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Good morning. It's Thursday, Jan. 25, and we're covering a closely watched death penalty case in the South, a breakthrough for a critically endangered species, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.


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Need To Know

Russian Plane Crash

A Russian military transport plane crashed yesterday in Belgorod, Russia, near the border with Ukraine, according to a video shot from a cellphone (see here; sensitive content). Russian military officials claimed Ukraine shot down the plane, killing 74, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war en route to a planned prisoner swap. Ukrainian officials did not confirm the reports, and the number and identity of the victims were not yet independently verified.


Ukrainian officials did confirm a prisoner swap was scheduled for yesterday. Swaps have occurred regularly throughout the nearly two-year war, the most recent coming this month, which saw roughly 250 personnel returned for each side. Ukraine also acknowledged it targets such planes suspected of carrying missiles.


The accusations come amid a lull in the war's second winter, with the sides stockpiling ammunition and launching longer-range missile strikes. The conflict's front lines have not changed substantially in over a year; total military casualties have surpassed 500,000. See updates here


Alabama Death Penalty

The first US execution using nitrogen gas is expected to be carried out today in Alabama after the Supreme Court rejected arguments that the procedure was at risk of being carried out incorrectly. The inmate, 58-year-old Kenneth Smith, was convicted in a 1988 murder-for-hire plot.


The vast majority of US executions over the past five decades utilize lethal injection. Alabama approved the use of nitrogen gas as an execution method in 2018 amid a shortage of the drugs required for lethal injection and mounting criticism over the method. The subject dies of nitrogen hypoxia—while the nontoxic gas makes up 78% of ambient air, the 100% nitrogen gas lacks any oxygen, effectively leading to suffocation. 


The state attempted to execute Smith in 2022, but prison officials called off the procedure after repeatedly failing to connect the intravenous lines required for lethal injection. 


White Rhino Breakthrough

Scientists have achieved the world's first in vitro fertilization of a southern white rhino, according to an announcement yesterday. The procedure paves the way to save a closely related endangered species, the northern white rhino, whose population has dwindled in central and east Africa due to poaching.


Only two northern white rhinos (see 101) exist, a mother named Najin and her daughter Fatu, who live in Kenya and are unable to carry pregnancies because of age and other ailments. Since 2019, scientists have harvested eggs from Najin and Fatu and used the sperm of deceased male northern white rhinos for artificial insemination. So far, 30 northern white rhino embryos have been created and stored in liquid nitrogen in Italy and Germany, which researchers hope to eventually transfer into a southern white rhino surrogate.  


But first, scientists implanted a southern white rhino, Curra, with an embryo of its own species to ensure the technique would work. Curra died 70 days into her pregnancy because of an infection caused by bacteria found in the soil. Still, scientists found the fetus had a 95% chance of surviving the 16-month pregnancy had Curra not died. 

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In The Know

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Jon Stewart to return to "The Daily Show" after nine years as Monday night host and executive producer (More) | Netflix confirms 2024 release, exact date to be determined, for "Squid Game" season 2 (More)

> Jim Harbaugh departing Michigan after nine seasons to take head coaching job with NFL's Los Angeles Chargers (More) | Five NHL players from Canada's 2018 world junior team take leave of absence amid inquiry into alleged sexual assault (More)

> James Beard Foundation announces 2024 James Beard Awards semifinalists for the nation's best restaurants and chefs (More)


Science & Technology

> National Science Foundation launches initiative to link cutting-edge AI tools with academic research institutions around the country; partnership includes Nvidia, Amazon, Meta, and more (More)

> Chronic stress reduces certain gut bacteria that protect against pathogens, new study finds; results reveal details of one link between stress and inflammatory bowel disease (More)

> Scientists construct the most complete genomic map of the Arabica coffee bean, which accounts for close to 60% of global coffee production; findings may lead to more disease- and drought-resistant strains (More)


Business & Markets

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> US stock markets close mixed (S&P 500 +0.1%, Dow -0.3%, Nasdaq +0.4%); S&P 500 continues to hit fresh all-time high (More) | Microsoft surpasses $3T in market value, becoming the second company ever after Apple to cross the threshold (More)

> eBay to lay off 1,000 full-time jobs, or about 9% of its global workforce; CEO says company's current headcount and expenses outpaced business growth (More)

Tesla misses Q4 revenue and profit estimates on weak automotive revenue, partly due to worldwide price cuts of its vehicles (More) | Tesla reportedly planning to build new compact crossover electric vehicles in June 2025 (More)

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Politics & World Affairs

> Houthi militants fire ballistic missiles at US-owned and -operated cargo ship in Red Sea, continuing its attacks despite rounds of US airstrikes (More) | UN top court to issue preliminary ruling Friday on South Africa's request to halt Israel's Gaza offensive (More) | See war updates (More)

> Ohio lawmakers override Gov. Mike DeWine's (R) veto of legislation banning gender-affirming care for youth and barring transgender women and girls from participating on female school sports teams (More

> Johnson & Johnson to pay $149.5M to Washington state to settle claims it helped fuel opioid crisis (More)



> Twenty Years of 'The Butterfly Effect'

The Ringer | Jake Kring-Schreifels. One of the most influential time-travel movies in modern cinema, "The Butterfly Effect" left viewers grappling with its relentlessly grim narrative arc. Two decades after its release, the directors open up about the original ending that was scrapped from theatrical release. (Read)


> America's Religious 'Nones'

Pew Research | Staff. A long-running survey reveals close to 30% of Americans describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, with most believing in a higher power but feeling skeptical of and disconnected from religious institutions. (Read)

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Leap Year babies gear up to celebrate their birthdays


An interactive look at this year's menu trends.


Ariel, the six-legged cocker spaniel, gets life-changing surgery.


Name a cockroach after your ex for Valentine's Day


This year's Razzie nominees, showcasing the worst in cinema.


New emperor penguin colonies found by bird poop on satellite imagery.


... and potty-mouthed parrots to be rehabilitated.


The US Embassy in London addresses a brewing tea controversy. (via X)


Clickbait: Court to settle the battle of the butter chicken


Historybook: First Winter Olympics take place in Chamonix, France (1924); Battle of the Bulge comes to an end (1945); Al Capone dies (1947); Alicia Keys born (1981); Mary Tyler Moore dies (2017).

"Don’t be short-tempered with yourself, and you’ll be a whole lot nicer to be around with everyone else."

- Mary Tyler Moore

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