Juno is on its way to closest skim of Jupiter

This color view from NASA's Juno spacecraft is made from some of the first images taken by JunoCam after the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 5th (UTC).

This color view from NASA’s Juno spacecraft is made from some of the first images taken by JunoCam after the spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter on July 5th (UTC). (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS)

NASA’s Juno spacecraft made a flashy arrival at Jupiter on July 4, and now, the probe has just passed another turning point in its mission.

Before Juno can start studying Jupiter up close as it orbits, it has to complete two big orbits, each of which lasts 53.5 days long. Currently in its first orbit, it has just made its way past the point most distant from Jupiter— five million miles away— and is now falling back towards the gas giant, with an arrival date of August 27.

Juno will be coming very close to the gas giant at the end of this month, cruising only 2,600 miles over Jupiter’s clouds. In fact, that’s the closest the craft will ever get to the planet during its mission.

After this coming pass, each orbit will be just a little bit further away from Jupiter, according to NASA.

“The altitude increases quite slowly at first, but during the last few orbits it ticks up a lot more,” a spokesman from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told FoxNews.com in an email. “Even so, Juno’s closest approach distance never exceeds about 4,900 miles.”

And while the craft’s scientific instruments weren’t switched on for its arrival, they will be during this coming close approach.

“We’re in an excellent state of health, with the spacecraft and all the instruments fully checked out and ready for our first up-close look at Jupiter,” Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

Juno’s mission includes studying the gas giant’s structure and magnetosphere, and because the planet is so ancient, scientists hope that understanding Jupiter will help them better understand how the solar system formed.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Asteroid strike could cause ‘immense suffering’

Artist's concept of the impact that created the asteroid Bennu. (Credits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab)

Artist’s concept of the impact that created the asteroid Bennu. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab)

A huge asteroid hurtling through space at 63,000mph could one day hit Earth causing “immense suffering and death”, astronomers say.

The space rock was discovered in 1999 and is likely to blast in between the Earth and the moon in 2135 – a little too close for comfort.

But on a return trip later in the century, it is estimated the asteroid known as 101955 Bennu could actually strike our planet.

Dante Lauretta, the NASA expert in charge of a new mission to analyse the asteroid, said: “That 2135 fly-by is going to tweak Bennu’s orbit, potentially putting it on course for the Earth later that century.”

More on this story on Sky News.

Eric Shawn Reports: How Frank Sheeran killed Jimmy Hoffa

NOW PLAYINGEric Shawn Reports: Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Sheeran

It all started, and ended, on this day 41 years ago.

It was a hot July afternoon, nearly 92 degrees, when Teamsters president and labor icon Jimmy Hoffa is said to have opened the rear door of a maroon 1975 Mercury in the parking lot of the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. and climbed in.

He was never seen again.

The FBI has expended countless resources in the ensuing decades in the hopes of finally solving this enduring American mystery with no success.

But I believe, based on my 2004 investigation, that Frank Sheeran did it.

“Suspects Outside of Michigan: Francis Joseph “Frank” Sheeran, age 43, president local 326, Wilmington, Delaware. Resides in Philadelphia and is known associate of Russel Bufalino, La Cosa Nostra Chief, Eastern Pennsylvania,” reads the 1976 HOFFEX memo, the compilation of everything investigators knew about Hoffa’s disappearance that was prepared for a high level, secret conference at FBI headquarters six months after he vanished.

Sheeran, known as “The Irishman,” told me that he drove with Hoffa to a nearby house where he shot him twice in the back of the head. Our investigation subsequently yielded the corroboration, the suspected blood evidence on the hardwood floor and down the hallway of that house, that supports Frank’s story.

No one who has ever boasted about knowing what really happened to Jimmy Hoffa has had their claims tested, scrutinized, and then corroborated by independently discovered evidence … except Frank.

He is also the only one of the FBI’s dozen suspects who has ever come forward and talked publicly about the killing, let alone admitted involvement.

Every other claim that you have ever heard about, from Hoffa being buried in the end zone of Giants Stadium to being entombed under a strip of highway asphalt somewhere, came from people who were never on the bureau’s list of people suspected of actual involvement.

For that reason, Frank stands alone.

Six weeks after Hoffa disappeared, Frank, along with the other suspects, was summoned before the Detroit grand jury investigating the case. He took the Fifth.

