July 25, 2014
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In spite of what fantasists, conspiracy theorists, incompetent interpreters of the Mayan calendar and Roland Emmerich suggested, the world did not end on the 21st of December 2012. But earlier that year, on the 23rd of July, the world really did come extremely close to what NASA estimates would have been a $2 trillion economic and technological disaster.

A coronal mass ejection — a huge burst of hot plasma — from the surface of the sun exploded into space. And if it had hit the Earth, the burst of charged particles would have severely damaged Earth's infrastructure of satellites, computers, the electrical grid, medical equipment, and smartphones. Unshielded electric circuits would be fried.

"If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces," Daniel Baker, of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, told The Guardian. He adds that "[i]f the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire."

The sun periodically blows off huge quantities of plasma. The last time Earth was struck was 1859, an event referred to in astronomy as The Carrington Event for its discoverer Sir Richard Carrington. That was before we came to rely on electrical equipment and computers for our modern way of life. But even then, it caused telegraph lines to spark enough to set fire to some telegraph offices. And the Northern Lights, were visible as far south as Cuba.

Nobody knows when such an event will occur again, but FEMA warns Americans should be prepared for the possibility, and recommends a series of steps for preparation, including making back-up copies of important digital data and information, keeping your car's gas tank at least half full, and filling plastic containers with water and placing them in your refrigerator or freezer. John Aziz

4:20 a.m. ET

On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the House Republican health care bill, and it no longer projects that 24 million fewer people will have health insurance in a decade — now it's only 23 million. "To put that in perspective," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show, "if you lay 23 million people end-to-end, they would reach a country where you can get health care." The CBO also said the bill would raise premiums for older, poor Americans by as much as 850 percent, he noted. "So I think the GOP repealed and replaced your grandpa."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) says the Senate will start from scratch, since "I don't know how we get to 50" votes with the House version. Well, Colbert said, "if this passes, getting to 50 will also be the new lifespan goal."

"The CBO is already having a huge political impact," Colbert said, recapping Montana GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte body-slamming Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, then playing the audio Jacobs captured of the altercation. "That's good reporting right there," Colbert said. "He knows there's no video, so he's narrating his own body-slam."

The election was Thursday (spoiler: Gianforte won), and the body-slamming was Wednesday night. "It's gotta be pretty damaging, I just don't know how anyone could vote for a candidate who body-slams people," Colbert deadpanned, cueing up a clip of President Trump body-slamming someone. "I forgot: nothing matters. But that reporter may have gotten off easy." He played an actual commercial where Gianforte shot a computer screen, but ended up expressing fake sympathy for the congressman-elect, and showed that he, Stephen Colbert, has been known to body-slam interlocutors, too.

Meanwhile, the Russian investigation is still looming over Trump "like a congressman over an unconscious reporter," Colbert said. We now know that former FBI Director James Comey kept detailed notes of his questionable communications with the White House, and "news of these notes has some people freaking out," especially White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, he said. "The Comey note that Priebus is most worried about would've been written back in February," when Priebus reportedly called Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, and asked them to "knock down" the reports of communications between Trump's associates and Russia. There is a Chumbawamba joke in there, and also a questionable Masterpiece Theatre one, and you can watch below. Peter Weber

3:35 a.m. ET
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President Trump arrived in Sicily on Thursday night for a G7 summit on Friday in the coastal town of Taormina with the leaders of Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Britain, and Canada. He will start the day with a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the only leader who wasn't with Trump in Brussels for a NATO summit on Thursday. "The day will feature a welcoming ceremony and concert at the remains of an ancient Greek temple, as well as a relentless number of meetings, many of which White House aides are hoping to keep short in order to keep Trump's attention," The Associated Press reports.

The topics of discussion will veer from tackling terrorism, which has broad consensus, to climate change and trade, where Trump is essentially the odd leader out. Migration and North Korea will also be big topics. "It's time for him to have an intimate discussion and understand their issues but, more importantly, for them to understand our issues," economic adviser Gary Cohn told reporters late Thursday, en route to Sicily.

The NATO summit ended with Trump scolding his 27 fellow leaders for not spending enough on defense and falling short of voluntary benchmarks, and declining to explicitly endorse NATO's Article 5 pledge of mutual support. The G7 summit might be a little better suited to Trump's skills, G7 experts say. "It is a forum made for Donald Trump's particular style. It is highly informal, highly interactive, and they speak in very colloquial language to each other," said John Kirton, director of the University of Toronto's G7 Research Group. "It is the ultimate lonely hearts club. No one understands how tough it is to have the top job except the peers with the top job in other countries."

