September 30, 2014

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered a "mysterious feature" on Saturn's moon Titan. Scientists are working to determine, what, exactly, this feature might be.

NASA reports that the feature is roughly 100 square miles, and it lies in Ligeia Mare, one of Titan's hydrocarbon seas. Cassini's radar has observed the feature twice, but its appearance changed between the two sightings. Scientists suspect the feature's change in appearance could be the result of Titan's changing seasons, which Cassini's current extended mission will monitor.

The feature's first sighting was in July 2013, and the radar images depicted a bright spot, which stood out from the dark sea. Scientists were "perplexed" when the feature couldn't be located with follow-up radar experiments, but they found it again on August 21, 2014.

Though the scientists aren't sure what the feature is, NASA reports that they are "confident" the feature is not a "flaw in their data." Some of their current explanations for the feature include "surface waves, rising bubbles, floating solids, solids suspended just below the surface, or perhaps something more exotic."

Titan's hydrocarbon lakes have long been a source of curiosity for scientists who speculate that life may be able to survive on the moon's surface. "But if life exists on Titan, it would be very different than life on Earth, which is intimately tied to liquid water," notes.

"Science loves a mystery, and with this enigmatic feature, we have a thrilling example of ongoing change on Titan," Stephen Wall, the deputy team lead of Cassini's radar team, said in a statement. "We're hopeful that we'll be able to continue watching the changes unfold and gain insights about what's going on in that alien sea." Meghan DeMaria

1:20 p.m. ET
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On Wednesday, the U.S. will sit out the annual United Nations vote on a resolution urging America to end its economic embargo against Cuba. This will mark the first time in the resolution's 24 years of existence that the U.S. has abstained from voting; last year, only the U.S. and Israel voted against the measure.

The decision to abstain, announced by Obama administration officials, will "effectively pit the Obama administration and Cuba with the world body against the Republican-led Congress," The Associated Press reported. Though the U.S. has resumed full diplomatic relations with Cuba, congressional Republicans are in favor of maintaining the 55-year-old embargo. Becca Stanek

1:18 p.m. ET

Although Donald Trump was technically in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning for the opening of his new hotel, he couldn't help but give a shout-out to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) for his combative interview with Fox News' Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night's episode of The Kelly File. "Congratulations Newt on last night, that was an amazing interview. You don't play games, Newt," Trump said, per Time's Zeke Miller.

In the "amazing interview," Gingrich accused Kelly of being "fascinated with sex" after she asked about the numerous allegations of sexual assault that have been raised against Trump. "I'm sick and tired of people like you using language that's inflammatory. That's not true," Gingrich said, after Kelly started a sentence by asking "if Trump is a sexual predator."

Trump campaign aide Dan Scavino Jr. has also given Gingrich high praise for his performance, tweeting Tuesday night that the former House speaker had "destroyed" Kelly, who Scavino called "totally biased" and "not very smart." Becca Stanek

1:18 p.m. ET

When Kesha was denied by a New York judge earlier this year her request for an injunction on her recording contract, "free Kesha" became the rallying cry of her fans. Kesha had notably sought to be freed from her contract on the grounds that it forced her to work with producer Dr. Luke, who she claims raped and emotionally abused her. Today, Kesha is in a sort of limbo, unable to release new music due to pending contract litigation and having to tour at small clubs to earn the money to pay expensive, and seemingly interminable litigation, The New York Times Magazine reports.

From the outside looking in, though, it seems like Kesha has finally been unshackled. She is working on new music. She is appearing at clubs. But when one of her fans, who call themselves "Animals," raved that the singer was free, Kesha wanted to be very clear:

Here Kesha got serious. She looked the Animal in the face and said very carefully: "No, no. I'm not free. Don't think that, because there's still a lawsuit. I have new music. I — " She stopped herself, then hugged the Animal and a few more, took a picture with all of them and left.

