August 2, 2014
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When NASA's 2020 rover touches down on Mars, it will be looking for something a little more typical than tiny green Martians.

The space agency said this week that the future rover's main purpose will be researching whether the planet could eventually sustain human life, CNN reports. That means the 2020 rover will perform basic tasks such as collecting soil samples, and also execute more cutting-edge projects, such as photographing the planet's surface in 3D, panoramic images, so NASA can study whether Mars' chemical makeup is conducive to farming.

The idea is that if astronauts were able to actually live on Mars, NASA could further its exploration of the planet. The 2020 rover will run a feature called the Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) to determine whether the planet's atmospheric carbon dioxide could be converted into oxygen. And the presence of oxygen, NASA notes, means that in addition to being able to breathe, astronauts could even make rocket fuel to use for the return trip. Sarah Eberspacher

12:03 p.m. ET

Your puppy isn't looking at you lovingly just because he wants a treat. Scientists in Britain found that dogs alter their facial expressions simply when their owners look at them — regardless of whether food is available, per a study published Oct. 19 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Researchers monitored the facial expressions of dogs as their owners paid attention to them and then when the owners looked away, specifically examining the muscle that dogs use to raise their eyebrows and widen their eyes. This adorable mug is what people refer to as the "puppy dog" look.

Sometimes, the owners would hold food while trying to get the dog's attention, but the scientists found that while the pups expressed more interest when their owners paid attention to them, it didn't matter whether their owners were clutching treats or not. "This is a delightful finding that provides more evidence of how dogs draw us closer to them with their eyes," Dr. Brian Hare, a professor at Duke University studying canine cognition, told The New York Times in an email.

Researchers cannot know why dogs alter their facial expressions when looking at their owner, but they can determine that the look is independent of treats. So fret not: When Spike pulls those adorable pleading eyes, it's for you — not the rawhide bone in your hand. Elianna Spitzer

11:23 a.m. ET
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An aerosol can and a lithium-ion powered laptop could spell destruction for an airplane, The Associated Press reported Friday, citing a U.S. government report recently filed with the U.N. If a large lithium-ion battery powered device overheats near an aerosol can in a piece of checked luggage, the Federal Aviation Administration warned, an entire airplane could become engulfed in flames before in-flight staff could do anything to stop it.

The FAA placed an 8-ounce can of dry shampoo near a laptop with a lithium-ion battery and forced the laptop to overheat. In less than 40 seconds, the aerosol can exploded, a blast that could disable a fire suppression system aboard a plane. The FAA tried the same test with nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, and rubbing alcohol, and each of those tests resulted in large fires — which could burn hot enough to cause aircraft aluminum to reach its melting point — but no explosions.

After 10 tests, the FAA sent the report to the U.N.'s aviation authority, the International Civil Aviation Organization. That organization recommends aviation safety measure, but cannot force countries to adhere to them.

The FAA paper asks that airlines require passengers to get permission to pack lithium-ion battery-powered large devices in checked luggage. The report does not state whether any domestic rules about checked luggage will be altered as a result of the findings. Elianna Spitzer

11:04 a.m. ET
Wikimedia commons, CC BY: Alainkaa

Having learned absolutely nothing from the U.K.'s Boaty McBoatface scandal/major disappointment of last year, Swedish transportation company MTR Express engaged democracy to choose a name for its new express train connecting Stockholm and Gothenburg. To the surprise of almost no one, the public voted to dub the new line "Trainy McTrainface."

MTR Express is submitting to the will of the people and accepting the name, which some see as fitting retribution after the British Natural Research Council opted to name its new research vessel the RSS Sir David Attenborough instead of the public favorite and frontrunner, the RSS Boaty McBoatface. "I can guarantee with my life that the train will be called Trainy McTrainface," marketing chief Per Nasfi told local press, assuring us that democracy has won in Sweden. The Week Staff

10:46 a.m. ET
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In the 2016 election, President Trump won the state of Wisconsin by almost 23,000 votes. But a new report from Mother Jones published online Thursday found that statewide voter turnout in the Badger State was also the lowest it had been since 2000.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the 2016 election was also the first major contest in Wisconsin to require registered voters to bring a current, valid form of state or national identification to the polls — just one of 33 election changes passed under Gov. Scott Walker (R). Other restrictions reduced early voting hours and restricted early voting locations.

Such policies are ostensibly instituted to prevent or discourage voter fraud, but Mother Jones points out that black voters were about 50 percent less likely to have a form of current ID than white voters. And when it comes to trying to renew those IDs or get new ones altogether, 85 percent of people denied identification by the DMV were black or Latino.