When I met him in the spring of 2001, Frank freely talked.

My meeting with Frank was arranged so that I could take his measure, and he mine, for a possible in-depth investigation, interview and news story about his claims. He was accompanied by his former lawyer Charlie Brandt, the author of Frank’s then-proposed biography, which tells the Hoffa story. Charlie had been able to spring Frank from a Mafia-related federal racketeering prison sentence, and for that reason was taken into Frank’s confidence.

It would be three years before the book, “I Hear You Paint Houses: Frank ‘The Irishman’ Sheeran And Closing The Case On Jimmy Hoffa” would be published by Steerforth Press, and before the first of my many news stories about Frank, and our investigation, would air on television.

Frank’s story is this: He and others were ordered by the Mafia to kill Hoffa to prevent him from trying to run again for the presidency of the Teamsters union. Hoffa had resigned after serving prison time for jury tampering, attempted bribery and fraud convictions. Frank picked Hoffa up at the restaurant, accompanied by two others, to supposedly drive Hoffa to a mob meeting. When they walked into the empty house together, with Frank a step behind Hoffa, he raised his pistol at point-blank range and fired two fatal shots into his unsuspecting target, turned around and left. He said Hoffa’s body was then dragged down the hall by two awaiting accomplices, and that he was later told Hoffa was cremated at a mob-connected funeral home.

Frank had an imposing, old-school mobster way about him that even his advanced years — he was 80 at the time of our first meeting — did not betray. His menacing aura was also not diminished by a severe case of arthritis that crippled him so badly that he hunched over when he slowly walked with two canes, struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

I found Frank tough, determined, steely.

As I listened to his matter-of-fact recounting of what he said went down at that house, and giving such detail, I remember thinking what he was saying could actually be true.

Here’s why:

There is no doubt that Frank was a close confidant of Hoffa, someone who Hoffa trusted. And Hoffa didn’t trust very many people.

Frank was both a top Teamsters Union official in Delaware and an admitted Bufalino crime family hit-man, a top aide to the boss himself.

The FBI admits that Frank was “known to be in Detroit area at the time of JRH disappearance, and considered to be a close friend of JRH,” as the HOFFEX memo states.

Hoffa’s son, current Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, told me in September 2001 that his father would have gotten into the car with Frank. He said that his father would not have taken that ride with some of the other FBI suspects whom I mentioned.

In the book, Frank says that he sat in the front passenger seat of the car as a subtle warning to Hoffa, who habitually sat there. He felt a deep friendship and loyalty to Hoffa, yet knew what his own fate would be if he failed to carry out the lethal order from his mob masters. So he sat in the front seat hoping Hoffa would realize something was wrong. Hoffa did not.

The FBI did find “a single three-inch brown hair…in the rear seat back rest” of that car that matched Hoffa, and three dogs picked up “a strong indication of JRH scents in the rear right seat.”

I asked Frank if he remembered how to get to the house where he said he killed Hoffa. I thought finding where Hoffa was shot, and investigating everything about the house, could be key to the case. Frank rattled off the driving directions from the restaurant and described the house’s interior layout.

Killers may not remember an exact address of a murder scene, but they never forget how they got there and what they did when they arrived.

“Sheeran gave us the directions,” Charlie wrote in the book. “This was the first time he had ever revealed the directions to me. His deepened voice and hard demeanor was chilling, when, for the first time ever, he stated publicly to someone other than me that he had shot Jimmy Hoffa.”

A year after our meeting, Charlie and Frank drove to Detroit to try to find the house, and when they did Frank pointed it out to Charlie. They did not go inside.

Three years later, in 2004, Charlie, Fox News producer Ed Barnes and I first set foot into the home’s foyer, looked around the first floor and saw that Frank’s description fit the interior to a tee.

Ed and I arranged with the homeowners to take up the floorboards in the foyer and hallway and remove the press-on vinyl floor tiles that they had put down over the original hardwood floors when they bought the house in 1989.

We hired a forensic team of retired Michigan state police investigators to try to find any blood evidence. They sprayed the chemical luminol on the floors, which homicide detectives routinely use to discover the presence of blood.

We found it.

