A newfound asteroid just buzzed harmlessly by Earth

Orbit diagram for the newfound asteroid 2016 QA2, which flew by Earth on Aug. 28, 2016.

Orbit diagram for the newfound asteroid 2016 QA2, which flew by Earth on Aug. 28, 2016.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An asteroid gave Earth a close shave Sunday, Aug. 28, just a day after astronomers first spotted the object.

The newfound asteroid 2016 QA2 zoomed within 50,000 miles or so of the planet Sunday. For perspective, the moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 239,000 miles.

Astronomers think 2016 QA2 is between 80 and 180 feet wide. That means the space rock is slightly bigger than the object that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in February 2013, injuring more than 1,200 people.

The Chelyabinsk asteroid was probably 65 feet or so in diameter when it hit Earth’s atmosphere, scientists have said. (The Chelyabinsk object exploded high above the ground, generating a powerful shock wave that shattered thousands of windows. The injuries — none of which were fatal — were cuts caused by flying glass.)

The SONEAR Observatory in Brazil discovered 2016 QA2 on Saturday, Aug. 27. The asteroid has a more elliptical orbit than Earth does, coming as close to the sun as 0.76 astronomical units (AU) and getting as far away as 1.18 AU, according to the Minor Planet Center. (One AU is the average distance form Earth to the sun: about 93 million miles).

The newfound asteroid completes one lap around the sun every 350 days, researchers said.

Asteroids in 2016 QA2’s size range could conceivably do serious damage on a local scale if they hit Earth. In 1908, for example, an object thought to be about 130 feet wide exploded over Siberia, flattening trees over an 825-square-mile area. (It may seem like asteroids really have it in for Russia, but the nation’s higher incidence of strikes is just a result of its huge size.)

But an asteroid has to be really big — probably at least 0.6 miles wide — to potentially wipe out human civilization or cause some other global catastrophe, astronomers have said. Scientists think they’ve spotted about 95 percent of the potentially hazardous, mountain-size space rocks out there, and none of those objects pose a threat for the foreseeable future.

Originally published on Space.com.

Robot patrol: Israeli Army to deploy autonomous vehicles on Gaza border

The Border Protector UGV (Israel Defense Forces).

The Border Protector UGV (Israel Defense Forces).

Israel is planning to bolster its high-tech arsenal by deploying fully autonomous military vehicles along the country’s dangerous border with Gaza.

“This is the future — the border is a very dangerous place,” an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) official told FoxNews.com, citing the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), snipers, anti-tank missiles and terrorist tunnels. “Sending unmanned vehicles to do these patrols means that troops lives’ are not at risk.”

Working with Israeli defense specialist Elbit Systems, IDF has equipped Ford F-350 pickup trucks with specialized remote driving technology. The trucks, dubbed Border Protector Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), are also fitted with four driving cameras and a 360-degree observation camera to help operators identify threats. At the moment, the vehicles are unarmed.

UGV testing began in July 2015 and the trucks became operational in February.

Currently, each vehicle is driven by an operator in a remote control room using a steering wheel, joystick and pedals. In the next few months, the Israeli Army aims to deploy the UGVs semi-autonomously, with the vehicle driving toward a map coordinate set by its operator. The trucks, however, will still need their operators to guide them around any obstacles in their path.

Longer-term, the trucks will need less human intervention. “In the future, we will have the capability of fully autonomous driving,” the IDF official added, noting that the UGVs will autonomously navigate any obstacles in their path.

Troops can also drive the UGVs traditionally from the driver’s seat.

IDF declined to reveal how many UGVs are in operation or the exact timeframe for autonomous operation.

Plans are also in place to add a weapon to the vehicle. “We think at the beginning of next year, we will get a machine gun on the vehicle that will be operated from a control room – the machine gun will not be autonomous,” said the IDF official.

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The UGV replaces the semi-autonomous Guardium vehicle that was deployed by Israeli forces in 2009. “The Guardium was unable to navigate obstacles by itself, but the UGV will be able to,” explained the official.

The Israeli Army wants to eventually deploy the UGVs on Israel’s other borders with Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Israel is not the only country looking to harness autonomous military vehicles. The U.S. Army, for example, recently tested driverless vehicle technology in Michigan. The Army’s Tank Automotive Research and Development Center (TARDEC) alsoshowcased one of its autonomous vehicles at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

One of our largest water sources contains toxic salt, too much arsenic

A woman collects water from a tube-well in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in April.

A woman collects water from a tube-well in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in April.(AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

A river basin in southern Asia is so enormous that 750 million people rely on it for their groundwater. Now, a new study in Nature Geoscience presents an equally staggering stat: 60% of that water is unfit for drinking or farming because it’s contaminated by salt or arsenic, reports the Guardian.

