August 26, 2014

Astronomers have reportedly discovered signs of water clouds 7.3 light-years away from Earth.

The water clouds would be the first to be found beyond our solar system, if the discovery is confirmed. The findings will be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Kevin Luhman, an astronomer at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, found the clouds with images taken from 2010 to 2011 by NASA's WISE infrared telescope. The clouds surround a brown dwarf — a.k.a. a "failed star" that has faded and cooled — named WISE J0855-0714. WISE J0855-0714 is the coldest brown dwarf known to scientists, with a temperature lower than water's freezing point.

"I've been obsessed with this object since its discovery," Jacqueline Faherty, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C., told Science magazine. "I'm absolutely elated." Faherty used Chile's Magellan Baade telescope to capture images that matched previous models of a brown dwarf with water clouds.

The evidence is still tentative, but scientists are fascinated with the discovery's implications. If water clouds are confirmed outside our solar system, the findings could provide astronomers with new information about space's atmospheres. Science reports that the brown dwarf will likely be explored further by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, which is in the assembly and test process. --Meghan DeMaria

2:16 a.m. ET
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Last week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, issued a thinly veiled threat to Walter Shaub, director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, sending Shaub a letter requesting a "transcribed interview with committee staff" on Shaub's public comments about President-elect Donald Trump's conflicts of interest. Chaffetz, in his letter, noted that he has jurisdiction over the OGE's funding and very existence. Shaub responded in a letter dated Monday and released to CNN on Tuesday night, saying that over the weekend Chaffetz had changed his request from "transcribed interview" to "private meeting," then making a counter-offer: a public meeting.

Chaffetz's chief of staff had declined Shaub's suggest, the OGE director said, and Shaub asked him to reconsider. "Allowing the public to attend our meeting — or, at the very least, to view it through live broadcast or the attendance of the news media — would ensure transparency and educate the public about how OGE guards the executive branch against conflicts of interest." Since Trump was elected, Shaub added, "our office has received an unprecedented volume of telephone calls, emails, and letters from members of the public related to our executive branch ethics program."

Shaub told Chaffetz he would "attend a private meeting if you insist," and there's a good chance Chaffetz will insist. On Sunday's ABC This Week, the Utah Republican said he thinks Shaub's tweets to Trump praising him for divesting his business — which Trump will not do — were "unethical" and said he would subpoena the OGE director if he doesn't voluntarily appear for his interview. Trump's incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, also blasted Shaub on This Week, warning, "The head of government ethics ought to be careful because that person is becoming extremely political." It is unclear what "standing" Shaub has "anymore in giving these opinions," Priebus said.

On ABC, Chaffetz referred to suggestions his committee investigate Trump's business ties — to Russia and elsewhere — as "fishing" expeditions three times, saying, "Until we see something that is actual wrongdoing, we're probably not going to go on a fishing trip to go see." He added: "We're just not going to do that. That's not what we do in this committee." Peter Weber

1:29 a.m. ET

Donald Trump's nominee for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, faced vocal skepticism from Democrats in her rare nighttime confirmation hearing before the Senate education committee on Tuesday, even as Republican senators hailed the advocate for taxpayer-funded vouchers and school choice a needed reformer at the Education Department. DeVos, who conceded that her billionaire family had donated about $200 million to the Republican Party, parried questions about her family's prominent role in killing oversight of Michigan charter schools, her past disparaging remarks about public education and government, and her family's support for so-called gay conversion therapy, suggesting she herself never supported such therapy and believes every school should be "a safe and discrimination-free place to become educated."

DeVos declined to support Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) call for free college tuition, conceded to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that nobody in her family has ever taken out a student loan and said she would "review" rules requiring career colleges (like Trump University) to offer salable skills to students, and would not commit to keeping in place rules that require colleges and universities to more actively crack down on sexual assaults.

When Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) asked her if she believed guns belong in school, DeVos noted a story from rural Wyoming, saying, "I would imagine there's probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies." When Murphy pressed her on if she supported Trump's proposal to ban gun-free zones around schools, DeVos said she would support "what the president-elect does," but assured him: "My heart bleeds and is broken for those families that have lost any individual due to gun violence." Murphy invited her to visit Sandy Hook Elementary School in his state, the site of an infamous mass shooting of young children in 2012.

DeVos also seemed unsure about some of the big discussions in public education — she and all her children attended only private schools. You can watch Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) explain to her the difference between proficiency testing and measuring student growth below. Peter Weber

January 17, 2017
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Will tweets be the new currency under Donald Trump?

Tricia Kelly, a Washington, D.C., hairstylist, says she was shocked when an "entitled" Marla Maples, Trump's second ex-wife, suggested that instead of paying Kelly to do her hair on Inauguration Day, she would post about it on social media, giving her "exposure." When Maples' assistant passed the message along, Kelly was "stunned," she told The Washington Post. "I told them... I work for a fee, not for free."

A client had asked Kelly if she was interested in working with Maples and her daughter, Tiffany Trump, on Inauguration Day. After telling Maples' assistant she would charge $150 for travel plus the cost of services, "I was told they had a $300 budget for both of them for hair and makeup," Kelly said. Once she agreed to accept $200, the "exposure" word was floated around. Kelly says she was insulted. "There are people who make far less than they do who pay full price," she said. "People on staff — the incoming White House and the outgoing one — pay full price. It seemed like they were trying to see how much they could get for free based on their names."