The testing revealed a specific pattern of blood evidence, laid out like a map of clues to the nation’s most infamous unsolved murder. Little yellow numbered tags were placed throughout the first floor foyer and hallway, to mark each spot where the investigators’ testing yielded positive hits.

The pattern told the story of how Hoffa was killed.

The greatest amount of positive hits were found right next to the front door, where Hoffa’s bleeding head would have hit the floor.

Seven more tags lined the narrow hallway toward the rear kitchen, marking the drops that perfectly mimic Frank’s story of Hoffa’s lifeless body being dragged to the kitchen by the two waiting accomplices, who then stuffed it into a body bag and carried it out the back kitchen door.

We arranged for the Oakland County prosecutor’s office to remove the floorboards for DNA testing by the FBI, though Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca cautioned that it would be “a miracle” if Hoffa’s DNA was recovered.

I knew those odds. A DNA hit was beyond a long shot.

Experts told me that such tiny samples of genetic material, degraded by the passage of 29 years and exposure to air and the elements under a homeowner’s heavily trafficked floor, would likely not provide enough material to result in a DNA match.

The FBI lab report says that chemical tests were conducted on 50 specimens; 28 tested positive for the possible presence of blood, and DNA was only recovered from two samples.

The FBI compared what was recovered to the DNA from a known strand of Hoffa’s hair. One sample was found to be “of male origin,” but it was not determined from whom. The other result was “largely inconclusive.”

Was I disappointed that a DNA match was not possible? Yes. Was I surprised? No. Did I think this disproved Frank’s claim? No.

Think about it.

What are the chances of any random house in America testing positive for blood traces from more than two dozen samples, in the exact pattern that corroborates a man’s murder confession?

What would luminol reveal under your home’s floor?

There are other reasons to believe why Frank’s scenario fits.

The house was most likely empty on the day Hoffa died. It was built in the 1920’s and owned for five decades by a single woman, Martha Sellers, a teacher and department store employee. By the summer of 1975, Sellers was in her 80s, and not living there full time. Her family told The Detroit News and Free Press that she had bought another home in Plymouth, Mich., where she would move permanently the next year.

Frank says that a man he called “a real estater” lived in the house. The Sellers family remembered that boarder, who they recalled resided in an upstairs bedroom. He was described as “a shadowy figure…who would disappear. He never said more than a few words and they know nothing about him, not even his name.”

It is quite possible that “the real estater,” was the link between the house and the Detroit mob, providing an empty house as needed, when Sellers was absent, for whatever purpose — including using it as a Mafia hit house to murder Jimmy Hoffa.

The FBI clearly believed Sheeran had credibility. Agents visited him in his final years in an unsuccessful attempt to secure his cooperation.

While we were conducting our investigation in Detroit in 2004, the FBI, I was told, had tried to find the house even before we aired our story.

And the views of those closest to Jimmy Hoffa, his son and daughter, seem especially relevant when assessing Frank’s credibility.

Not only did James P. Hoffa confirm that his father would have driven off with Frank, but his sister, Hoffa’s daughter, Barbara Crancer, wrote Frank a poignant letter begging him to come clean about their father’s fate.

In the one-page handwritten note dated March 5, 1995, she wrote:

“It is my personal belief that there are many people who called themselves loyal friends who know what happened to James R. Hoffa, who did it and why. The fact that not one of them has ever told his family — even under a vow of secrecy, is painful to me…”

She then underlined: “I believe you are one of those people.”

Crancer confirmed to me that she wrote that letter.

Sadly for the Hoffa family, Frank never directly honored her request. When I sat with him, he said that his No. 1 priority was not to go back to “college,” meaning prison. He decided that the best way to avoid that possibility, while also revealing his story, was to share his secrets for the book and my reporting.

Frank died on Dec. 14, 2003. He was 83.

While authorities no doubt will continue to respond to more tips, as they should, I believe that we already know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

Frank described the most precise and credible scenario yet to be recounted, and the evidence that we found in the house backs up his confession.

In the four decades since, Hoffa’s life and legacy as a pivotal part of the American labor movement has been overshadowed by his disappearance. But it seems clear that organized crime bosses did not want him to resume the mantle of the Teamsters presidency, and went to the ultimate length to prevent his return.

