlement when it found some bones that were older -- and had different DNA.

Tests on the older bones "lead us to describe a new penguin species that became extinct only a few hundred years ago," the team reported in a paper in the biological research journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Polynesian settlers came to New Zealand around 1250 and are known to have hunted species such as the large, flightless moa bird to extinction.

Coming to a store near you: chainless bicycles
Pedalers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.  If you've ever been riding down the street and had your pants cuff ripped asunder, there may be a revolution at hand.

Trek Bicycle is part of a movement to bury the finger-pinching, pants-munching, rust-prone sprocket and chain, and usher in an era of belt-driven bikes that might have the inventors of the self-propelled transportation Schwinning in their graves.

Wisconsin-based Trek is introducing two models this holiday season that are chainless, instead using technology most often found in things like motorcycles and snowmobiles. While some smaller custom bike makers have used them before, Trek is the first to use the technology for mass-produced bicycles.

The largest U.S. domestic bike manufacturer is hoping to capitalize on a new group of urban pedal-pushers who are trading their cars for a more low-tech way to get around because of gas prices as well as health and environmental concerns.

Scientists discover long-lost Furby-look-alike
Scientists have found a wide-eyed primate -- a clawed fur ball that fits snugly in one hand -- in the first live sighting in more than 80 years of a creature that some thought was extinct.

Over a two-month period, scientists working in Lore Lindu National Park on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi caught and released three pygmy tarsiers. They bear a striking resemblance to the Furby, an electronic toy that spoke its own fantasy language and dominated children's wish lists in the late 1990s.

They caught two males and one female, said Sharon Gursky-Doyen, a Texas A&M University anthropology professor who led the expedition. The group spotted a fourth -- high in the tree canopy -- but were unable to catch it.

The species had not been observed alive in more than eight decades, since they were collected for a museum in 1921. Many scientists had believed them to be extinct until eight years ago, when two scientists trapping rats in Sulawesi accidentally trapped and killed one.

"I needed to go myself ... to confirm in my own mind," whether they were there, Gursky-Doyen told CNN on Wednesday, after recently returning from Indonesia.

And, on the second night of trapping in August on moss-covered, chilly Mt. Rore Katimbo, her group caught the first small nocturnal creature in a mist net.

"It was truly amazing," she said. "My whole body was shaking ... I couldn't conceive that we had actually caught one."

The second trapping didn't come until three weeks later, but that first sighting "kept us going," Gursky-Doyen said, amid the cold, drenched conditions.

The pygmy tarsier, or Tarsius pumilus, weighs about 50 grams (1.7 ounces), and has dense fur, large, protruding eyes. In addition to seeming as a living, breathing version of the Furby, it also appears as though it ought to have had appeared in the 1984 movie "Gremlins."

Unlike other primates, the pygmy tarsier -- endemic to a specific area of Indonesia -- has claws instead of nails on its fingers. It is half as big as the Philippines tarsier, which has similar features.

For their part, the pygmy tarsiers may have been more frightened than elated at being discovered.

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