About 23% of the groundwater in the Indo-Gangetic Basin to a depth of 650 feet is too salty—an issue perhaps caused by poor farmland irrigation or drainage—and another 37% is tainted by toxic levels of arsenic, researchers say.

Like salt, arsenic is present naturally, but levels can spike with mining and the use of fertilizers. The basin, so named because it’s near the Indus and Ganges rivers, serves people in Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, and it accounts for one-quarter of the world’s groundwater.

“Elevated arsenic is primarily a concern for drinking water, while salinity affects irrigation and also the acceptability of groundwater for drinking,” the researchers say, per International Business Times.

However, researchers say that “deep tube wells” could penetrate deeper into the basin to pull out non-contaminated water, per Nature World News. Perhaps the only good news from the report is that the amount of water in the basin remained relatively stable, in contrast to other groundwater sources around the world.

(Testing has found issues with 2,000 US water systems.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: One of Our Largest Water Sources Is Contaminated

SETI team investigating mysterious signal from star 94 light-years away

By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer Published August 31, 2016
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A powerful signal has been spotted coming from the vicinity of a sunlike star, and now astronomers are trying to figure out what it means.

In May 2015, researchers using a radio telescope in Russia detected a candidate SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) signal that seems to originate from HD 164595, a star system that lies about 94 light-years from Earth, the website Centauri Dreams reported over the weekend.

The astronomers have not yet published a study about the detection; they plan to discuss it next month at the 67th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, according to Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster, who wrote that one of the team members forwarded him the IAC presentation. [13 Ways to Hunt Intelligent Alien Life]

HD 164595 is known to harbor one planet — a roughly Neptune-mass world that orbits too close to the star to support life as we know it. However, it’s possible that other worlds lurk undiscovered in the system, said astronomer Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, who is not part of the detection team.

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The scientists who made the detection are respected researchers, and the signal is strong enough that it’s probably not just random noise, Shostak told Space.com. Furthermore, the signal is consistent with something an alien civilization might send out — and if aliens did indeed do it, they are certainly far more advanced than we are, he added.

Based on the received signal’s characteristics, aliens would have to generate about 100 billion billion watts of energy to blast it out in all directions. And they’d still have to produce more than 1 trillion watts if they beamed it only to Earth for some reason, Shostak said.

“The first number is hundreds of times more than all the sunlight falling on Earth,” he said. “That’s a very big energy bill.”

The SETI Institute focused the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a system of radio dishes in Northern California, at HD 164595 Sunday night (Aug. 28) and plans to do so again tonight (Aug. 29), Shostak said. He certainly hopes the ATA finds something that would suggest ET is behind the signal, but he said he suspects there’s a more prosaic explanation.

For example, it’s possible that interference by an Earth-orbiting satellite or something else close to home is responsible, Shostak said. Indeed, he said that such “terrestrial interference” would be his bet, if we ever do learn what caused the signal.

But, sadly, it’s very possible that we’ll never know. The Russia-based team apparently observed the HD 164595 system 39 different times and only detected the signal once, Shostak said. If nobody sees it again, it will probably remain a mystery, much like the famous “Wow!” signal of 1977.

“Without a confirmation of this signal, we can only say that it’s ‘interesting,'” Shostak wrote today in a blog post about the candidate signal detection.

Goddess name inscribed in lost language on ancient tablet

By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor Published August 30, 2016
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A close-up of a stele found at Poggio Colla, a site of religious ritual for the ancient Etruscans.
A close-up of a stele found at Poggio Colla, a site of religious ritual for the ancient Etruscans. (Mugello Valley Project)
An ancient tablet recently unearthed in Tuscany has revealed its first secret: the engraved name of a goddess linked to fertility.

The 500-pound stone slab, or stele, was unearthed earlier this year at Poggio Colla, a sixth century B.C. site built by the Etruscans. The stele bears a long inscription in a language that has not been used for 2,500 years, project archaeologist Gregory Warden, a professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told Live Science in April.

Now, translation is underway and archaeologists have discovered that the tablet references the goddess Uni. [Photos: The Tomb of an Etruscan Prince]

“We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” Warden said in a statement. “It’s a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”

Mother goddess?
Uni was an important goddess linked to fertility. Previously, the most famous find at Poggio Colla was a piece of ceramic depicting a woman squatting to give birth, perhaps suggesting that a fertility cult worshiped at the site, according to Warden.