Today Hoffa’s union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, represents 1.4 million workers and continues to be headed by his son. Last year, a milestone was marked in its attempts to shed any specter of possible organized crime. Federal Judge Loretta Preska approved the Department of Justice and union agreement that will end the U.S. government oversight of the Teamsters that has lasted for more than 25 years.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at the time that the union had made “significant progress” in “ridding … the influence of organized crime and corruption,” though he cautioned that “the threat … persists.”

Hoffa called it “an historic agreement … our union is committed to the democratic process, and we can proudly declare that corrupt elements have been driven from the Teamsters.”

Sadly, it was those corrupt elements that took the life of his father as he tried to take back his union.

“Jimmy Hoffa raised millions of workers and their families out of poverty and into the middle class,” noted the Teamsters Union in a statement to Fox News.

“He gave his life while fighting to remove corrupt elements from the union and return power to the members. This tragic anniversary is particularly difficult on his family who lost a father and grandfather much too soon. They want nothing more than to have the closure that they so deserve.”

Frank’s story will soon be told in a major motion picture, “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro as Frank, directed by Martin Scorsese and produced by Irwin Winkler. Tribeca Films, in association with Paramount Pictures, will bring this story to the big screen in 2018. Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel are also reported to also have roles, uniting the legendary actors of the mob movie genre in one film.

Follow Eric Shawn on Twitter @EricShawnTV

Eric Shawn is a New York-based anchor and senior correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). He anchors “America’s News Headquarters” on Saturdays at 6 pm and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m to 5 p.m ET. and “Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo.” He anchors frequently during the week on the Fox News Channel and reports on politics, terrorism, and foreign affairs. Shawn has provided live coverage from both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions since 1992 and anchored convention coverage this summer. In 2004 he led the Fox News investigative team that uncovered new evidence in the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, based on the claims of hit-man Frank Sheeran.

Click here for more information on Eric Shawn.

Strange ‘burning’ object spotted in sky over western US


NOW PLAYINGFragments from a Chinese rocket streak across the night sky

A strange, apparently burning object was spotted in the sky over parts of the western U.S. Wednesday night.

Fox 5 in Las Vegas reports that hundreds of viewers contacted the station about the streaking lights, which appeared in the sky around 9:35 p.m. PDT. The lights were said to be visible in Reno, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Idaho and Northern California.

The object generated plenty of buzz on social media.

“Amazing fireballs in the sky!! Did anyone else see them?,” tweeted the Death Valley National Park Service.

Amazing fireballs in the sky!! Did anyone else see them?@NASA

“It was seen here in Las Vegas. Looks like space debris burning up. Not confirmed,” tweeted the National Weather Service in Las Vegas, in response.

Citing the National Weather Service, Fox 5 reported that the object could be a Chinese rocket burning up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. However, Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada said that the object was likely a meteorite burning up, according to Fox 5.


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Another theory suggested that the lights could be related to the Delta Aquarid meteor shower, which peaks Thursday and Friday.

DNA from ancient Phoenician stuns scientists

A wax figure of "The Young Phoenician Man of Carthage" is seen during the opening of a special exhibition at the American University of Beirut (AUB) Archaeological Museum in Beirut January 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Jamal Saidi)

A wax figure of “The Young Phoenician Man of Carthage” is seen during the opening of a special exhibition at the American University of Beirut (AUB) Archaeological Museum in Beirut January 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Jamal Saidi)

A study of the first DNA obtained from an ancient Phoenician reveals that the man had European ancestry.

The research team, which was co-led by Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith of the University of Otago in New Zealand, sequenced the first complete mitochondrial genome of 2,500-year-old Phoenician buried in North Africa. Experts studied a man dubbed the “Young Man of Byrsa” or “Ariche,” whose remains were taken from a sarcophagus in the ancient city of Carthage, just outside Tunis, the Tunisian capital. Carthage was the center of the Phoenician civilization.

Analysis shows that the man belonged to a rare European haplogroup – a genetic group with a common ancestor – indicating that his maternal ancestry is linked to locations on the North Mediterranean coast, probably on the Iberian Peninsula.

Related: Archaeologists think they’ve found Aristotle’s tomb

The findings offer the earliest evidence of the European mitochondrial haplogroup U5b2c1 in North Africa, according to Matisoo-Smith, dating its arrival to at least the late sixth century B.C.

