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intriguing
September 11, 2019

You probably shouldn't sound the alarms quite yet, but scientists did just announce the discovery of water vapor on a far-away planet that is now considered one of the best known candidates to host alien life.

In findings released Tuesday and Wednesday, scientists detected water vapor, and likely clouds and rain, in the atmosphere of K2-18 b, a planet that's about 110 light years away from Earth. K2-18 b is about twice the size of Earth and eight times as massive, Space.com reports, and it orbits a red dwarf star from a distance where water could exist in a stable state on the world's surface, also known as the "habitable zone."

University College London's Angelos Tsiaras told Space.com that, when taken together, the evidence of water and its distance from its star, makes K2-18 b "the best target for habitability that we know right now." As always, though, there's plenty of reason to pause. There's still a lot scientists don't know about the world — for example, the atmosphere could contain anywhere between 0.01 percent and 50 percent water, and nobody is quite sure what the surface is like, either.

A lot of these questions will be difficult to answer, but researchers are hopeful that they might be able to chip away at some of them following the launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope in 2021. Read more at Space.com. Tim O'Donnell

February 23, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller faced a midnight deadline Friday to file a memo with his recommendations for the sentencing of Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chair, who was convicted last year of eight counts of financial fraud. Contrary to expectations, the memo was not released to the public.

Friday's filing was sent to Judge Amy Berman Jackson, possibly under seal and with a request for redact some material before public release. If that is the case, Jackson would determine whether and how to publish the document.

A previous sentencing memo from Mueller's office recommended Manafort be sentenced to between 19 and 25 years in prison, a penalty that could see him spend the rest of his life behind bars. The sentencing is scheduled for March 13. Bonnie Kristian

December 27, 2018

Michael Cohen's cellphone signal was picked up in the Prague area during the summer of 2016, four people with knowledge of the matter told McClatchy. Cohen, President Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, has denied ever going to Prague, denouncing reports that he attended a secret meeting there with Russian officials.

Two people also told McClatchy that an Eastern European intelligence agency overheard Russians discussing his visit to Prague, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, is aware of this intercept.

In 2016, former British spy Christopher Steele put together a dossier based on information he received from people with ties to the Kremlin. It states that Cohen and at least one Russian official met in Prague in order to come up with a plan to conceal ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The dossier asserts that a member of the Russian Senate, Konstantin Kosachev, "facilitated" the meeting and may have been at it; he has denied going to Prague in 2016.

The dossier was first made public in January 2017, and Cohen was adamant that he never visited Prague. He is now cooperating with Mueller's team, and pleaded guilty in August to bank and tax fraud and campaign finance law violations and in December to one count of lying to Congress. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Read more about Cohen and how cell phones are easily tracked at McClatchy. Catherine Garcia

April 13, 2017

It's Thursday in America, which means a government shutdown spurred by congressional failure to pass a federal budget may be soon upon us. But some lawmakers are keen to avert yet another budget crisis, and they're getting creative with ways to achieve that goal.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and Cory Gardner (R) have filed a bill that would require senators to stay in Washington and close to the Senate floor during budget deliberations. Any senators caught playing hooky would be subject to arrest by the Senate sergeant at arms. "This forces people to be here, on the Senate floor, working it out and finding solutions," Gardner explains.

Meanwhile, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) has introduced legislation that would slash congressional salaries by the amount of a single day's pay for every day the shutdown is in effect. The longest government shutdown lasted 21 days in the 1990s, and at the current base salary rate of $174,000, that would be about a $10,000 pay cut. "In every other profession, if you don't do your job, you don't get paid," Schrader told McClatchy. "Why on Earth should we be any different?" Bonnie Kristian

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