The Etruscans were a heavily religious society that started around 700 B.C. in modern-day northern and eastern Italy. They flourished until they were absorbed by Rome, a gradual process that took place between 500 B.C. and 100 B.C.

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There are at least 120 characters on the Poggio Colla stele, making it the longest Etruscan inscription ever found on stone and among the longest three sacred texts ever discovered, researchers will report in a yet-unpublished article in the journal Etruscan Studies. The inscription might express the laws of the sanctuary, Warden said, perhaps outlining the ceremonies that took place there. Archaeologists have deciphered another word on the tablet, “Tina,” which refers to the head god of the Etruscan Pantheon (much like Zeus for the Greeks).

Striking find
Archaeologists have been digging at Poggio Colla for 21 years, and found the slab at the very end of the most recent field season at the site. It’s about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide and made of sandstone. Because the stone is scuffed and chipped, researchers are painstakingly cleaning it in order to translate the words. Etruscans left behind few texts because they mostly wrote on linen or erasable wax tablets. Understanding Etruscan religious belief and ritual is important because as the civilization was engulfed by Rome, it influenced Roman culture and belief.

Most previously discovered texts are short inscriptions on graves, according to Warden. One linen book written in the Etruscan language was found on an Egyptian mummy — recycled as wrappings. Otherwise, researchers know little about Etruscan religious rituals, other than that they were polytheistic.

Though the stele is still being cleaned and studied, a hologram projection of it will be displayed in Florence on Aug. 27 as researchers announce the translations they’ve made so far.

Original article on Live Science. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Inside FDR’s wartime mission to protect American treasures

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Published August 28, 2016 New York Post
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Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sit on portico of Russian Embassy in Tehran, during conference in 1943. (Library of Congress)
Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sit on portico of Russian Embassy in Tehran, during conference in 1943. (Library of Congress)
Early in the evening of Dec. 26, 1941, a train bound for Fort Knox pulled out of Union Station in Washington, DC. Four Secret Service agents stood guard over an assortment of discreet-looking packages stashed in Car A-1. Only a handful of government officials knew what they contained.

Inside the parcels were the original Declaration of Independence, the original Constitution of the United States and the first and second drafts of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

The very spirit of America was on that train, being secreted away from an enemy determined to stamp out life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

“American Treasures” (St. Martin’s Press), a book by Stephen Puleo out Tuesday, tells the stories of the US government officials who protected our nation’s heritage following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

One of its heroes is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who understood “the symbolic value of those documents and who realized, particularly after Pearl Harbor, the psychic disaster it would be if they were destroyed,” Puleo tells The Post.

Roosevelt’s fears were warranted. There was, Puleo explains, a palpable sense that the Germans could attack Washington, DC.

“There were U-boats off the East Coast of America, sinking ships near Cape May and Cape Cod,” he says. “People thought there would be bombers overhead. So the decision to remove the documents was not a frivolous or whimsical thought.”

Government officials were also acutely aware of the destruction, well underway by 1941, of England’s heritage: The Germans had dropped a bomb on the British Museum, obliterating more than 1,000 books collected by King George III.

Roosevelt put his friend Archibald MacLeish, the head of the Library of Congress, in charge of cataloging and safeguarding America’s historical papers. Well before the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, MacLeish and some 700 Library of Congress staffers worked overtime and without pay to catalog thousands of documents, ranking them in order of historical importance.

Some 5,000 manuscripts were removed from Washington, DC, during the war. Among them were an original Gutenberg Bible, James Madison’s handwritten notes on the Constitutional Convention, the Articles of Confederation, George Washington’s personal papers, the Lincoln Cathedral copy of the Magna Carta, and Walt Whitman’s notebooks.

Click to read the full story in the New York Post.

Iraq to Battle ISIS With Machine Gun-Toting Robot

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BY DON REISINGER
AUGUST 23, 2016 05:38PM EST7 COMMENTS
ISIS combatants might soon find themselves at war with a robot.t the size of a small car and fully controlled by a human as it rushes towards the enemy.

According to Defense One, which translated an article in the Baghdad Post, Iraq military forces are preparing a robotic armed vehicle to battle the Islamic State. The vehicle, loosely named Alrobot (robot in Arabic), is about the size of a small car and fully controlled by a human as it rushes towards the enemy.

Of course, the use of unmanned vehicles to take down enemies is nothing new in warfare. Over the last several years, war-torn areas around the world have been hit with drone strikes, many of which have come from the US and other Western nations.

In this case, according to Defense One, the Alrobot was developed by two unnamed brothers. It’s controlled (from up to 0.6 miles away) by a laptop that communicates with its onboard computer and tells it where to go and when to fire. Four cameras give operators a view of the robot’s surroundings and control of its automatic machine gun and Katyusha rockets.