Kelly, who has prominent clients from both sides of the aisle, said she deliberately stays nonpartisan and would never want it to look like she was favoring anyone (she said she came forward to share this story only because she was so outraged by the request). She also said a nasty message she received from the client who set her up with Maples offers some insight into why the daughter of an alleged billionaire has to split $300 with her mom for hair and makeup: The client allegedly said Maples is worried about her finances, now that Tiffany is out of college and she no longer receives child support from Trump, and "she is used to a certain lifestyle and you don't understand that." Catherine Garcia

January 17, 2017

During her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, if she was sitting in front of him due to the hefty contributions she has made to the GOP.

DeVos, whose father founded a manufacturing company that came to be worth more than $1 billion and whose father-in-law co-founded Amway, wasn't able to recall how much money her family has contributed to the Republican Party over time, but said it was "possible" they donated $200 million. "I don't mean to be rude, but do you think if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, you would be here today?" Sanders asked. DeVos, who has no professional experience working in public schools, has never held public office, and has spent decades lobbying for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools, responded by saying she worked "very hard on behalf of parents and children for the past almost 30 years, to be a voice for parents and voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children."

Sanders then pressed DeVos on whether she would work with him on making public colleges and universities tuition-free. "I think that's a really interesting idea, and it's really great to consider and think about, but we also need to consider the fact there's nothing in life that's truly free, somebody's going to pay for it," she said. Sanders said she's correct, and proposals to lower tax breaks for billionaires would help pay for the plan. "We can work together and work hard on being sure college or higher education in some form is affordable for all young people who want to pursue it," DeVos responded.Catherine Garcia

January 17, 2017
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Vice President Joe Biden says he's torn when it comes to the presidential election — he still questions his decision not to run and regrets not going with a different message while campaigning for Hillary Clinton.

In a series of interviews with Jonathan Alter, published in The New York Times Magazine on Tuesday, Biden said he wished "to hell" he'd kept repeating the positive messages from his Democratic National Convention speech in July and said more about Clinton's plan for the middle class, as opposed to focusing so much on Donald Trump's lack of qualifications for office. He's also still coming to grips with not running for president himself — before his son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer in 2014, he encouraged his father to run, but the vice president was told by several friends, including President Obama, that he wasn't ready emotionally. Biden concedes that he was "more broken" over his son's death than he thought he was at the time. "I don't know what I'd do if I was in a debate and someone said, 'You're doing this because of your son,'" he said. "I might have walked over and kicked his ass."

On Trump, Biden says the president-elect reminds him of the bullies from his childhood who mocked him for having a stutter, and wherever he goes, he's asked if "American leadership" is "going to continue." Biden admitted he's worried about what might happen should Trump be all bluster and no action when it comes to matters of global importance — if Trump "just stays behind the lines — hands off — it could be very ugly. Very, very ugly," he said, adding: "It's like a Rubik's Cube trying to figure this guy out. We have no freakin' idea what he's gonna do." Read more about Biden's thoughts on Trump, how he became close friends with Obama, and the advice he received as a freshman senator that helps him while working with Republicans, at The New York Times Magazine. Catherine Garcia

January 17, 2017
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More than 100 refugees and aid workers were killed and more than 200 wounded Tuesday when a Nigerian air force fighter jet on a mission against Boko Haram accidentally bombed a refugee camp, government officials said.

Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor confirmed that "some" civilians were killed in the northeastern town of Rann, The Associated Press reports. In the military's fight against Boko Haram extremists, bombardments take place nearly every day in the area, and villagers have previously reported civilian casualties from airstrikes; it's believed this is the first time the Nigerian military has admitted it hit the wrong target. The general said he had information that Boko Haram insurgents were gathering in the area, and that's why he ordered the operation.

The International Committee for the Red Cross said six workers with the Nigerian Red Cross have died and 13 were wounded. "They were part of a team that had brought in desperately needed food for over 25,000 displaced persons," spokesman Jason Straziuso said in a statement. Dr. Jean-Clément Cabrol, the director of operations for Doctors without Borders, called the bombing "shocking and unacceptable." Catherine Garcia

January 17, 2017
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Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice who accused Donald Trump of making unwanted sexual advances during a 2007 business meeting, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump over statements he made in response to her allegations.

In October, Zervos alleged that Trump kissed her on the lips, groped her breast without consent, and pressed himself against her during the meeting. The suit, filed Tuesday, claims that Trump went on to publicly call Zervos a liar while on the campaign trail and say Zervos and the other women who have accused him of sexual harassment only want "10 minutes of fame." The suit also states that Trump knew his inflammatory comments would subject the women to "threats of violence, economic harm, and reputational damage."

Her attorney, Gloria Allred, said Zervos would be willing to dismiss the lawsuit without any monetary damages if Trump would agree to retract his remarks about her and admit the accusations she made against him were true. Trump's spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told NBC News there is "no truth to this absurd story." Catherine Garcia

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