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March 24, 2014

The new trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past begins by assuring audiences that this is far bigger than your average X-Men sequel. "So many battles waged over the years," says Patrick Stewart's Professor X in the new trailer. "And yet, none of them like this. Are we destined to destroy each other? Or can we change who we are and unite? Is the future truly set?"

It's hard to argue with director Bryan Singer's ambitious vision. Days of Future Past uses a mind-bending time travel storyline to unite the casts from the original X-Men trilogy and the Cold War-era prequel First Class, resulting in a sprawling, star-studded superhero sequel. This new trailer offers glimpses at a number of intriguing elements, including new villain Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the terrifying Sentinels, and a fraught conversation between Professor X and his younger self (James McAvoy).

Will this massive X-Men story score with audiences? We'll find out when Days of Future Past hits theaters on May 23. --Scott Meslow

3:06 p.m. ET

Another day, another startling poll about how Americans view President Trump. Today's major revelation: Voters' optimism in Trump's remaining tenure has dramatically dropped in three months' time.

In a new Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday, 45 percent of voters said they were optimistic about Trump's "next few years" as president while 52 percent said they were pessimistic. Compare that with how voters felt in March: When asked the same question then, 52 percent said they were optimistic and 46 percent said they were pessimistic.

Trump's overall job approval rating, however, hasn't fluctuated dramatically. In the survey released Wednesday, he was approved of by 37 percent of voters and disapproved of by 55 percent. In the March survey, he was approved of by 36 percent of voters and disapproved of by 58 percent.

The poll additionally found that a majority of voters (54 percent to 43 percent) believe Trump "is abusing the powers of his office." "President Donald Trump remains mired in dreadful mid-30s approval numbers and the red flags that are popping up tell an even darker story," said the assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll, Tim Malloy. "Retirement age voters are leaving in big numbers. But by far the most alarming determination is that President Trump is abusing his office."

A total of 1,404 respondents were reached by Quinnipiac between May 17 and 23; the survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points. See the full results here. Jeva Lange

2:34 p.m. ET
iStock

Earlier this month, people around the world gawked at viral photos of a massive sea monster that had washed up on an Indonesian beach. Aside from looking like a grotesque, melting, Dalí-worthy nightmare, part of what was so strange and horrifying about the carcass was the size — the beast from the deep stretched nearly 50 feet in length.

Unfortunately, reality is always a little disappointing: The remains belonged to a baleen whale. But there is certainly something rather mythical and monstrous about cetaceans, and how exactly they became so colossal compared to everything else on Earth. The blue whale, for example, can stretch over 80 feet and weigh 380,000 pounds.

A study published Tuesday might have the answers. Whales, as it turns out, only became enormous in the past 4.5 million years or so: "All of a sudden — 'boom' — we see them get very big, like blue whales," the author of the paper, Smithsonian Institution marine mammal fossil curator Nick Pyenson, told The New York Times. "It's like going from whales the size of minivans to longer than two school buses."

Around the time whales bloated up to the size of, uh, whales, large ice sheets were beginning to cover swaths of the Northern Hemisphere:

Runoff from the glaciers would have washed nutrients like iron into coastal waters and intense seasonal upwelling cycles would have caused cold water from deep below to rise, bringing organic material toward the surface. Together these ecological effects brought large amounts of nutrients into the water at specific times and places, which had a cascading effect on the ocean's food web. [The New York Times]

In other words, whales were able to gorge themselves on zooplankton and krill to their car-sized-heart's content. In order to migrate and follow the food sources with the seasons, too, larger aquatic mammals were also more likely to survive the transoceanic journeys.

"A blue whale is able to move so much further using so much less energy than a small-bodied whale," explained evolutionary biologist Dr. Graham Slater said. "It became really advantageous if you're going to move long distances if you're big." Jeva Lange

2:15 p.m. ET
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

At this point in the game, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) isn't super optimistic Senate Republicans can pass the American Health Care Act. "I don't know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment. But that's the goal," McConnell told Reuters in an interview published Wednesday. The GOP plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, which recently passed the House in a narrow vote, is now up for debate in the Senate.

