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April 17, 2014

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

1:37 a.m. ET

He didn't stand on a stage or display any visual aids, but Pope Francis just gave the first papal TED Talk. Released Tuesday night, the talk, "Why the only future worth building includes everyone," is delivered in Italian, though TED provides an English translation. And while the pope doesn't mention religion until halfway through, it is essentially a sermon to the "creative minds" who watch TED Talks about the need for love and human solidarity in a world where "techno-economic systems" and human indifference leave many people discarded in a "culture of waste," and where hope is not just possible but crucial. "Life is not time merely passing by," he says, "life is about interactions."

Pope Francis structured the talk around three messages: A reminder that "we all need each other, none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent 'I,' separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together"; a hope that technology and scientific innovation lead to "more equality and social inclusion," not alienation and greed; and the need for a "revolution of tenderness." He explains the coming revolution in Christian terms:

For us Christians, the future does have a name, and this name is Hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naive and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn't lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. ... A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another "you," and another "you," and it turns into an "us." And so, does hope begin when we have an "us?" No. Hope began with one "you." When there is an "us," there begins a revolution. [Pope Francis, TED Talk]

"The future of humankind isn't exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies," the pope concludes, though "they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a 'you' and themselves as part of an 'us.'" You can read his talk in English, or, watch Pope Francis deliver his TED Talk in Italian below. Peter Weber

1:06 a.m. ET
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The stray cats of Hartford, Connecticut, have a hero in Willie Ortiz.

The 76-year-old grandfather and retired welder has spent the last two decades feeding and taking care of feral and stray cats who call the streets home. He drives 22 miles a day in his 1988 Silverado to drop off food at 16 locations in Hartford and East Hartford, feeding about 68 cats. "The cats come out when they hear the sound of my engine," Ortiz told People. "They know my voice and they know the sound of my engine." He pays for all of the food, plus spaying and neutering cats and medication, by selling scrap metal that he collects.

Ortiz — who has never let sickness or weather stop him from helping the cats — wants to see the feral cat population drop, which is why spaying and neutering is so important to him. A friend set up a GoFundMe page to assist Ortiz with his costs, and after the story spread around the world, donations came pouring in from as far away as India and Portugal. As of Tuesday night, more than $31,000 has been raised for Ortiz, who will use the money to further his mission of feeding the cats and getting them fixed. "I was praying for some help, and the help came, and I was so glad that it came," he said. Catherine Garcia

12:10 a.m. ET
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Former Bachelor contestant Chris Soules has been charged with leaving the scene of a deadly crash, a felony, following an accident Monday night near Aurora, Iowa.

Police say Soules, 35, was driving his 2008 Chevrolet truck down a country road when he rear-ended a farmer driving a tractor; the pick up rolled into a ditch and the tractor went into another ditch. Soules, who was not injured in the crash, walked away from the scene, and was picked up by an unknown person, Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Scott Bright told The Des Moines Register. Several hours later, he was arrested at his home in Arlington, and on Tuesday was charged with a felony; if convicted, he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

Authorities say they are investigating if Soules was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, and during his court appearance, Buchanan County Assistant Attorney Jenalee Zaputil said he refused to come out of his home to be arrested until a search warrant was obtained. The driver of the tractor has been identified by police as Kenneth E. Mosher, 66, a farmer living in Aurora. Friends say he was married with two children, a veteran, and a member of the American Legion. Soules first appeared on The Bachelorette in 2014, and was chosen to star in the 19th season of The Bachelor the next year. He later was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars and Worst Cooks in America. In 2005, he was convicted of drunken driving. Catherine Garcia

12:00 a.m. ET

Last month, President Trump dismissed speculation that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's job is in jeopardy, telling a small working lunch that he's "not firing Sean Spicer" because "that guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in," The Washington Post reports. Trump reportedly added, proudly, that Spicer's daily briefings draw nearly as many viewers as daytime soap operas. "Clearly, Sean Spicer is a soap opera," Stephen Colbert joked on Monday's Late Show. "That explains why his character is constantly getting amnesia."

On Tuesday, The Late Show picked up the Spicer-soap opera thread again, this time splicing Spicer into his own soap opera, The Bold and the Babbling. (The actual soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful, not coincidentally, is on CBS, like The Late Show.) Instead of amnesia, though, the bold, babbling Spicer appears to have a paternity problem. Watch below. Peter Weber

April 25, 2017
Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

A suspected murderer gave police an alibi so outlandish — it involves a masked assailant with a voice like Vin Diesel's who was ultimately chased off with a blowtorch — that the fact a Fitbit could hold the key to whether he is telling the truth isn't the strangest part of the story.

Richard Dabate told authorities that at around 9 a.m. on Dec. 23, 2015, a mysterious intruder entered his Ellington, Connecticut, home, and subdued him using "pressure points," The Guardian reports. Then, using a gun belonging to Richard, the man shot Dabate's wife, Connie, as she returned home from the gym. Dabate then claimed he used a blowtorch to chase the assailant away. Police say that Connie Dabate's Fitbit tells a different story.

The electronic physical activity tracking device showed that Connie was moving for more than an hour after her husband said the murder took place, police documents say. It also showed that once she came home, she moved more than 1,200 feet; Richard Dabate said she was killed in the garage right when she arrived home. Investigators say they also looked at computer records and found that Richard Dabate lied about sending an email to his work from the road, plus they were unable to find any signs of a forced entry, struggle, or a tall man with a "Vin Diesel voice," which is how Dabate described the alleged murderer.

Police say the couple's marriage was on shaky ground, and that Richard Dabate had a pregnant girlfriend on the side and attempted to claim a $475,000 life insurance policy on Connie Dabate five days after her murder. Now facing trial on charges of murder, tampering with evidence, and making a false statement, Dabate is due back in court Friday. Catherine Garcia

April 25, 2017
Rich Polk/Getty Images

Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against her ex-boss Roger Ailes last year, is writing a book on women's empowerment that will come out this fall.

Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back is set to be released on Sept. 26, Hachette's Center Street Books announced Tuesday. The book will teach women how to recognize harassment and how to fight back, as well as share ways to end workplace abuse, the publisher says. After Carlson came forward with her claims against Ailes, which he denied, several other women lodged similar complaints, and he was ultimately ousted from Fox News. Carlson settled with the network in September.

"Make no mistake — sexual harassment is not just about sex," Carlson said in a statement. "It's really about power. Sexual harassers feel they can get away with it because they believe they're the ones holding all the cards. It doesn't occur to them that the women they're harassing have power, too. We need to encourage women to stop being silent, stand up and speak up, and join the movement. Together, we can make change." Catherine Garcia

April 25, 2017
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Several House Freedom Caucus members are close to throwing their support behind a new version of the GOP health-care bill, several White House officials and Republican lawmakers told The Washington Post Tuesday.

The officials said three of the ultra-conservative group's leaders — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) — hinted on Tuesday that they will back the revised bill. The GOP's earlier plan fizzled in March, when House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pulled the American Health Care Act from the floor when it became clear it didn't have the votes. Most members of the House Freedom Caucus said at the time they would not vote for the bill as it was written.

Officials told The Post that the revised bill would make it so insurers could secure a federal waiver that kept them from having to cover certain essential health benefits established by the federal government, and while it would still require that people with preexisting conditions receive coverage, they could be charged higher premiums. The language was crafted by Meadows and Rep. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), co-chairman of the more moderate Tuesday Group. Several Republicans told The Post that they are skeptical this new legislation would receive enough support, either, and GOP leaders in the House are not spearheading the discussions with the Freedom Caucus. Catherine Garcia

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