Science!
August 20, 2014
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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.

Rest in peace
4:08 p.m. ET

Leonard Nimoy has died at age 83, and President Obama issued a statement Friday praising Nimoy and his portrayal of Star Trek's Spock.

Here's Obama's statement:

Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy. Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time. And of course, Leonard was Spock. Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek's optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity's future.

I loved Spock.

In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person. It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for "Live long and prosper." And after 83 years on this planet — and on his visits to many others — it's clear Leonard Nimoy did just that. Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today. [The Chicago Sun-Times]

Nimoy suffered from complications due to end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. His last film role was in 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness.

Flip-flop
3:01 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

While fellow Floridian Republican Gov. Jeb Bush reaffirms his commitment to immigration reform, Sen. Marco Rubio is upping his appeal to the conservative base by backing off in his support for the issue.

Rubio elicited laughter from the audience at CPAC during a Q&A session with Fox News' Sean Hannity when he admitted that his support for the 2013 bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill "wasn't very popular, I don't know if you know that from some of the folks here."

Changing his tune ahead of a probable 2016 presidential run, Rubio now says that he "gets" that there are millions of people living in America illegally who have not broken any other law, but that he has "learned you can't even have a conversation about that until people believe and know… that future illegal immigration will be controlled."

The Hill reports that while acknowledging the error of his ways on immigration reform, Rubio also touched on the importance of border security.

"You can't just tell people you're going to secure the border, we're going to do E-Verify," Rubio said, "you have to do that, they have to see it, they have to see it working."

Really?
2:56 p.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

WIsconsin Governor Scott Walker (R)'s proposed budget would probably strike most people as a pretty boring read. But Jezebel has discovered "a non-fiscal bombshell" inside the budget: a plan to stop universities from reporting sexual assaults on campus.

The budget, if approved, would cut $300 million from the state's public university system. But just after a section on student tuition bills, Walker's budget asks the state to "delete language related to sexual assault information and reporting." In that section, Walker proposes the state should "delete the requirement that any person employed at an institution who witnesses a sexual assault on campus or receives a report from a student enrolled in the institution that the student has been sexually assaulted report the assault to the dean of students."

If Walker's budget proposal is approved, universities would no longer be required to report their numbers of campus sexual assaults to the Department of Justice. And university employees who witness sexual assault would have no obligation to report the event. The budget also asks the state to delete its requirement that school orientation programs provide information on sexual assault for new students.

$$$$$
2:38 p.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The U.S. economy’s third quarter showed the strongest growth (5 percent) in 11 years, but the fourth quarter, not so much.

A report released today by the Commerce Department shows that the economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent, though early estimates pegged that number at 2.6 percent. The harsh winter may have been to blame for the fourth quarter's lackluster performance.

Analysts, however, are hopeful that the sluggish cycle won’t become a trend. Some economists have forecasted a growth rate of 3.1 percent for the year, which would be the best GDP performance since 2005.

we dare you to eat it
1:54 p.m. ET

If you've always wanted a cereal-flavored doughnut, you're in luck.

Taco Bell's new Cap'n Crunch Delights combine the best part of Cap'n Crunch cereal — the berries — with cream-filled doughnut holes. The result is a bright pink pastry filled with cereal milk-flavored cream.

The company is testing the doughnut holes at stores in Bakersfield, California. If the tests are successful, the doughnuts will hit Taco Bell stores nationwide.

Watch this
1:22 p.m. ET

It's no secret that Shakespeare can be credited with coining many of the phrases we still use today, such as "bated breath" and "love is blind." But did you know the Bard is also credited with being the first to print a number of words themselves, like "obscene" and "eventful?" And Dr. Seuss is credited with inventing the word "nerd."

In this week's video from our sister site, Mental Floss, author John Green explains the literary origins of 43 words. Among the other word inventions: Charles Dickens invented the word "boredom" in his 1853 novel Bleak House, and Sir Walter Scott's 1820 novel Ivanhoe is the first written mention of the word "freelance."