“U5b2c1 is considered to be one of the most ancient haplogroups in Europe and is associated with hunter-gatherer populations there,” she explained, in a press release. “It is remarkably rare in modern populations today, found in Europe at levels of less than one per cent. Interestingly, our analysis showed that Ariche’s mitochondrial genetic make-up most closely matches that of the sequence of a particular modern day individual from Portugal.”

Researchers note that, while the Phoenicians are thought to have originated from the area that is now Lebanon, their influence spread across the Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula. The Spanish cities of Malaga and Cadiz, for example, were founded by Phoenicians.

Related: Scientists unearth 5,000-year-old Chinese beer recipe

Experts analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of 47 modern Lebanese people and found none were of the U5b2c1 lineage. U5b2c1 has already been found in two ancient hunter-gatherers recovered from an archaeological site north-Western spain, according to Matisoo-Smith.

“While a wave of farming peoples from the Near East replaced these hunter-gatherers, some of their lineages may have persisted longer in the far south of the Iberian peninsula and on off-shore islands and were then transported to the melting pot of Carthage in North Africa via Phoenician and Punic trade networks,” she said, in the press release.

The study was published in the journal Plos One.

School-bus-size giant squid may be lurking deep in the sea

On Oct. 1, 2013, a 30-foot-long giant squid washed ashore in the Spanish community of Cantabria.

On Oct. 1, 2013, a 30-foot-long giant squid washed ashore in the Spanish community of Cantabria. (Enrique Talledo, www.enriquetalledo.com)

Steeped in mystery, the elusive, deep-sea-dwelling giant squid, with eyes the size of basketballs, may be larger than it has gotten credit for. In fact, the monster cephalopod may grow to be longer than a school bus, researchers say.

Specimens recognizable as giant squid (Architeuthis dux) have been found washed up onshore since at least 1639. However, these sea monsters — which some people say inspired the legend of the giant kraken, though not all scientists agree — are so elusive that they were largely thought to be mythical until they were first photographed alive in their natural environment in 2004.

Ever since giant squid were discovered, there has been considerable speculation as to how large they can get. In a previous analysis of more than 130 specimens, scientists said that none exceeded 42 feet (13 meters) in length. Suggesting that giant squid could grow larger was “a disservice to science,” they said.

More from LiveScience:

Still, prior studies estimated that hundreds of thousands of giant squid may live in the ocean, which would suggest that there are plenty of chances for giant squid to grow larger than previously suggested, said Charles Paxton, a fisheries ecologist and statistician at the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

Now, a statistical analysis from Paxton suggests that giant squid may plausibly reach 65 feet (20 m) in total length. This new study extrapolated the maximum sizes this species might reach by both examining a variety of categories of data and examining as much data taken directly from specimens of the creature as was available.

“I’ve been interested in the last few years about investigating the hard science behind sea monsters,” Paxton said.

The data Paxton analyzed included 164 measures of mantle (body) length; 39 measures of standard length, which included the lengths of their bodies as well as the lengths of the longest of their arms; and 47 measures of total length, which included the lengths of their bodies as well as the lengths of the tentacles. (Tentacles are squid limbs that often end in teeth and hooks, and are usually significantly longer than squid arms.)

Paxton also examined 46 instances where beak, or mouth, size was measured along with mantle length. He found that beak size could help predict mantle length, confirming previous studies.

All in all, Paxton found that it was statistically plausible that giant squid could have mantle lengths of about 10 feet (3 m) and total lengths of 65 feet, “and that’s a conservative analysis,” he said.

“I am extrapolating here, and extrapolation can sometimes be a bit sketchy,” Paxton said. “But I think these are fairly safe extrapolations. I genuinely think that giant-squid size has been underestimated.”

Paxton noted that there are claims that giant squid can grow to be 100 feet (30 m) long. “I don’t think giant squid can get that big, but while a measurement of a giant squid total length of 19 meters [62 feet] can be questioned, I’d say it certainly wasn’t impossible,” Paxton said.

Some scientists have suggested that squid parts may stretch over time, leading to overestimates of the animal’s size.

To help resolve that question, “there are people in New Zealand and Spain who fairly regularly collect specimens of giant squid, and I’d like them to see just how stretchy they are postmortem,” Paxton said.