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Although it’s unclear exactly how many Alrobots are currently in existence, Defense One says that at least one seems ready to fight in Mosul, where ISIS has taken over the city.

Interestingly, this wouldn’t be the first robot to find its way to Iraq. In 2007, the US Army used three armed robots, called Special Weapons Obstervation Reconaissance Detection System (SWORDS). Their goal was to conduct reconaissance of the battlefield and if necessary, fire a shot on enemies. However, it’s believed that they never actually fired a shot because the robot’s weapon started moving when it wasn’t supposed to, making it a safety threat.

Documents: Soviets worried about detente after Nixon quit

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Published August 24, 2016 Associated Press
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Oct. 13, 1973: Vice presidential nominee Gerald R. Ford, right, listens as President Richard Nixon speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington.
Oct. 13, 1973: Vice presidential nominee Gerald R. Ford, right, listens as President Richard Nixon speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP)
YORBA LINDA, Calif. – Overseas reaction to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974 was mixed: The Soviets expressed worry about the future of detente. North Korea reacted brashly, calling Nixon’s exit the “falling out” of the “wicked boss” of American imperialists. South Vietnam put its forces on high alert because it feared the North Vietnamese would take advantage of the vulnerable U.S. political situation.

The international response to the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s fall is noted in 2,500 newly declassified intelligence documents the CIA released on Wednesday. The 28,000 pages — many still with lengthy redactions — represent eight years of the top-secret President’s Daily Brief prepared for Nixon and his successor, President Gerald Ford.

At the start of Nixon’s tenure, the CIA delivered morning and afternoon intelligence briefs at the request of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who wanted timely intelligence on world events. By the end of 1969, the PDB was about 10 pages long. Ford sought even more analysis and his PDBs were sometimes close to 20 pages long with annexes.

The brief on Sept. 5, 1973, said Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had “voiced suspicions that opponents of Soviet-U.S. accommodation are trying to exploit Watergate and said he wanted to build detente so firmly that it will not be an issue in future U.S. politics.”

Most of the documents mentioning Watergate followed Nixon’s resignation on Aug. 8, 1974. The scandal erupted in 1972 after operatives for Nixon’s Republican re-election campaign were caught breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office and hotel complex in Washington.

“The world in the past 24 hours has seemed to mark time as the U.S. succession process worked itself out,” according to the Aug. 10, 1974, brief. “None of the potential troublemakers has produced even a rumble. … It may be that many have not had time to consider how the situation might be turned to advantage. Many, theSoviets for example, had probably not anticipated the situation to come to a climax so rapidly and, still in something of a state of shock, are without (a) fixed course.”

According to the brief, the North Vietnamese did not accelerate attacks, but instead confined themselves to “warning President Ford not to follow past U.S. policies toward Indochina.”

One intelligence brief, about a week after the resignation, predicted that Brezhnev, who had developed a personal relationship with Nixon, could lose some standing in the Politburo, the policy-making body of the Communist Party. The partnership had produced results. In May 1972, Nixon visited Moscow for discussions that led to the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. The pact to limit nuclear arms was a key foreign policy achievement for Nixon and Kissinger.

Other subjects discussed in the documents released Wednesday include:

Attack at Munich Olympics. The Sept. 6, 1972, brief said Israel “seems certain to avenge” militants responsible for kidnapping and killing 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games in Munich. “Although the Israelis could allow the outrage in the international community to suffice for the present, domestic sentiment for a response is already mounting,” the brief said. “Any reprisal action could be severe.”

1973 Arab-Israeli War. The war started Oct. 6, 1973, on Yom Kippur when Egypt and Syria attacked Sinai and the Golan Heights on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The day before the war began, intelligence reports remarked that while military exercises in Egypt seemed larger and more realistic, “they do not appear to be preparations for an offensive against Israel.” Even on the day the war began, the brief did not confirm Israeli reports of an imminent attack, and said neither side seemed inclined to start hostilities. Rather, officials were concerned that Syria could mobilize its defenses, alarming the Israelis, which would “increase the risk of military clashes, which neither side originally intended.”