Check out all of the author-created words in the video below. —Meghan DeMaria

The police state
1:04 p.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

In response to evidence that police use of body cameras may reduce officer misconduct, many state and local governments are considering mandating their use. One such state is Minnesota, but there's a catch: The way the body cam legislation is currently written, the footage will be essentially unavailable to the public.

The videos would only be made available, on request, to the people depicted in them — but concealed from the broader public. Officers, by contrast, would have unlimited access. And as Techdirt explains, "[a]lleged misconduct that is cleared by law enforcement oversight will move affected recordings into the 'destroy' pile, which means agencies can start deleting potentially damning footage almost immediately, provided there are no current requests for the recordings."

Should this bill become law, "We believe that use of body cameras would be essentially used against the public as another form of surveillance," said Ben Feist of the Minnesota ACLU. "[W]e would lose the big accountability issue here."

Net neutrality
12:57 p.m. ET
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Echoing President Obama's now-infamous "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor" claim, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai — who opposed the net neutrality rules that passed yesterday — said, "If you like your current [wireless] service plan, you should be able to keep your current service plan. The FCC shouldn't take it away from you."

While Pai's statement jabs at Obama, it also expresses a real concern over the FCC's new regulatory ability in regards to "zero-rated" content. As NPR explains, this is when "your wireless provider promises not to count one app or group of apps against your monthly data cap;" T-Mobile's "Music Freedom" plan is an example.

Under the new rules, the FCC will approve or shut down similar mobile plans on a case-by-case basis. Pai argues that consumers should instead decide which plans survive.

RIP
12:34 p.m. ET

Actor Leonard Nimoy has died due to complications fromend-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 83.

A working actor since the early 1950s, Nimoy turned in performances in everything from Mission: Impossible to Fringe. But his defining role was Spock, the ultra-logical half human, half Vulcan first introduced on the original Star Trek series in 1966. With his pointy ears, jet-black bowl cut, and unforgettable catchphrase "Live long and prosper," Spock was the rare character to eclipse the series that spawned him, becoming an independent pop-culture icon in his own right.

Nimoy spent much of his career playing Spock, reprising the beloved character in seven consecutive Star Trek movies, and gamely spoofing his own persona in TV shows like The SimpsonsFuturama, and The Big Bang Theory. Nimoy's performance as Spock was so iconic that director J.J. Abrams brought him in to play "Spock Prime" in his 2009 Star Trek reboot, in time-warp encounters with the younger James Kirk (Chris Pine) and the younger Spock (Zachary Quinto). Nimoy's final film was 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness, where he reprised the beloved character for the last time. —Scott Meslow

say yes to the dress?
11:46 a.m. ET

If you've spent any time on the internet within in the last 24 hours, you've likely heard about "The Dress." 

The fierce debate all started thanks to a Tumblr post from user swiked, who posted a photo of a dress and asked, "guys please help me — is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the f--k out."

(swiked/Tumblr)

The debate raged. Celebrities weighed in. We learned that The Dress is actually black and blue, but that the lighting in the photo affects how we perceive its colors. Wired asked a neuroscientist to help explain the phenomenon:

Without you having to worry about it, your brain figures out what color light is bouncing off the thing your eyes are looking at, and essentially subtracts that color from the "real" color of the object. "Our visual system is supposed to throw away information about the illuminant and extract information about the actual reflectance," says Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington. "But I've studied individual differences in color vision for 30 years, and this is one of the biggest individual differences I’ve ever seen." [Wired]

CNN confirmed The Dress' colors on the air, and Amazon reviewers started posting snarky comments on the item's page. And news outlets everywhere struggled to wring more meaning out of the story as The Dress Debate raged on. 

Perhaps the one thing we can agree on is that the The Dress has captured the attention of people everywhere: At the time of publication, BuzzFeed's meme-launching original post on The Dress had upwards of 27 million pageviews. 

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