September 24, 2014

Black holes have inspired everything from sci-fi films to questionably racist greeting cards — which is all the more surprising considering that, according to one scientist, they may not even exist.

Laura Mersini-Houghton, a physics professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says she has mathematic proof that black holes "can never come into being in the first place," according to a statement from the university. Black holes, scientists have long believed, are the "ultimate unknown," because they are "the blackest and most dense objects in the universe." Mersini-Houghton, though, wants to disprove common ideas about the elusive black holes.

Mersini-Houghton looked at two leading theories of the universe, Einstein's theory of gravity and a fundamental law of quantum theory. The theories appear to contradict each other — the quantum theory law says that "no information from the universe can ever disappear," while Einstein's theory "predicts the formation of black holes." But Mersini-Houghton has merged what was known as the "information law paradox," and her findings will make scientists "reimagine the fabric of space-time" and "rethink the origins of the universe," according to the university.

"I'm still not over the shock," Mersini-Houghton said in the statement. "We've been studying this problem for more than 50 years, and this solution gives us a lot to think about."

Previous thought suggests that black holes form when stars collapse, and their gravitational pull creates the black hole. Stephen Hawking proved that black holes release radiation, and Mersini-Houghton has built on Hawking's ideas. She argues that when stars release radiation, they also lose mass — so much mass, in fact, that the star wouldn't have enough density to ever become a black hole.

"Physicists have been trying to merge these two theories — Einstein's theory of gravity and quantum mechanics — for decades, but this scenario brings these two theories together, into harmony," Mersini-Houghton said in the statement. "And that's a big deal." Meghan DeMaria

8:07 p.m.

The Supreme Court on Monday night said Pennsylvania election officials will be allowed to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day, rejecting a Republican request to block a Pennsylvania state court ruling granting the extension.

The court was tied 4-4, The Washington Post reports, with Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh — the court's most conservative justices – saying they would have issued a stay on the ruling, which required five votes.

Pennsylvania is a battleground state that President Trump narrowly won in 2016 — he beat Hillary Clinton there by just 44,000 votes. Catherine Garcia

7:17 p.m.

Department of Justice lawyers argued on Monday that President Trump should not be personally sued for denying a rape accusation because he refuted the allegation while acting in his official capacity as president, The New York Times reports.

In June 2019, writer E. Jean Carroll accused Trump of raping her in a department store in the 1990s. He publicly rejected this claim and accused her of lying to sell her new book; in return, Carroll filed a defamation suit against him. Last month, Attorney General William Barr intervened in the lawsuit, a highly unusual move, seeing as how the alleged incident took place years before Trump became president.

The government lawyers argued on Monday that Trump didn't slander Carroll and his denial was an official act because he "addressed matters relating to his fitness for office as part of an official White House response to press inquiries. Given the president's position in our constitutional structure, his role in communicating with the public is especially significant."

Earlier this month, Carroll's lawyers filed court papers trying to block the Department of Justice from taking over Trump's case, saying "there is not a single person in the United States — not the president and not anyone else — whose job description includes slandering women they sexually assaulted." Catherine Garcia

5:41 p.m.

Jeffrey Epstein's confidante Ghislaine Maxwell has lost her fight to keep testimony about Epstein a secret.

A federal appeals court ruled against Maxwell in two combined cases on Monday, the Miami Herald reports. A lower court had ruled Maxwell's 2016 testimony regarding Epstein could be released, and the Second Circuit court agreed.

In question was a 418-page deposition Maxwell gave in April 2016 in a now-settled civil lawsuit regarding Epstein, the disgraced financier who died in jail after being accused of running a minor sex ring. The suit came from Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre. The transcripts "could shed new light on the Epstein empire," as Maxwell is alleged to have aided Epstein for years, the Miami Herald suggests. The Herald, which has published groundbreaking reporting on Epstein and Maxwell, had sued to get the documents released.

Maxwell was arrested over the summer and is awaiting trial for charges of sexually trafficking minor girls. Maxwell's lawyers argued releasing the documents' "intimate, sensitive, and personal" information could jeopardize Maxwell from having a fair trial. Maxwell has denied the charges against her. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:47 p.m.

After the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, Netflix has just offered a glimpse at his final film performance.

The Black Panther star died in August following a battle with cancer, and the last movie he completed prior to his death was Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which on Monday got its first full trailer.