Another study, reported in 2015 in the journal PeerJ, suggested that it’s human nature to exaggerate the sizes of the ocean’s giants. The study found that people overestimate measurements for whales, sharks and squid.

As to why giant squid might grow as large as they do, “perhaps it makes them less likely to be eaten by sperm whales,” Paxton said. “It’d be interesting to find out if they do ever reach a size where they cannot ever be eaten by sperm whales.”

Paxton detailed his findings online May 17 in the Journal of Zoology.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Stranded, rarely seen beaked whale has strange fang

The beaked whale was found washed up on Waitpinga beach in southern Australia.

The beaked whale was found washed up on Waitpinga beach in southern Australia. (South Australian Museum)

A dead whale that washed up on a southern Australia beach has something peculiar in its mouth: a sharp and pointy fang, say the researchers who examined it.

The whale, identified as a Hector’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon hectori), was found south of Adelaide on Waitpinga beach in February. For the past 25 years, the South Australian Museum has done necropsies (an animal autopsy) on “as many [stranded] whales as it can from its shores,” but the museum’s researchers didn’t expect to find anything unusual when they examined this particular whale — a female juvenile, said Catherine Kemper, a senior research scientist in mammals at the South Australian Museum.

Instead, the researchers found an “intriguing” fang, which has never been seen before in a Hector’s beaked whale, Kemper told Live Science in an email.

More from LiveScience:


It’s possible that the tooth is vestigial — that is, much like a human’s appendix or wisdom teeth, it was useful in an ancestor, but isn’t useful anymore, she said. Or, maybe it’s an evolutionary throwback, also known as an atavism, meaning it was present in ancestors, but still pops up from time to time, much like a human baby born with a tail, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“All whales are derived from animals that had more teeth,” Kemper said. “What’s happened with time is [that] some of them have evolved. They have lost teeth because they have specialized their feeding to not need them.”

However, it’s difficult to say exactly what is going on, largely because scientists know little about beaked whales, said Nicholas Pyenson, a curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who has not seen the new specimen.

Case in point — this is only the third Hector’s whale the museum has collected, Kemper told ABC.

“Beaked whales, they’re among the most mysterious groups of whales,” Pyenson told Live Science. Some beaked whale species are only known to science because their skulls have washed ashore, he said.

“They’re hard to see in the wild, they live off shore, Pyenson said. “They dive very deep into the ocean and don’t surface too much.”

Yet, beaked whales are some of the most species-rich groups of whales, Pyenson said. And although scientists don’t know much about them, they’re famous for their weird teeth, he said.

For instance, the male strap-toothed whale (Mesoplodon layardii) has teeth that curve up and over its snout, preventing it from opening its mouth more than a few inches, Pyenson said. Other whales have extremely long teeth that might be used for male-male sparring, “which we infer happens deep underwater because you find scars all along the bodies of males that wash up,” he said.

Without more specimens, it’s hard to say whether this whale’s pointy fang is a common variation, an evolutionary throwback or something else, Pyenson said.

“It’s definitely weird, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a throwback, because these [whales] already have teeth, [this one] just seems to have had an extra, strange tooth,” he said.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Facebook denies ‘systematic’ content bias, but admits possibility of rogue employees

Image result for Facebook denies ‘systematic’ content bias, but admits possibility of rogue employees

NOW PLAYINGWill Facebook take conservatives’ concerns seriously?

Facebook says that it has found no evidence of ‘systematic’ political bias related to its Trending Topics section, but acknowledges the possibility that rogue employees could have impacted the controversial feature.

The tech heavyweight has been thrust into the spotlight following a Gizmodoreport that stories about conservative topics were prevented from appearing in Facebook’s trending module.

“Our investigation could not exclude the possibility of isolated improper actions or unintentional bias in the implementation of our guidelines or policies,” wrote Facebook’s General Counsel Colin Stretch, in a letter to Sen. John Thune, chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, who is investigating the allegations of political manipulation.

Citing an unnamed former journalist that worked on Trending Topics, Gizmodo reported earlier this month that stories about the CPAC meeting, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics were prevented from appearing in the trending module. The stories were trending organically among Facebook’s users, the report said.

Related: Facebook says there is ‘no evidence’ of anti-conservative bias on Trending Topics

Facebook reiterated its recent denial of any bias regarding political content in the letter to Thune.