1975 fall of Saigon. U.S. intelligence predicted that Saigon wouldn’t fall to the North Vietnamese until early 1976. In fact, it happened months earlier on April 30, 1975. That day’s intelligence brief said: “North Vietnamese troops and tanks entered the heart of Saigon less than two hours after President Duong Van Minh announced the unconditional surrender of his government. … At last report, Minh was seen leaving the palace accompanied by communist troops.” Shoot down of EC-121

1969 shoot down of EC-121. On April 15, 1969, North Korea shot down a U.S. naval reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Japan. All 31 U.S. servicemen aboard were killed when the Lockheed EC-121 crashed off the North Korean coast. North Korea incorrectly accused the U.S. of violating its territory. Nixon didn’t confront North Korea over the incident, but conducted a brief naval demonstration in the sea and resumed U.S. surveillance flights days later. In an indication that the Soviet Union sided with the U.S., the intelligence brief two days later said that a Soviet destroyer was rendezvousing with the USS Tucker to turn over clothing and equipment recovered from the plane.

This tree started growing during the Viking age

By Tia Ghose, Senio
r Writer Published August 24, 2016
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"Adonis," A Bosnian Pine living high in the mountains of Greece, is Europe's oldest officially dated tree, at 1,075 years.
“Adonis,” A Bosnian Pine living high in the mountains of Greece, is Europe’s oldest officially dated tree, at 1,075 years. (Dr Oliver Konter, Mainz)
Europe’s oldest officially dated tree has been uncovered in Greece, and despite living more than a millennium (and counting!), it doesn’t look a day over 200.

The tree, dubbed “Adonis” by the scientists who discovered it, is a Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii) that took root in A.D. 941, high in the Pindus mountains of Greece. (In ancient Greek mythology, Adonis was the god of beauty, youth and desire.)

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“It is quite remarkable that this large, complex and impressive organism has survived so long in such an inhospitable environment, in a land that has been civilized for over 3,000 years,” Paul J. Krusic, a dendrochronologist at Stockholm University in Sweden, and the leader of the expedition that found the tree, said in a statement. (Dendrochronology is the study of tree-ring dating.) [Nature’s Giants: Photos of the Tallest Trees on Earth]

The venerable tree lives within a pristine forest of ancient pines that are nearly as old, the researchers said.

Grove of ancient trees
Researchers first discovered the tree during a research trip run by the Navarino Environmental Observatory (NEO), which was analyzing tree rings for evidence of the region’s past climate. Krusic had first heard about this grove of ancient trees while studying for his thesis, but it was only recently that he was able to visit.

To determine Adonis’ true age, the team drilled a core from the tree that reached from its heart to the outer bark. Then, they counted the tree rings, which alternate by season. The thickness and color of tree rings can also reveal clues about the historical climate. To officially date the tree, the team also compared Adonis’ tree rings to those of its neighbors in the forest. Because trees occasionally have skipped rings or lay down extra rings because of drought or other environmental conditions, comparing a tree to nearby ones to account for such anomalies is the only way to get an accurate estimate of a tree’s age from its rings, Krusic told Live Science.

When the researchers tallied up the rings, they found that Adonis was an impressive 1,075 years old and had a core of 3.3 feet (1 meter). When Adonis was just a seedling in A.D. 941, the Vikings were still raiding the European coastlines.

Still, while the Greek tree is incomprehensibly old compared to the average human or even the oldest living animal, it is a young whipper snapper compared to other European trees believed to be older, yet not officially dated. For instance, the oldest tree in Europe, the Llangernyw yew tree in Wales, is thought to be at least 3,000 years old, while Kongeegen (or the “king’s tree”) in Denmark’s royal hunting forest is thought to be between 1,500 and 2,000 years old.

The world’s oldest tree, an unnamed bristlecone pine that lives high up in the White Mountains in California, is more than 5,000 years old, while dozens of giant sequoias in California are thought to be between 3,000 and 3,500 years old.

Meanwhile, a clonal colony of quaking aspen in Utah called Pando is thought to be at least 80,000 years old. (Clonal colonies are made up of groups of genetically identical creatures.)

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Watch this stunning close-up of a sixgill shark

NOW PLAYINGRare sixgill shark sighting deep in ocean amazes scientists

This stunning video gives shark aficionados everywhere a rare close-up view of a sixgill shark.

A team working with OceanGate, an organization that provides subsea research and exploration, filmed the shark alongside a posse of dogfish earlier this month. The sixgill was spotted as the team explored the water using OceanGate’s Cyclops 1 submarine near British Columbia’s Desolation Sound.

The shark was spotted at a depth of 490 feet, and is estimated to be about 12 to 15 feet long. Sixgills typically stay at depths below 200 feet and have been known to swim as deep as 8,000 feet, according to OceanGate. Their preference for deep waters makes them difficult to spot.

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OceanGate added that sixgills are the world’s third-largest predatory shark and hail from the period before dinosaurs roamed the earth. The six slits on the shark indicate its age and more commonly found less primitive sharks have five slits.