Later, she told me that people didn't really understand the predicament she was in. They think it's simple, that she's free or not free, that she must have won her court case because she's performing. "They were like, 'Oh, my gosh, you're free,' and I was like, 'No, sweetheart, I love you, but no, I am not, and I don't know where you got that information.'" Her Animals, the world at large, they didn't really get that she had written new songs — 22 of them — and recorded them at her own expense and that they were sitting somewhere waiting to be completed and polished and released. She told me that she wanted to get her story out so people really understood what was going on — that right now, she is the opposite of free. [The New York Times Magazine]

Read the rest of Kesha's story in The New York Times Magazine. Jeva Lange

1:11 p.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) missed over 75 percent of his Senate Armed Services Committee hearings while he was a member between 2003 and 2011, BuzzFeed News reports. Bayh recently came out of political retirement to run for the Senate seat against Rep. Todd Young (R-Ind.) following the retirement of Republican Sen. Dan Coats.

While Bayh remains slightly ahead in the polls, his participation, or lack thereof, in the Armed Service Committee presents ample fodder for his opponents. As indicated by attendance data, Bayh only attended five of the 24 Armed Services hearings between Jan. 1, 2003 and April 9, 2003, in the thicket of the Iraq invasion.

Even more concerning is the fact that on the morning of the Iraq invasion, Bayh did not attend the committee's 9:45 a.m. hearing, which concerned that year's defense authorization bill, including a testimony from the Energy Secretary on the department's atomic energy defenses. But Bayh did manage to attend an "informal breakfast" held by the Investment Company Institute that morning.

Bayh also apparently missed other hearings around that same time to attend receptions and go to Vail, Colorado with his wife to attend fundraisers and a charity event. A GOP operative who spoke with BuzzFeed News said the absences proved Bayh's "cavalier approach … to sending us into a decade-long war."

In response to the accusations, Bayh's spokesman Ben Ray said that "the documents being provided to press by a political opponent of Evan's in the final days before an election are at best incomplete and not reliable sources of information on how his time was spent." Ray added, [Bayh's] opponent, Congressman Young, either didn't show or didn’t speak at more than 80 percent of his Armed Services hearings." Jeva Lange

1:06 p.m. ET

Many Secret Service officials have not been paid overtime in months due to a combination of the intense presidential campaign and a cap on federal income, BuzzFeed News reports:

When overtime payments drive an agent's aggregate income for the year past the federal limit of $160,300 — no matter how early — the agent no longer earns paid overtime, even as they regularly clock in long past the 50-hour work week, traveling around the clock with the candidates, their families, the Obamas, the Bidens, and the press.

Ask any agent on the campaign trail when they "maxed out" during the course of the year — or hit the federal salary cap — and they will be ready with an answer: May, April, March, or for some of the most senior agents in the field, even earlier. The result? Hundreds of agents working months of overtime for which they will never be paid. [BuzzFeed News]

Adding to the strain is the fact that a hiring freeze from a couple years ago has resulted in a smaller pool of active agents in the field to draw from. Also, this election year is more demanding than most, with the president and vice president both frequenting the campaign trail, in addition to the fact that other, routine events like the Democratic and Republican conventions required extra security, as well as the United Nations General Assembly.

Of 3,300 active Secret Service agents, nearly a third have or will go over the federal pay cap, BuzzFeed News reports. Nearly all of them have worked to some extent on the election, and most of their work has demanded daily overtime. "It's been an incredible sacrifice," Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy, who has no control over the federal cap, said. Jeva Lange

1:01 p.m. ET

Hillary Clinton is turning 69 today, and it's pretty clear she is enjoying every minute of it:

Clinton even went ahead and wished herself happy birthday:

In celebration of the big six-nine, Clinton's campaign released a timeline of Clinton's entire life, so supporters can find out what the candidate was up to the year they were born (if you're older than 69, though, you're of course out of luck). Check it out here. Jeva Lange

10:37 a.m. ET
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In the future, we might not watch TV on screens. It might be all in our heads.

That, at least, is the theory held by Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, The Telegraph reports. Hastings warned audiences at a Wall Street Journal event earlier this week that technology and entertainment have a funny way of making the mediums that came before go bust — for example, how cinema and TV have made "the opera and the novel" less appealing to consumers. Streaming, he said, could face the same fate.

"In 20 or 50 years, taking a personalized blue pill you just hallucinate in an entertaining way and then a white pill brings you back to normality is perfectly viable," Hastings said. "And if the source of human entertainment in 30 or 50 years is pharmacological, we'll be in real trouble."

Other tech billionaires, like Elon Musk and Sam Altman, think we're already living in a simulated universe. Life itself, they have alleged, could be one giant drug-induced hallucination, like it is in The Matrix. Jeva Lange

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