Milwaukee's election director Neil Albrecht agreed that the new laws had a direct national impact: "It is very probable that between the photo ID law and the changes to voter registration, enough people were prevented from voting to have changed the outcome of the presidential election in Wisconsin." And discouraged, would-be voters in Wisconsin know it. "This particular election was very important to me," said Andrea Anthony, a Wisconsin woman whose license was expired at the time of voting last year. "I felt like the right to vote was being stripped away from me." Read the full report from Mother Jones here. The Week Staff

10:44 a.m. ET

If you believe in destiny, you might just think that Kiké Hernandez's three home runs Thursday night were meant to be. The Los Angeles Dodgers' 11-1 win against the defending World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, clinched the National League pennant for the boys in blue for the first time since 1988 — in no small part thanks to Hernandez's third-inning grand slam. With two more home runs in Game 5, Hernandez joined the small club of players with three dingers in a postseason game.

Hernandez's home runs were all the more exciting because they were entirely unexpected: "The utility player's bat has never been his selling point, to say the least," Deadspin writes. "A modest power surge this year — a career-high ISO of .205, after failing to ever top .175 — brought his home run total for the season only to the grand sum of 11. He was one of the weakest-hitting players on the Dodgers, ninth by slugging percentage."

The Dodgers owner, Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter, even promised Hernandez a $1 million donation to Puerto Rico relief efforts if he simply got on base twice, Dodgers beat reporter Michael J. Duarte writes.

Despite his odds, Hernandez didn't have any doubt. He told his mother — who lives in Puerto Rico, and was watching the game on a generator-powered TV at Hernandez's grandparents house — that he was going to hit a home run, SB Nation reports. "Don't think about hitting a home run; just think about putting the ball in play," she advised him before the game. He replied: "No Mom, I was thinking about that the first two games, and that didn't work."

And in the stands for his three homers? "Hernandez's father, who battled cancer last year, is at Wrigley Field tonight watching his son have the game of his life," Duarte tweeted. Jeva Lange

10:38 a.m. ET

It's not me, it's you.

The city of Little Rock, Arkansas, sent Amazon that message Thursday to let the company know Little Rock was no longer interested in the company's new HQ2 project ... by placing a full-page breakup letter in The Washington Post.

The city is concerned that the new 8-million-square-foot headquarters that Amazon wants to build will disrupt transit and traffic flow — and Little Rock isn't alone. Some say the so-called HQ2 will likely detract from local businesses by bringing in outside construction companies. Housing prices could also rise as a result of the development; rent prices in the Seattle area, where Amazon's primary home base is located, spiked 7.2 percent last year alone, according to real estate database Zillow.

Seventy-three community groups from cities across the U.S. have signed onto a "wish list" for Amazon in an open letter. The civic leaders are pushing for the online retailer to show a commitment to whichever city it chooses in the form of affordable housing and tax revenue.

It's not all bad news for Amazon, though. Some cities are actively trying to impress the company, which has promised to hire 50,000 full-time employees after the $5 billion HQ2 project is completed. Tucson, Arizona, pulled out all of the stops by shipping a 21-foot cactus to the Seattle-based company in an attempt to impress, NBC News reports.

Cities' bids for HQ2 were submitted Oct. 19. Read Little Rock's full breakup letter below. Elianna Spitzer

8:42 a.m. ET

Polluted air, soil, water, and work environments were responsible for 1 in every 6 deaths in 2015, a massive new study published in the The Lancet on Friday found. The more than nine million premature deaths from pollution in 2015 primarily took the form of noncommunicable diseases, including asthma and cancer, with lead pollution contributing to half a million deaths on its own. The study warned that if not addressed, pollution "threatens the continuing survival of human societies."

Poor populations are the most vulnerable to pollution-related deaths, with toxic environments causing a quarter of all deaths in nations like India, Chad, and Madagascar, The Guardian reports. The United States broke the top 10 for countries with "modern" pollution, including fossil fuel-related pollution and chemical pollution.

The report comes at a sensitive time for the Trump administration, which has been accused of wanting to "eviscerate" the Environmental Protection Agency. "Trump has asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to help dismantle much of President Obama's environmental legacy," The Week writes, including the "Clean Power Plan, which promotes renewable energy and curbs greenhouse gas emissions; rules requiring cars and light trucks to average 36 miles per gallon (up from 25 mpg) by 2025; and the Clean Water Rule, which expanded the number of small streams and wetlands that qualify for federal protections."

The authors of the Lancet report urged immediate action to curb pollution. Professor Philip Landrigan, who co-led the Commission on Pollution and Health behind the study, said: "We fear that with nine million deaths a year, we are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry." He added: "We always hear 'we can't afford to clean up pollution' — I say we can't afford not to clean it up." Jeva Lange

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