Breaking with longstanding tradition, Trump has not held a press conference all trip, and he isn't expected to hold one in Sicily, the last stop on his nine-day tour, either. Peter Weber

2:42 a.m. ET

You shouldn't read too much into body language at international summits of world leaders, but gestures also don't mean nothing. Take the playfully passive-aggressive handshakes between President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday in Brussels. The first one was nothing special — Macron shook hands with Trump, then first lady Melania Trump, and they all went inside the U.S. ambassador's residence. The second one, however, was a doozy.

Here's how Washington Post White House bureau chief Philip Rucker, writing for the press pool, described that handshake: "They shook hands for an extended period of time. Each president gripped the other's hand with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening." Maybe Macron had heard about Trump's handshakes and came prepared. But Trump caught on, and in their next encounter, at NATO headquarters, he gave Macron the classic Trump treatment.

But if you watch Macron's entrance leading up to that handshake, you can see him veer from Trump at the last minute and embrace German Chancellor Angela Merkel first, putting Trump off for last. Perhaps Macron was being chivalrous by approaching the woman before the men, and he clearly knows his neighboring German leader more than the American president.

Or, as author J.K. Rowling suggests:

Incendio, as they say. Peter Weber

2:09 a.m. ET

Courtney Donlon was sleeping on her flight home to New Jersey on Monday when an announcement woke her up — over the loudspeaker, a crew member was asking if any medical professionals were on board.

Donlon, 22, started as a nurse in the respiratory care unit at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick in September, and she quickly volunteered to help. A 57-year-old woman was experiencing the classic symptoms of a heart attack, and working with just a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, small tank of oxygen, aspirin, and defibrillator, Donlon got to work. "I was trying to think a step ahead — if she loses consciousness or a pulse and I have to give CPR," she told "I was thinking, how do I make what I do have here work."

As she assisted the woman, Donlon also made sure to calm her down, as stress causes heart and breathing rates to become elevated. Fearing it was a "dire situation," Donlon asked the pilot to make an emergency landing, and Donlon waited with the woman on the tarmac in Charleston, South Carolina, holding her hand, until paramedics arrived. Donlon, whose mother and sister are both nurses at her hospital, said she does not know the status of the woman, but hopes to hear from her when she can. "I can't lie, I was nervous at first being on a plane with limited supplies, but once I realized I was the most qualified person on the plane and someone had to be the confident one, then I could take to the role pretty easily," Donlon told Catherine Garcia

1:30 a.m. ET

Republican Greg Gianforte, the projected winner of Montana's special election to fill its vacant House seat, used part of his victory speech Thursday night to apologize to the reporter he has been charged with assaulting.

"Last night, I made a mistake, and I took an action that I can't take back," Gianforte said in front of a crowd in Bozeman. "I'm not proud of what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that, I am sorry." At that point, someone in the audience yelled, "You are forgiven," which resulted in some cheers of agreement. Gianforte shushed the crowd and continued, "I should not have treated that reporter that way and for that, I'm sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs."

The Guardian's Jacobs and a Fox News crew in the room say Gianforte "body slammed" Jacobs at an event in Bozeman, resulting in his glasses being broken; he had to go to a local hospital to be checked out and have X-rays taken of his elbow. The Gianforte campaign released a statement that claimed Jacobs "aggressively" put a recorder in Gianforte's face, then "grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both the ground," but not long after, Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna posted her eyewitness account of the incident, which lined up with what Jacobs said and an audio recording that was released by The Guardian. You can watch Acuna explain what she saw below. Catherine Garcia

1:05 a.m. ET

President Trump has landed in Sicily for a G7 summit and the final leg of his eight-day trip abroad, and he's been giving a lot of speeches on this tour, Jimmy Kimmel noted on Thursday's Kimmel Live. Trump has been reading from prepared scripts, which is a good idea, he said. "I've noticed, though, it sounds like a fourth-grade book report. He speaks very slowly and simply, not too bigly, he just stays in the middle and uses vocabulary even a child could understand. And to highlight that, we asked some actual fourth graders to read parts of Trump's actual speeches from this trip, to show how they stack up with the big kid in the Oval Office."

The kids are adorable, of course, and it turns out they are pretty good at reading presidential speeches, too. Maybe one of them will grow up to be president. In the meantime, you can decide who read it better below. Peter Weber

12:53 a.m. ET
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Republican Greg Gianforte is projected to win the Montana House seat left vacant by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

With 78 percent of precincts reporting, Gianforte has 167,871 votes, compared to Democrat Rob Quist with 143,410 votes and Libertarian Mark Wicks with 19,251 votes. On Wednesday night, Gianforte was charged with assault, following an altercation with The Guardian's Ben Jacobs, who accused Gianforte of "body slamming" him and breaking his glasses. Gianforte's campaign claimed Jacobs, who recorded audio of the incident, "grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground," but eyewitnesses backed Jacobs' account. Going into Thursday's election, 37 percent of Montana's registered voters had already voted absentee. Catherine Garcia

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