to infinity, and beyond
July 31, 2014

At a press conference Thursday, NASA unveiled the instruments that will be used by the Mars 2020 rover. The rover will use seven instruments to build on the Curiosity Rover's activity on the planet. Michael Meyer, lead scientist at the Mars Exploration Program, detailed the rover's four objectives: going to the region, looking for biosignatures, taking samples, and making way for human exploration. Each of the seven instruments will work toward these goals.

Two of the instruments on the rover's mast are high-tech cameras that will allow better models of Mars than previous rovers. The "Mastcam-Z" has a new zoom capability that other NASA rover cameras have lacked, and the "SuperCam" will be able to identify minerals using remote sensing technology.

Arguably the most interesting of the instruments, though, is located on the rover's body. The "MOXIE" will be able to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and convert it into oxygen, which will make human exploration much easier. The other instruments will help the rover characterize the planet's weather and mineralogy.

"No measurement... is done by only one instrument," Meyer said. "They overlap, and they complement each other." Meghan DeMaria

bond james bond
9:17 a.m. ET

The rumor mill has been churning for months now with speculation that Idris Elba will be the next James Bond. But that theory isn't sitting well with some, including the current 007 author. Anthony Horowitz, who took over the job of writing the James Bond novels from the Ian Fleming estate, is none too pleased that Elba is being considered, although he claims it isn't "a color issue."

"I think he is probably too street for Bond," Horowitz told The Daily Mail. "Is it a question of being suave? Yeah."

Horowitz added that while Elba is "a terrific actor," he can think of other black actors who could better play the role, and suggested Adrian Lester.

Last December, Rush Limbaugh also weighed in, saying James Bond ought to be "white and Scottish."

"I just don't want to be the black James Bond," Elba told NPR in 2011. "Sean Connery wasn't the Scottish James Bond and Daniel Craig wasn't the blue-eyed James Bond, so if I played him, I don't want to be called the black James Bond." Jeva Lange

This just in
8:57 a.m. ET

A Kentucky county clerk's office denied two same-sex couples' requests for marriage licenses Tuesday morning, just hours after the Supreme Court ruled against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis' request to be excused from issuing the licenses. Davis, an Apostolic Christian opposed to same-sex marriage for religious reasons, seems to be sticking to her call to "stand firm," even if that means defying the law. She said Tuesday morning that in refusing to issue any licenses, she was operating under "God's authority." Watch:

Davis, who has stopped providing licenses to both gay and straight couples, could face daily fines or even jail time for denying the marriage licenses. Becca Stanek

Clinton Emails
8:19 a.m. ET

At first glance, this Hillary Clinton email released in the latest State Department dump would be enough to leave anyone more than a bit baffled.

For the uninitiated, gefilte fish is a Jewish food primarily eaten on Passover that essentially consists of ground white fish and egg whites. It seems to be somewhat of an acquired taste. "It may taste like cat food, but that's why I love it," a fan told The New York Times last year.

So why, exactly, was the then-U.S. secretary of state so worried about a fish dish? Turns out, back in February 2010, the shipment of nearly 400,000 pounds of frozen Asian carp fillets — an essential ingredient for gefilte fish — had been blocked by Israel ahead of the Passover holiday. Israel had slapped a 120 percent import duty on the American-caught fish that were supposed to be sent over to the Holy Land. The crates of fish were stranded, and the appearance of gefilte fish on the Seder table was in serious jeopardy.

Clinton rose to the challenge. "Sounds to me like one of those issues that should rise to the highest levels of our government," she reportedly said at the time. "I will take that mission on." She did — and probably ruined Passover for millions of gefilte fish-hating American children. Becca Stanek

This just in
8:18 a.m. ET
Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

The "main suspect" in the Aug. 17 Bangkok shrine bombing that killed 20 was arrested at a checkpoint on the Cambodian border, Thailand's prime minister said Tuesday. The suspect is the second foreigner to be detained in connection with the attack.

The motivation for the bombing is still unknown, although there are many possibilities revolving around political rivalry, organized crime, Thailand's southern rebellions, sympathizers of China's Uighur minority, or Islamist militants, AFP reports. Thailand says they are interrogating the suspect, noting that he was in the checkpoint town because he was "probably running away."

On Monday, Thai police said they found bomb-making materials at an apartment in the Min Buri district of Bangkok, the second such discovery since Saturday. Jeva Lange

This just in
8:00 a.m. ET
Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis has allowed priests the "discretion to absolve the sin of abortion," the Vatican announced on Tuesday. In the Catholic Church, abortion is a serious sin and those that procure or perform it are automatically excommunicated. However, in the upcoming Holy Year, Francis will allow priests — and not just missionaries or the chief confessor of a diocese, as per traditional Church teachings — to consider absolving individuals who, "with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it."

"I am well aware of the pressure that has led [women] to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal," Francis said, adding he has "met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision." Francis went on suggest priests might "fulfill this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence."

The Holy Year begins December 8. Jeva Lange

Ancient artifacts
7:45 a.m. ET

Sometime in the third or fourth century A.D., a Roman merchant ship carrying tin and pottery sunk in the Bay of Morlaix, on the northern coast of France. Recently rediscovered by a local diver, archaeologists are now eager to learn the secrets of the shipment of tin the Roman ship was carrying, Spero News reports.

Because the Mediterranean is devoid of major tin lodes, ancient Greeks and Romans who wanted to produce bronze, used in coins and tools, had to search abroad for tin to add to their copper, which was readily available in Cyprus. Since Julius Caesar's time, Romans had exploited the deposits of northern Europe, but the Roman shipwreck indicates tin could have been an integral part of early pan-European trade between Rome and what was then considered "barbarian lands."

The Brittany wreck turned up tin ingots in different sizes, some that were masses of metal while others were shaped like squat cones. Several bore the letter M, which researchers believe might indicate either where the metal was mined, or who it was being shipped to. Researchers plan to study key isotopes to discover the exact origins of the metal, which could possibly reveal a large-scale production and transportation operation in France's Brittany region. Five hundred ingots-worth of tin were recovered by divers from under the sea. Jeva Lange

Democracy in action
6:24 a.m. ET

On Tuesday morning, New Zealand unveiled four final designs for a new national flag that will go to a vote in November. Three of the designs feature a silver fern leaf while the fourth depicts a koru, or unfurling fern frond. The voters' choice will then be pitted against New Zealand's current flag in a second referendum next March.

A 12-person commission winnowed down 10,292 submissions to 40 semifinalists, then finally these four designs. "It is important that those designs are timeless, can work in a variety of contexts, are simple, uncluttered, balanced, and have good contrast," explained John Burrows, a professor and the chairman of the flag commission. In a recent poll, The New Zealand Herald reports, 53 percent of New Zealanders favored keeping the 1903 flag, which features Britain's Union Jack design and the Southern Cross constellation.

You can see high-resolution images of the four flags, along with the official description and the designer's description, at New Zealand's government website, or just get a glimpse of all four finalists waving in the video below. Peter Weber

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