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Ultima Thule: Remote icy world is much flatter than scientists first thought | Science & Tech News



The furthest object in our solar system visited by a spacecraft – Ultima Thule – appears not to be “snowman shaped” as first thought, and is in fact much flatter.

New pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft at a different angle as it raced away from Ultima Thule at 31,000mph (50,000 kmh) reveal it is not spherical.

NASA said the larger lobe more closely resembles a giant pancake, and the smaller one a dented walnut.

The images were taken nearly 10 minutes after New Horizons crossed its closest approach point on 1 January.

New analysis suggests it is far flatter than the 'snowman' shape. Pic: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL /Southwest Research Institute
New analysis suggests it is far flatter than thought.. Pic: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL /Southwest Research Institute

Scientists also did new analysis of the craft’s approach images to modify their conclusions about its shape.

The mission’s lead scientist, Alan Stern, said: “This really is an incredible image sequence, taken by a spacecraft exploring a small world four billion miles away from Earth.

“Nothing quite like this has ever been captured in imagery.”

The icy world of Ultima Thule is roughly 20 miles long and is the most distant world ever studied by mankind – a billion miles beyond Pluto.

Mr Stern added: “We had an impression of Ultima Thule based on the limited number of images returned in the days around the flyby, but seeing more data has significantly changed our view.”

“It would be closer to reality to say Ultima Thule’s shape is flatter, like a pancake.

“But more importantly, the new images are creating scientific puzzles about how such an object could even be formed. We’ve never seen something like this orbiting the sun.”

An artist's illustration of New Horizons as it flew past Pluto a few years ago. Pic: NASA
An artist’s illustration of New Horizons as it flew past Pluto a few years ago. Pic: NASA

NASA says New Horizons’ mission will help scientists understand the origins of our solar system.

Its successful flyby last month sparked scenes of jubilation at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.

Mr Stern said at the time: “Everything we are going to learn about Ultima – from its composition to its geology to how it was originally assembled, whether it has satellites and an atmosphere and those kinds of things – are going to teach us about the original formation conditions of objects in the solar system.”

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Outrage as baby T-Rex listed on eBay for £2.3m | World News



A fossil hunter in the US has caused outrage after trying to sell the remains of a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex on eBay for £2.3m.

In his listing, Alan Detrich claimed it was “most likely the only baby T-Rex in the world” and said the discovery was made near the town of Jordan, Montana.

A fossil hunter in Kansas is trying to sell the remains of a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex that he listed on eBay for £2.3m. Pic: pirategoldcoins/eBay
The fossil hunter is trying to sell the skeleton on eBay for £2.3m. Pic: pirategoldcoins/eBay

He said the dinosaur skeleton has a “15ft-long body and a 21-inch skull with serrated teeth” – and claimed it was a “rare opportunity indeed to ever see a baby Rex”.

Anyone wanting to “buy it now” can at a cost of $2.95m or “make an offer”.

Mr Detrich added: “Histology shows the specimen to be approximately four years old upon death. Reconstruction of the skull has been done by curator of vertebrate paleontology (from Natural History Museum in Florida). “

But the post has faced a backlash on social media with one tweet from Patricia Holroyd saying: “As an alum, I am disappointed to see the state’s most important natural history museum acting as a shill for commercial fossil sales.”

In a reply to Dr Holroyd, the museum said: “We do not sell or mediate the sale of specimens to private individuals.

“The specimen on exhibit-loan has been removed and is being returned to the owner. We have asked the owner to remove any association w/us from his sale listing.”

The listing has had over 3,600 “watchers” and at one point had 91 views per hour.

But anyone thinking about make a bid is being warned that Mr Detrich “does not accept returns”.

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Mueller report: Donald Trump ‘tried to get ex-FBI chief fired’ during Russia investigation | US News



Donald Trump has declared “Game Over” for his “haters” – but a long-awaited report revealed how the US president sought the firing of the man investigating his team’s alleged links to Russia.

A redacted 448-page report of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry, published on Thursday, disclosed how Mr Trump urged an aide to instigate the sacking of Mr Mueller.

Mr Mueller’s 22 month-long work focused on Russian hacking and social media campaigns, possible Russian government links to – and contacts with – the Trump campaign, and potential obstruction of his investigatory efforts.

In June 2017 – a month after Mr Mueller’s appointment to probe possible cooperation between Mr Trump’s campaign and Moscow – the president attempted to remove Mr Mueller from his position, the report said.

The lengthy document described how Mr Trump called White House lawyer Don McGahn and told him to call then-attorney general Jeff Sessions to say Mr Mueller “had conflicts of interest and must be removed”.

“McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,” the report added, referencing the firing of key officials during former president Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

Other explosive findings in Mr Mueller’s highly-anticipated report included:

:: Mr Trump’s belief that Mr Mueller’s appointment as a special counsel to investigate possible Russia links would “end” his spell in the White House. “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f****d,” Mr Trump said, according to the report.

:: There was “substantial evidence” that Mr Trump fired James Comey as FBI director in 2017 due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation”.

:: Written answers from Mr Trump to questions by Mr Mueller’s team were considered “inadequate”, but they decided against trying to compel Mr Trump to give evidence in person due to the likelihood of a long legal battle.