The film from Netflix is based on the August Wilson play of the same name, and Boseman stars as trumpeter Levee opposite Viola Davis in 1927 Chicago. "Tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), her ambitious horn player (Chadwick Boseman), and the white management determined to control the legendary 'Mother of the Blues,'" Netflix's description reads.

When Boseman's death was announced, his family revealed he had been quietly fighting colon cancer for years in between roles. "A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much," his family's statement said. "From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy."

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will arrive on Netflix months after Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods, in which Boseman drew acclaim for his supporting performance. Both films being released in 2020 opens up the possibility, Variety writes, that Boseman could potentially become the first actor ever nominated for two posthumous Oscars in the same year. Check out the trailer for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which will hit Netflix on Dec. 18, below. Brendan Morrow

3:52 p.m.

Jeffrey Toobin has been suspended by The New Yorker after he exposed himself during a Zoom call in what he's describing as an "embarrassingly stupid mistake."

Toobin, reporter at The New Yorker and author of books like The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, was suspended by the publication after he "exposed himself during a Zoom call last week between members of the New Yorker and WNYC radio," Vice reported on Monday. Toobin acknowledged the incident in a statement to Vice, saying he wrongly thought he wasn't on camera at the time.

"I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera," Toobin said in a statement to Vice. "I apologize to my wife, family, friends and co-workers. I believed I was not visible on Zoom. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video."

A New Yorker spokesperson confirmed to Vice that Toobin is suspended "while we investigate the matter." Toobin is also chief legal analyst at CNN, and the network said that he "has asked for some time off while he deals with a personal issue, which we have granted." Brendan Morrow

3:03 p.m.

The Department of Justice has announced charges against six Russian intelligence officers in connection with a series of majorly "disruptive and destructive" cyberattacks.

The DOJ on Monday said that a federal grand jury had indicted six Russian computer hackers, officers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), for their role in a series of "computer intrusions and attacks" conducted from 2015 through 2019 "for the strategic benefit of Russia." This allegedly included malware attacks against Ukraine's electric power grid, as well as efforts to disrupt France's 2017 elections and the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Officials also said the defendants were responsible for "destructive malware attacks that infected computers worldwide" and led to nearly $1 billion in losses.

The alleged hackers, The Washington Post notes, are a part of the same intelligence agency previously charged over interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, although the indictment unsealed on Monday didn't include charges related to U.S. election interference. NBC News' Kevin Collier wrote that "naming six officers (allegedly) responsible for election meddling and destruction two weeks before the election seems a pretty clear sign." The Post reports that "officials said the announcement was not timed to the current political schedule," however.

Johns Hopkins University professor Thomas Rid also described the indictment as an "incredible document," which suggests intelligence communities "must have stunning visibility into Russian military intelligence operations if today's disclosures are considered dispensable."

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers in a statement on Monday said "no country has weaponized its cyber capabilities as maliciously or irresponsibly as Russia, wantonly causing unprecedented damage to pursue small tactical advantages and to satisfy fits of spite," saying the defendants were charged over the "most disruptive and destructive series of computer attacks ever attributed to a single group" and adding, "No nation will recapture greatness while behaving in this way." Brendan Morrow

1:12 p.m.

As experts voice concern over a surge in COVID-19 cases this fall, President Trump is labeling Dr. Anthony Fauci an idiot and claiming Americans "are tired of hearing" from him.

During a campaign call that journalists were invited to listen into on Monday, Trump attacked Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and member of the White House's coronavirus task force.

"People are tired of COVID," Trump said, The New York Times reports. "People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong. ... Every time he goes on television, there's always a bomb, but there's a bigger bomb if you fire him. This guy's a disaster."

Trump also claimed that Americans want to be left "alone" and are "tired" of COVID-19, days after the U.S. reported the highest number of daily coronavirus cases since July.

"I have the biggest rallies I've ever had," Trump said on the call, NBC News reports. "And we have COVID. People are saying: whatever. Just leave us alone. They're tired of it."

Trump's comments come after Fauci appeared on 60 Minutes and said he's "absolutely not" surprised that the president recently contracted COVID-19 after taking part in a "superspreader event." Fauci reiterated in that interview that there have been "real and credible threats to my life and my safety" and that his wife and children have been subjected to harassment.

Trump also attacked Fauci despite earlier this month including him in a campaign ad, which Fauci said the campaign ran without his permission using a quote from him taken "completely out of context." Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads