The stars and stripes... in space!
July 4, 2014

Somewhere in the deepest reaches of space, aliens are chanting "USA! USA! USA!"

OK, that might be a stretch. But 23 million light years away, in a galaxy known as NGC 4258, there is a fireworks display so impressive it might just blow away the space-time continuum.

"Rather than paper, powder, and fire," NASA says, "this galactic light show involves a giant black hole, shock waves, and vast reservoirs of gas." So why is that so spectacular? NASA says:

[S]hock waves, similar to sonic booms from supersonic planes, are heating large amounts of gas — equivalent to about 10 million suns. What is generating these shock waves? Researchers think that the supermassive black hole at the center of NGC 4258 is producing powerful jets of high-energy particles. These jets strike the disk of the galaxy and generate shock waves. These shock waves, in turn, heat the gas — composed mainly of hydrogen molecules — to thousands of degrees. [NASA]

You can check out all the spectacular photos at, but here's a teaser:

Nico Lauricella

take a look, it's in a book
9:31 a.m. ET

Meet the new Twilight — the same, more or less, as the old Twilight.

To mark the 10th anniversary of her smash-hit YA novel, author Stephenie Meyer has released a new novel, on shelves today. Love and Death: Twilight Reimagined is a total rewrite of the first Twilight novel — with the genders of the two lead characters swapped. Bella Swan, the sullen teen girl at the heart of the original series, has become Beaufort Swan, a sullen teen boy; Edward Cullen, the immortal vampire who stole Bella's heart, is now Edythe Cullen. Writing Love and Death was "really fast and easy," says Meyer. I wonder why!

Love and Death is part of an ongoing trend in which authors find some way to regurgitate their old successes, which spares them the trouble of coming up with something new. Earlier this year, E.L. James scored a hit with Grey, a rewrite of 50 Shades of Grey from Christian Grey's perspective. J.K. Rowling continues to flesh out the minutiae of the Harry Potter universe on her website Pottermore. Even Stephenie Meyer has pulled this trick before, working on Midnight Sun — a rewrite of the first Twilight from Edward Cullen's perspective — before shelving it after the manuscript leaked online.

With any luck, publishers will come to recognize that they're just one Find+Replace search away from a literary goldmine. Why not To Mock a Killingbird, in which Scott Finch learns valuable life lessons from his mother, Attica? Or The Stupendous Gatsby, in which Nicole Carraway chronicles the doomed affair between her neighbor, Jess Gatsby, and her long-lost love Duke Buchanan? Yes, the future of sub-literary fan-fiction has never been brighter. Scott Meslow

double checking
9:23 a.m. ET

It's not just Americans who have crazy moon landing conspiracy theories — our space race pals over in Russia are skeptical, too. In fact, one blogger is so suspicious of the U.S. Apollo missions that he has managed to raise over a million rubles (about $16,000) in four days to crowdfund a "micro-probe" to take high-resolution photos of the moon — you know, just to make sure the whole "one giant leap for mankind" thing actually happened, Meduza reports.

The blogger in question, Vitaly Egorov, said the team still needs another half a million rubles to complete the probe's computer. That will only get him as far as having the physical probe, though — to send it into space, Egorov will likely need the help of investors, as well as a rocket for the probe to hitch a ride on. He's hoping it can tag along with a Russian, Indian, or Chinese moon project sometime in the next decade.

To be fair, it's not just the United States under scrutiny by Egorov and his supporters; the probe would also check out the locations of the unmanned Luna spacecraft landings and the Lunokhod rovers, both former Soviet programs. That being said, Russia has been squinting its eyes at the Apollo pictures for awhile: As Russian Investigative Commission spokesman Vladimir Markin wrote earlier this year for the newspaper Izvestia, "We are not contending that they did not fly [to the moon], and simply made a film about it. But all of these scientific — or perhaps cultural — artifacts are part of the legacy of humanity, and their disappearance without a trace is our common loss. An investigation will reveal what happened."

NASA has said that they erased the original tapes of the missions to save money. If you want to take a look at the surviving evidence yourself, NASA just put 8,400 high-resolution Apollo program photos on Flickr. Just remember — there's no wind on the moon. Jeva Lange

On the up and up
8:25 a.m. ET
David Greedy/Getty Images

Back when Scott Walker was still in the race and Jeb Bush seemed like the GOP's strongest contender, Marco Rubio, as The New York Times puts it, "looked boxed out." But now that Walker has thrown in the towel and Bush is struggling, Rubio may finally be getting his big chance — and the betting markets are paying attention. Since the last Republican debate, The New York Times reports that Rubio's chances of winning the nomination have more than doubled, jumping from 13 percent to 29 percent. That puts him only two percentage points behind Bush, at 31 percent.

But even with the window wide open for Rubio, The New York Times writer Nate Cohn wonders if the 2016 hopeful can take advantage. Rubio's widespread appeal is a double-edged sword, Cohn suggests, since he "is not the natural favorite of any wing of the party, which is the easiest way for a candidate to become the first choice to a meaningful block of voters." As a "young, Catholic, Latino lawyer from Miami," Rubio might also struggle to appeal to "old, evangelical, white, less-educated, and rural voters," Cohn writes.

Challenges aside, the odds are still looking better than ever for Rubio.

Read the full story over at The New York Times. Becca Stanek

The Daily Showdown
8:20 a.m. ET

On Monday's Daily Show, Trevor Noah addressed last week's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, and it started out with a fairly normal throw to senior correspondent Jessica Williams. It pretty quickly became apparent, though, that the Daily Show team was going to make a point about the déjà vu nature of these "terrible, unending national tragedies." And they did.

"I'm sick of having to do my job when our leaders won't even do theirs," Williams told Noah after admitting to pre-taping her segments on mass shootings and other sadly predictable events. When Noah protested that the media still has to cover tragedies like the one in Oregon, Williams said that the reports aren't pointless, exactly, just one part of America's "five stages of mass shooting grief," with Stage 4 being " a weekend of half-assed gun control debate in the media" and the final stage being when "we all go back to Keeping up with the Kardashians." When Noah responded with a rousing speech about demanding change, Williams brought the segment full circle. It's a little cynical, and pretty dark, but sadly appropriate. Watch below. Peter Weber

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

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