“Our investigation has revealed no evidence of systematic political bias in the selection or prominence of stories included in the Trending Topics feature,” wrote Stretch. “In fact, our analysis indicated that the rates of approval of conservative and liberal topics are virtually identical in Trending Topics.”

However, in an attempt to improve the service and “minimize risks where human judgment is involved,” Facebook is making a number of changes to Trending Topics, according to the general counsel. The company has already updated its guidelines and conducted refresher training for all reviewers, he explained. It is also implementing “additional controls and oversight” around the review team, as well as “robust escalation procedures.”

Additionally, the social network, which has more than 1.6 billion users, isdropping its reliance on news outlets to help determine what gets posted as a trending topic.

Related: Facebook recognizes its ‘trust problem’ with conservatives, Perino says

In the letter to Thune, Facebook said that reviewers accepted topics related to both the 2015 and 2016 CPAC events. “In 2016, although topics related to CPAC were accepted on other days of the conference, one topic related to CPAC itself was not accepted on its first day, March 2, 2016,” he wrote. “Our investigation concluded that this decision was likely the result of the fact that on that day — the day after the Super Tuesday electoral contests — reviewers accepted at least 15 topics related to the Republican presidential primary.”

The firestorm over the Gizmodo report prompted Facebook to invite leading conservatives to the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., last week to discuss the allegations. Following the meeting, Dana Perino, co-host of Fox News Channel’s “The Five,” said that Facebook recognizes that it has a “trust problem” with conservatives.

Several unnamed former Facebook “news curators” told Gizmodo that they were told to artificially “inject” certain stories into the trending news section, even if they weren’t popular enough to justify inclusion. In some cases the stories weren’t even trending at all, according to the report.

The former curators, who were all contractors, also were reportedly instructed to not add news about Facebook into the trending section. The curators interviewed by Gizmodo worked for the social network across a timespan from mid-2014 to December 2015.

Related: Facebook CEO Zuckerberg wants to tear down neighboring homes

In the letter, Stretch said that Facebook’s Trending Topics “injection tool,” which is rarely used today, was used more frequently in the past to address limitations in the module. “We found no evidence that the injection tool was used to advance any particular political agenda,” he wrote. “Over time, adjustments to the trending algorithm have dramatically reduced the need for its use.”

The general counsel explained that Facebook uses algorithms to “surface” trending topics and personalize them for each user. However, Stretch explained that human intervention is also needed to overcome current limitations in the algorithm. “To sort the meaningful trends from gibberish and duplicates, and to write headlines and descriptions in clear, natural-sounding language,” he wrote.

The trending section, which appears to the right of the Facebook news feed, was introduced in January 2014. Facebook describes the module as a product “designed to surface interesting and relevant conversations in order to help you discover the best content from all across Facebook.”

Thune, who met with Stretch May 18, described the company’s letter as a step in the right direction. “Facebook has recognized the limitations of efforts to keep information systems fully free from potential bias, which lends credibility to its findings,” he said, in a statement Monday. The company, he added, “has been forthcoming about how it determines trending topics, and steps it will take to minimize the risk of bias from individual human judgment.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Tour 3D Pluto in new portable virtual-reality view

Viewers can explore distant Pluto with a new addition to the New York Times virtual reality app, using only a smartphone and a Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer (or just the smartphone).

Viewers can explore distant Pluto with a new addition to the New York Times virtual reality app, using only a smartphone and a Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer (or just the smartphone). (New York Times)

Get your Google Cardboards ready, because it’s time to take a 3D trip to Pluto.

The new 7-minute Pluto tour, narrated by the science writer Dennis Overbye of the New York Times, is available for download from the Times’ virtual reality app, and can be viewed through a Google Cardboard headset or on a plain smartphone screen for those who don’t have one.

The film, called “Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart,” walks viewers through the arrival of the New Horizons spacecraft to Pluto last July before dropping them down on the surface and pointing out many alien geographic features on the surprisingly complex body. It’s possible to look around 360 degrees to see the full extent of the dwarf planet, its largest moon, Charon, and the far-off shining of the sun.

You can download the New York Times VR App here (there are options for both Android and Apple) to see the awesome 3D Pluto views. You can also see a modified version in a computer browser.

