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
Without waiting for the end of the year, the World Meteorological Organization announced Wednesday that 2015 was the hottest year on record. "I would call it certain. Something game-changing massive would have to happen for it not to be a record," Deke Arndt, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's chief climate officer, told The Associated Press. 2015 saw temperatures soar worldwide as a result of a strong El Nino and man-made global warming, with the planet likely having warmed by 1 degree Celsius, an alarming climate change milestone.
Here's a look back at some of the extreme weather across the globe, from heat waves in Pakistan and India to Hurricane Patricia to droughts, floods, and fires across the United States. Jeva Lange
A U.S.-led airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October was the result of "human error," according to findings released today. The military had accidently aimed at the hospital instead of at the intended target, a Taliban command center 450 yards away. Technical errors were also at fault.
At least 30 staff members and patients were killed in the attack, which continued even after the humanitarian organization made repeated distress calls to U.S. and Afghan officials during the strike. "U.S. forces would never intentionally [strike] a hospital," Gen. John Campbell, the top NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said. Jeva Lange
President Obama is a man who likes his pies. He's even joked that his former pastry chef, Bill Yosses, is so good at what he does that it's like the pies have crack in them (Obama and Michelle fondly called Yosses "the Crustmaster").
"Some people prefer cake. I like pie." —President Obama http://t.co/42tOiQ2ogf
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 4, 2014
The Obama Thanksgiving dinners famously have all kinds of pies as a result of the president's tastes; last year there were at least half a dozen varieties including huckleberry, pecan, peach, apple, chocolate cream, sweet potato, pumpkin, cherry, and coconut and banana cream.
But why stop at six? Here's how you can make all of the famous White House pies from over the years. Jeva Lange
An estimated 1 percent of the U.S. population is catching a flight for Thanksgiving — although if their destinations are any indication, quite a few of those 3.6 million travelers aren't going home for the holiday. According to numbers crunched by The New York Times, places like Nevada and Hawaii have a large influx of incoming travelers this Thanksgiving, indicating that perhaps plenty of people across the U.S. have been pining for a little sun or slots. More than anywhere else, however, flights to Miami and Orlando have seen the biggest swell of travelers, once adjusted for populations.
To be fair, that doesn't necessarily mean everyone is racing to the beach rather than home to their families; "home to family," the Times points out, could mean visiting parents who have moved elsewhere and retired. Although that's not to say you can't kill two birds with one stone — both Orlando and Miami are expecting 80-degree Thanksgivings.
Take a look at where everyone's flying today, below. Jeva Lange
Speaking at a campaign event in South Carolina on Tuesday, Donald Trump suggested that Americans should call the police on new people in their neighborhoods who look suspicious while moving in.
"People move into a house a block down the road, you know who's going in," Trump said. "You can see and you report them to the local police." He noted that "most likely" reports will be wrong, "but that's OK." In this manner, Trump added, everyone can be "their own cop in a way."
Thanksgiving with family often features an unwanted serving of political debate, and this year the Democratic National Committee wants to ensure millennial Democrats can give as good as they get. To this end, the DNC has published a 2015 version of YourRepublicanUncle.com, which offers comeback flashcards — with overtones of snark and undertones of rage — pertaining to five hot-button issues and five GOP presidential candidates.
While the issue selection seems pretty straightforward, the logic of which candidates were included isn't so clear: For instance, why does John Kasich, polling below 3 percent nationally, make the cut, while Ben Carson, who nears 20 percent support in recent polls, is nowhere to be found? Also unclear is what users can do if their uncle fails to be persuaded by the handful of responses offered for each category — or, in the site's parlance, if he's "still talking."
It's no secret that campaigns want to know who you know. President Obama's campaign, for example, developed "Targeted Sharing" back in 2012, a tactic which encouraged users who opted in to share specific content with particular groups of friends in order to get them to register to vote, donate to the campaign, or watch a persuasive video.
"People don't trust campaigns. They don't even trust media organizations," Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign's digital director, told Time in 2012. "Who do they trust? Their friends."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich gets that — or, at the very least, his super-PAC New Day for America does. They're working with a New York data company, Applecart, to construct "webs" of influencers in order to target potential voters, Bloomberg reports. But instead of limiting themselves to who is active on Facebook, Applecart is taking an old-school approach, combing high school yearbooks, local newspapers, community sports rosters, and published staff lists to discover who might be receptive to who:
When volunteers arrive at New Day phone banks either in New Hampshire or Kasich's political base of Columbus, Ohio, they are given call sheets prioritized by who the voters know. The targets are prospective "anchors," those whom statistical models have identified as open to Kasich (even as a second or third choice) and also whose connection scores showed them as likely to be interacting with others. The idea is to convert these anchors into de facto campaign surrogates. "It doesn't take too many people who are connected to a persuadable target to say nice things to them about John Kasich," to start to close the deal, says Matt Kalmans, a 22-year-old co-founder of Applecart. [Bloomberg]
Applecart uses social graphs, where each voter is webbed to their known contacts — Bloomberg notes that a dozen such voters in New Hampshire were deemed "hermits," with no significant interpersonal links. Although to be fair, anyone being bombarded by old high school friends who have suddenly got nothing to talk about but John Kasich might be wishing they were a hermit, too. Jeva Lange