It was only a matter of time.
[NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech]
Today, researchers at NASA pinpointed the best candidate for life elsewhere in the universe: an Earth-sized planet — Kepler-186f, orbiting a dwarf star. The star, Kepler 18, is 6,500 lightyears from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.
The planet is closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, but because Kepler 186 is a smaller star, the habitable zone — where water on its surface would be liquid — is closer in.
[NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech]
Scientists don't yet know its composition, and so can't answer key questions like whether its surface is rocky, or whether it possesses liquid water— and, of course, the big question of whether or not it harbors any form of life.
This is likely to be the first of many. The planet was discovered using the Kepler space telescope, launched in 2009 with the specific aim of seeking out extrasolar planets. Kepler has found dozens of exoplanets, most of them gaseous giants like Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. Large planets — particularly ones very close to their star — are easier to identify, because of the larger gravitational and dimming effects they have on their stars' light emissions. Smaller Earth-sized planets — and particularly ones relatively further away from their star, like Earth — have smaller effects, making them harder for scientists to detect.
So this is a pretty historic day in the history of astronomy, and the history of human civilization. Whether or not the planet contains life at present, at the very least that we have detected a good candidate outside our solar system to visit, and maybe one day colonize. John Aziz
If you're like me, you've shrugged off more than a few morning runs this summer, telling yourself it would be irresponsible to run in this heat/be extra tired at work/get out of bed before you have to. Whatever your excuses, it seems Kansas City Royals center-fielder Jarrod Dyson does not share them, at least if this ridiculous home run-robbing catch he made Thursday night is any indication:
— #Statcast (@statcast) August 25, 2016
Dyson topped out at nearly 20 mph in his mad dash for the ball, and by fielding what should have been a sure-fire homer for Miami Marlins left-fielder Christian Yelich, Dyson committed the first-ever home-run robbery at Marlins Park.
Now as someone who admittedly gravitates more toward the other Big Four sports, baseball tends to, er, lack the excitement I crave. That said, a cheetah generally tops out at around 60-70 mph, so Dyson is impressively about a third of the way toward matching the world's fastest land animal — but no word on how well the cheetah's hand-eye coordination would translate to defensive baseball. Kimberly Alters
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) found himself in hot water Friday, after news of a profanity-laced voicemail he left for a state lawmaker made headlines. LePage left state Rep. Drew Gattine (D) an aggressive voicemail, the Portland Press Herald reports, in response to allegations Gattine apparently made suggesting LePage was a racist following the governor's characterization of drug dealers in Maine as "90-plus percent … black and Hispanic."
LePage, who has been an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump for president, reportedly challenged Gattine to back up his alleged accusations of racism:
"Mr. Gattine, this is Gov. Paul Richard LePage," a recording of the governor's phone message says. "I would like to talk to you about your comments about my being a racist, you (expletive). I want to talk to you. I want you to prove that I'm a racist. I've spent my life helping black people and you little son-of-a-bitch, socialist (expletive). You … I need you to, just friggin. I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you. Thank you." [Maine Gov. Paul LePage, via Portland Press Herald]
In a follow-up encounter with a reporter from the paper, LePage said that he wished "it were 1825" so he could duel Gattine. "I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you," LePage said, referring to Alexander Hamilton's famous, fatal duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. "I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt." Read more about the entire ordeal at the Portland Press Herald. Kimberly Alters
If you seek a pure encapsulation of the festering mess of feelings this presidential election has engendered nationwide, look no further than a dozen swing voters from Brookfield, Wisconsin, who participated in a Washington Post focus group this week. Though 11 of the 12 believe Hillary Clinton will beat Donald Trump come November, the group cast both candidates as deeply flawed choices in a "cesspool" election.
For Clinton, the most common word mentioned was "liar," and the former secretary of state's image as a self-serving career politician came up frequently. "You can't trust her," said Beth Gramling, who voted for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. "The trust to know between right and wrong, and integrity. I don't think that she has that, and it's a shame."
Trump — labeled America's "drunk uncle" — didn't fare any better. "Trump, the way he acts. Every day you turn on the TV, and I just shake my head," said Sheri LaValley, who also has voted for both Republican and Democratic nominees since 2000.
Even the voters who have decided to vote for one of the two were dispirited in their choice. A Trump supporter said he felt "apprehensive," and worried about Trump's unfettered style, while a Clinton supporter mustered a less-than-ringing endorsement: "I'm choosing what I feel is the lesser of two evils." Bonnie Kristian
Kellyanne Conway says Donald Trump 'deserves credit' for being brave enough to court minority voters
Trump campaign spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway thinks Donald Trump "deserves credit" for going where most Republicans haven't: into "communities of color." "Republican presidential nominees usually are not bold enough to go into communities of color and take the case right to them and to compete for all ears and compete for all votes. They've been afraid to do that," Conway said Friday on Good Morning America.
Conway's defense of Trump's effort comes amid criticism that he's painting an unnecessarily bleak picture of African-American communities, with comments about high rates of poverty and unemployment and schools that are "no good." "This entire conversation had to be had," Conway said, noting that Hillary Clinton — who far and away leads among black voters — has suggested policies that would leave "many people behind."
"We hope they're listening," Conway said of minority voters. Watch the interview, below. Becca Stanek
On Thursday, Oxford Dictionaries launched #OneWordMap, an online survey asking readers to submit their least favorite word in the English language, along with their age, location, and gender. "Moist" was an early frontrunner in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, while "phlegm" took the lead in New Zealand.
Just one day later, though, the whole project has been shut down after answers turned wildly, predictably offensive. "We regret to inform users that due to severe misuse we have had to remove this feature from our website," Oxford Dictionaries said in a brief statement on the now-shuttered project page.
Though the organization declined to specify exactly which "swearwords and religiously offensive" words were winning, comments on Twitter suggest "Islam" and "Israel" were among the more popular choices. Bonnie Kristian
Donald Trump's favorite attack line against rival Hillary Clinton of late has been to call her a "bigot." He first used the word during a rally in Mississippi on Wednesday, and parroted it again Thursday when challenged by CNN's Anderson Cooper, who asked Trump whether he really meant Clinton possessed the hatred described in the dictionary definition of bigotry.
On Friday morning, MSNBC's Morning Joe played footage of Trump's confrontation with Cooper before host Mika Brzezinski issued a sober condemnation of Trump's seemingly careless diction:
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) August 26, 2016
Brzezinski herself has been a target of Trump's attacks, alongside her Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough. Most recently, Trump called her "neurotic" and "not very bright," catapulting Brzezinski into the long list of female TV personalities Trump has personally insulted. Kimberly Alters
On Friday, France's Council of State ruled against the country's controversial burkini ban, which outlawed a full-coverage swimsuit worn mostly by Muslim women. While the court's decision only suspends a ban in the town of Villeneuve-Loubet, it has the potential to reverse the estimated 30 bans already installed in other cities and once again allow women to wear the body-covering swimsuits on the beach. The burkini covers the entire body including the head, leaving only the face, hands, and feet exposed, to better conform to Islamic rules of modesty.
French mayors decided to ban the burkini because of "growing terror concerns," CNN reported. The ban does not explicitly name burkinis, instead only prohibiting "beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation," The Guardian reported, but human rights activists quickly fought back, arguing that the ban impeded religious freedoms and encouraged fear-mongering.
The court sided with those activists Friday, saying that the ban "seriously and clearly illegally breached fundamental freedoms to come and go, freedom of beliefs and individual freedom," BBC reported. The ruling is temporary, however, and a more definitive decision on the burkini ban is still to come. Becca Stanek