August 20, 2014

For those who believe there could be life in space, this discovery is huge: Scientists have reportedly found traces of plankton on the outside of the International Space Station.

Russian scientists discovered the plankton while studying samples from the exterior of the ISS — samples they only found because they were doing a routine cleaning of the ISS' windows. Scientists are now baffled about how these marine organisms made their way into space.

Vladimir Solovyev, head of ISS's Russian segment and orbital mission, told RT the plankton traces prove that life in space is possible for some organisms — the plankton survived even in subzero temperatures and without oxygen. "The results of the experiment are absolutely unique," Solovyev told Russia's Itar-Tass. "This should be studied further."

The even stranger part of the story is that the Russian scientists discovered the plankton aren't native to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, from where the Russian modules of the station blasted off. The scientists speculate that air currents may have carried the plankton into space.

NASA has not yet commented on the plankton discovery. Meghan DeMaria

home sweet home
8:16 a.m. ET

For the owners of the Rhode Island farmhouse that inspired the 2013 horror film The Conjuring, it's not the supernatural that scares them — it's the superfans. Norma Sutcliffe and Gerald Helfrich are suing Warner Bros. over legions of trespassing ghost hunters inspired by the film, citing "threats of physical violence and harm, sleepless nights, and worry that one day, one of the many trespassers will commit an act of destruction, violence, or harm," according to court documents reported by Entertainment Weekly and The Guardian.

The "Conjuring-instigated siege of their property" began in 2013, after the film was released; before then, Sutcliffe and Helfrich had lived in the house since 1987 without any spooks, terrestrial or otherworldly. However, the owners maintain that Warner Bros. released the film without ever letting them know or asking their permission — with the studio going as far as "to market the movie as based on a true story" as well as to "prominently" identify the location of the house in promotional materials.

The court documents added that, "The property was inundated by curiosity seekers and trespassers who, at all hours of night and day, come to and on to the property, approach, and seek to enter the house, take photographs and videos, ignore the 'no trespassing' signs, fences, and barriers installed." Up to 500 such trespassers are mentioned in the report. For Warner Bros., it might turn out that The Conjuring was truer than they realized: Sometimes it is better to keep the genie in the bottle. Jeva Lange

Watch this
7:27 a.m. ET

"The Swan" is arguably the most beautiful movement of Carnival of the Animals by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns, usually performed with just piano and cello. On Monday's Late Show, justifiably legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma played the tune with Stephen Colbert's house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human. They didn't stick to the traditional arrangement, throwing in brushed drums, bass, guitar, and sax. With a lesser or more heavy-handed arrangement, that could have been a recipe for disaster. It wasn't. There's enough terrible news in the world — watch and enjoy some rare beauty below. Peter Weber

Crisis in Syria
6:59 a.m. ET

On Monday, NATO ambassadors held an emergency meeting after Russian fighter jets in Syria flew at least two sorties into Turkish airspace over the weekend, once locking its weapons onto Turkish fighter jets. The NATO officials warned that Russia's "irresponsible behavior" could have serious consequences. Russia responded that the incursions were an accident and that "there is no need to look for conspiratorial reasons." U.S. and NATO officials dismiss that explanation and suggest Russia is trying to intimidate Turkey and its allies.

In Chile on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. is "greatly concerned" about the Russian incursions "because it is precisely the kind of thing that, had Turkey responded under its rights, could have resulted in a shootdown." If Russia attacks Turkey, NATO is obligated to come to Ankara's defense.

Russian fighter jets join an increasingly crowded aerial battlefield over Syria, where Russian and Syrian jets are bombing one side of the country and the U.S.-led coalition — which includes Turkey as well as France, Australia, Canada, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia — is bombing Islamic State and other Islamist targets around the country. "What we're seeing now is a lot of different countries and coalitions operating in the skies over Syria," said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "I think it creates a situation that is fraught with danger and very delicate, as we'd seen in the issue of the violation of the airspace with Turkey.... This should really refocus people's attention on finding a political solution." Peter Weber

6:15 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics to two particle physicists, Takaaki Kajita in Japan and Arthur B. McDonald in Canada, for their discovery of neutrino oscillations and the resulting evidence that subatomic neutrino particles have mass. "The discovery has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and can prove crucial to our view of the universe," the academy explained in a news release. Those findings "have yielded crucial insights into the all but hidden world of neutrinos. After photons, the particles of light, neutrinos are the most numerous in the entire cosmos."

The two scientists will share the $960,000 prize as well as the honor of winning the same award as Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and Niels Bohr. Peter Weber

This just in
5:25 a.m. ET

On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice, the European Union's highest court, threw out a 15-year-old agreement allowing companies to transfer data freely between the U.S. and EU. The ruling, which can't be appealed, appears to prohibit Facebook, Google, and other tech companies large and small from moving data about their European customers to the United States, and nobody is quite sure what will happen next.

The case was started by an Austrian law student, Max Schrems, who sued Facebook in Ireland — Facebook's European headquarters — arguing that due to revelations by U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, European consumer data wasn't given adequate privacy protections by Facebook and other U.S. tech companies. The ECJ agreed, immediately invalidating a "safe harbor" agreement in place since 2000 that allows about 4,000 U.S. and European companies to transfer data overseas on the understanding that that data will be given the privacy safeguards applicable to each country's consumers.

Under the new ruling, national regulators will be able to judge whether companies meet their national privacy rules, and stop them from transferring data if they don't. "Companies may not be able to move people's data until domestic data protection authorities give their approval," London privacy lawyer Marc Dautlich tells The New York Times. "In some of Europe's 28 countries, that is not going to be easy."

The court's decision, and stalled two-year-old negotiations for a new safe harbor agreement highlights "the different approaches to online data protection by the United States, where privacy is viewed as a consumer protection issue, and Europe, where it is almost on a par with such fundamental rights as freedom of expression," notes The New York Times. The European Commission is expected to address the ruling on Tuesday. Peter Weber

last night on late night
4:40 a.m. ET

"I love shopping at Whole Foods," Stephen Colbert said on Monday's Late Show, "because I love organic produce, and I cannot stand having money." That was the beginning of a short rundown of a spate of Whole Foods mini-scandals, from overcharging for its prepackaged products to a new apology about selling tilapia and goat cheese made by prisoners. "Prison labor?" Colbert said in mock consternation. "But everything at Whole Foods is supposed to be cage-free!"

But this isn't the last thing Whole Foods will have to apologize for, Colbert predicted, so to help the grocery chain out, he issued a few pre-emptive apologies on their behalf. The mea culpas range from the gross (think "ground Chuck") to the absurd. The crowd favorite? "It is our solemn pledge that our cashiers will now add up the cost of your products, instead of just typing in the highest number they can think of." Watch below. Peter Weber

last night on late night
4:06 a.m. ET

Somebody at The Late Late Show is a dedicated Taylor Swift fan, and it might just be host James Corden. On Monday's show, Corden performed the fairly impressive feat of acting out a soap opera scene using only (mostly) Taylor Swift lyrics. He had some help from Julianne Moore and John Stamos, and while Moore is a fine actress, Stamos clearly has the daytime soap thing down cold. If you don't appreciate smashed vases, Corden as a greaser, and the wisdom of Taylor Swift, well, haters gonna hate (hate hate hate). Peter Weber

See More Speed Reads