Though McConnell doesn't plan to reach out to Democrats on health care or tax reform because the "differences between the two parties are too stark," he did seem more optimistic about the latter. He deemed chances of passing tax legislation "pretty good" — though he admitted it would still be tough, just not "as challenging as health care." Becca Stanek

2:01 p.m. ET

HBO is finally throwing Game of Thrones fans a bone that's a little more juicy than watching a giant block of ice melt. Judging by the first full trailer for the series' penultimate seventh season, things are about to get bloody — or, well, bloodier than normal. The Lannisters, Queen Cersei and Jamie, are surrounded and prepared to level "whatever stands in our way"; Daenerys Targaryen (with dragons in tow) is invading as she "was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms"; and King of the North Jon Snow prepares for the "coming storm."

Brace yourself for the Great War before Game of Thrones returns July 16, and watch the trailer below in the meantime. Jeva Lange

1:43 p.m. ET
iStock

For flamingos, standing on one leg might actually be easier than standing on two. A report published Wednesday in The Royal Society's Biology Letters revealed that flamingos might literally be built to stand on one leg, which would explain how they're able to do so while they sleep without toppling over.

When the researchers' first idea for testing flamingos' balance — walking over to the birds in a zoo and giving them "a little prod" — was rejected, they turned to studying flamingo cadavers. To their surprise, they found that while a dead flamingo can't stand on two legs, it can still balance on one. When the researchers began studying live flamingos — by watching them until the birds dozed off — they found out flamingos' balance became better as they fell asleep.

That led researchers to realize that flamingos' fantastic balance might have something to do with their anatomy, specifically a built-in "stay mechanism." The Washington Post explained the phenomenon:

The bird's skeleton appears to be the key. As with humans, flamingos have two main joints on their leg. The one you can see, that bends backward, is not the knee. That's actually the bird’s ankle. Its knee, meanwhile, is hidden in the bird's features at the fatter part of its body.

When the flamingo is ready to nod off, it lifts one leg and instinctively moves its body so its single foot isn't under its hip. Instead, it's centered directly under the carriage of bird. Meanwhile, pulling the other leg up forces the knee to bend, which the flamingo rests on. All the joints essentially snap into place.

[...] As the flamingo remains nearly perfectly still while sleeping, gravity does the rest, keeping the bird in place. [The Washington Post]

Though the researchers might be one step closer to figuring out how flamingos stand on one leg, the question of why they do so remains a mystery. Flamingo studier Matt Anderson, of St. Joseph's University, pointed out to The Atlantic that if standing on one leg saved flamingos so much energy, "one would expect flamingos to employ the one-legged resting stance constantly." Becca Stanek

1:40 p.m. ET
Mark A. Leonesio/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

In addition to apparently giving Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte a pat on the back for the extrajudicial slaughter of thousands of small-time drug users and dealers, President Trump apparently made another major stumble during the leaders' April phone call: revealing where our nuclear submarines are.

On Tuesday, a leaked transcript of their conversation revealed that Trump reassured Duterte that America has "a lot of firepower" near North Korea. "We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines, not that we want to use them at all," Trump said.

Defense officials were horrified. "We never talk about the subs!" three separate Pentagon officials told BuzzFeed News. While the U.S. announces the movements of aircraft carriers as a show of force — and because they're not very easy to hide — submarines "are, at times, a furtive complement to the carriers, a hard-to-detect means of strategic deterrence," BuzzFeed News writes:

By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise — an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the U.S. announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combating ISIS.

Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two U.S. submarines are in the region could allow them to test their own military capabilities. [BuzzFeed News]

Additionally, it is unclear why Trump chose to volunteer the potentially sensitive information to Duterte, as the Philippines are not involved with the U.S. military on de-escalating and deterring North Korean aggression. Following Trump's highly criticized decision to share extraordinarily sensitive intelligence with the Russians "off script" earlier this month, his comments to Duterte are "likely to raise questions about his handling of sensitive information," Reuters reports. Jeva Lange

1:26 p.m. ET
Dave Thompson/Getty Images

U.K. police confirmed Wednesday that they are now investigating a "terror network" in connection to the attack Monday night in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people. "This is a network that we are investigating," Chief Constable Ian Hopkins of the Greater Manchester Police told journalists Wednesday. "There's an extensive investigation going on, and activity taking place across Greater Manchester as we speak."

Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old man who is believed to have exploded a suicide bomb at an Ariana Grande concert, was known to British intelligence and security agencies "up to a point," British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said. On Wednesday, police made a fifth arrest in connection to the incident.

The U.K. on Tuesday increased its terrorist threat level to "critical," the highest possible level, for the first time in a decade. The designation means a terror attack is considered "imminent" and allows for up to 3,800 military personnel to be deployed instead of police officers at public events. Becca Stanek

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