:: Mr Mueller did not exonerate the president on the question of whether he committed an obstruction of justice offence during the course of the investigation.

:: Mr Trump “launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to the president, while in private, the president engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation”, the report said.

To cheers at a White House event following the release of Mr Mueller’s report, Mr Trump said he was having a “good day” and declared “no collusion, no obstruction”.

He added: “There never was, by the way, and there never will be.

“This should never happen to another president again, this hoax.”

The now published Mueller report examines ‘10 episodes’ of potential obstruction by president Trump.

‘This should never happen to a president again’

The president had earlier posted an image, inspired by TV series Game of Thrones, on Twitter with the same “no collusion, no obstruction” message.

His tweet added: “For the haters and the radical left Democrats – Game Over.”

The president’s legal team also hailed a “total victory” and claimed there had been “unprecedented cooperation” by Mr Trump with the special counsel’s work.

However, Mr Trump did not repeat his claim – made last month when Mr Mueller disclosed in a summary of his report that the president nor his team conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election – that he had been granted a “complete and total exoneration”.

Mr Trump’s political rivals urged the US public to ignore the “spin” over Mr Mueller’s report.

Invitations also flew in for Mr Mueller to testify before various US Congress committees on the results of his investigation.

The bullishness of Mr Trump in asserting “no obstruction” came despite US attorney general William Barr revealing Mr Mueller’s report recounted “10 episodes” involving the president and discussed “potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offence”.

However, Mr Barr himself used a news conference before the report’s publication to reveal his own conclusion that “the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offence”.

Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller spent 22 months on his inquiry

The attorney general, the replacement for Mr Sessions who was sacked by Mr Trump last year, also claimed the “unprecedented situation” faced by the president should be taken into account when assessing his actions.

Mr Barr said: “As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinising his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates.

“At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability.”

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a senior Democrat, branded Mr Barr’s news conference “a complete farce and an embarrassing display of propaganda on behalf of President Trump”.

Democrat Senate leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement: “The differences are stark between what Attorney General Barr said on obstruction and what Special Counsel Mueller said on obstruction.

“As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding.”

They both also called for Mr Mueller to provide public testimony to both houses of US Congress “as soon as possible”.

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Semenya ruling may bring death of women’s sport, warns Paula Radcliffe | World News



Paula Radcliffe believes the verdict of a landmark legal case involving Olympic champion Caster Semenya could open the door for transgender athletes to compete in women’s categories without lowering their testosterone levels. 

The decision of a battle between Semenya and the IAAF athletics world governing body is expected next week.

Double Olympic champion Semenya has differences in sexual development, or DSD, which means she has elevated naturally occurring levels of testosterone.

The IAAF want her to take hormone suppressing medication in order to continue competing but Semenya, supported by Athletics South Africa and the South African government, says she just wants to “run free”.

Paula Radcliffe said the decision could impact women's sport
Paula Radcliffe says the Semenya verdict will have a profound impact on women’s sport

Marathon world record holder Radcliffe thinks that if the verdict falls in Semenya’s favour it will embolden the case of transgender athletes to compete freely in women’s categories.

She told Sky News: “The IAAF has come in for a lot of vilification but there are probably a lot of other sporting federations, particularly where its contact and a physical strength sport, who are really watching this.

“They want to see what it means for the future of female sport and also what it will do in terms of the whole transgender question.

“Will it open the door up there to transgender athletes actually being able to say: ‘You know what, we don’t need to bring our [testosterone] levels down either, we don’t need to have any surgery, we can just identity how we feel and we can come in and compete in women’s sport?’

Francine Niyonsaba is Semenya's greatest rival - and has the same condition
Francine Niyonsaba is Semenya’s greatest rival – and has the same condition

“That would be the death of women’s sport.”

The ruling will also directly affect Semenya’s closest rival Francine Niyonsaba. The Burundi runner won silver behind Semenya at the Rio Olympics but revealed this week that she also has the same condition.

Some would argue that Semenya simply has a physiological advantage in the same way Usain Bolt does with his height combined with fast twitch fibre muscles, or swimmer Michael Phelps’ wingspan.

But Radcliffe says: “If it was one athlete with a one off raised level of testosterone, I don’t think we’d be in this situation but it’s a number of athletes and it could be a growing number who have those elevated levels of testosterone.

“It’s not just about that either, it’s the fact that essentially you have a body that has almost gone through male puberty and is stronger, physiological differences, the bone mass, the strength, not having to deal with periods, not having to worry about managing with your menstrual cycle around competitions.

“Those are all things that female athletes have to deal with and have to work around and you just do because you have to but if you’re competing against somebody that isn’t doing that, that isn’t fair either.”

Radcliffe says she has received abuse online since making her feelings known about transgender women competing without lowering their testosterone levels.

It follows similar abusive message sent to other former athletes such as Sharron Davies, Martina Navratilova and Kelly Holmes.

“A lot of these people that are attacking me wouldn’t stand in front of me and say those things to me,” Radcliffe said.

“It’s very dangerous because there are vulnerable athletes out there who can’t make the distinction between what’s reality and what’s not and what somebody truthfully stands by and someone just being a troll.

“That can have a huge impact and that isn’t understood enough in this world and as a mum, that worries me about my children growing up.”

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