The vivid 3D view, so different from the few pixels we had seen before New Horizons’ approach, was pieced together for the film from New Horizons’ data, with help from the Universities Space Research Association’s Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas. Even now, only around half of the images and measurements have been beamed back to Earth from the spacecraft; new data will be coming until October, and scientists will be hard at work analyzing it for a long time after.

The Times sent free Cardboards to all of its print subscribers last November andplans to send them to select online subscribers as well; Google also offers Cardboards for sale online and instructions for how to build your own (even out of a pizza box).

Original article on Space.com.

Alien megastructure? Dimming star may have less exotic explanation

Cascading comets around a distant star.

Cascading comets around a distant star. (NASA/JPL/CaltechNASA/JPL/Caltech)

A mysterious darkening star might not be home to an alien megastructure after all. Instead, the dimming that apparently occurred over the course of a century may actually have resulted from how telescopes and cameras have changed over time, researchers said.

Last fall, a star named KIC 8462852 made news when scientists found unusual fluctuations in the object’s light. The star is an otherwise-ordinary F-type star, slightly larger and hotter than Earth’s sun; it sits about 1,480 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Cygnus.

But astronomer Tabetha “Tabby” Boyajian of Yale University in Connecticut and her colleagues, along with citizen scientists from the Planet Hunters crowdsourcing program, found something odd. They discovered dozens of strange instances of the star darkening over a 100-day period when they analyzed data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

The dimming events blocked up to 22 percent of the light from KIC 8462852, now nicknamed “Tabby’s Star,” making these events far too substantial to be caused by planets crossing (or “transiting”) the star’s face. Scientists also ruled out several other possible explanations, such as an enormous dust cloud.

Such analyses raised the possibility that astronomers had detected signs of alien life — specifically, a Dyson sphere, a megastructure built around a star to capture as much of the sun’s energy as possible to power an advanced civilization. (In science fiction, Dyson spheres — which are named after mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson — are often depicted as solid shells around stars, but they could also be spherical swarms of giant solar panels.)

So far, astronomers at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institutein California analyzing Tabby’s Starwith the Allen Telescope Array havenot detected any radio signals that would indicate the presence of an alien civilization. Scientists at SETI International in San Francisco and their colleagues have also failed to detect any laser signals from Tabby’s Star.

Still, in January, astronomer Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University reviewed archived photographic plates of the sky taken from 1890 to 1989 and found signs that Tabby’s Star had dimmed by about 20 percent over the past century. He noted that this finding was difficult to explain by natural means. For instance, Schaefer calculated that it would require 648,000 comets, each about 125 miles wide, passing by the star in the past century to cause such dimming.

Now, however, researchers suggest this seemingly century-long dimming trend might not be real. Instead, the apparent darkening may just be due to how astronomical instruments have changed over time.

In the new study, scientists pored over DASCH (Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard) data. This is a collection of more than 500,000 photographic glass plates taken by astronomers at Harvard in Massachusetts between 1885 and 1993 that the university is digitizing.

“It is exciting that we have these century-old data, which are incredibly valuable for checks like this,” study lead author Michael Hippke, an amateur astronomer from the German town of Neukirchen-Vluyn, told Space.com.

The researchers looked not only at Tabby’s Star, but also at a number of comparable stars in the DASCH database. Results showed that many of these other stars experienced a drop in brightness similar to that of Tabby’s Star in the 1960s.

“That indicates the drops were caused by changes in the instrumentation, not by changes in the stars’ brightness,” study co-author Keivan Stassun at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, said in a statement.

“Now, what does that mean for the mystery? Are there no aliens after all? Probably not,” Hippke said in an email. “Still, the daylong dips found by Kepler are real. Something seems to be transiting in front of this star, and we still have no idea what it is.”

The best explanation so far for this dimming may be that a giant comet fragmented into thousands of smaller comets that are now crossing in front of Tabby’s Star, some scientists say. To help solve this celestial mystery, amateur astronomers around the world are working with the American Association of Variable Star Observers to find new dips in the star’s brightness, Hippke noted. Other groups, such as the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope, have also joined the effort, he said.

“Observing further dips in different colors can reveal information about the chemistry of the transiting object, which might confirm or reject a cometary origin,” Hippke said.

The scientists will detail their findings in the Astrophysical Journal.