9.21.2023

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Good morning. It's Thursday, Sept. 21, and we're covering some high-profile congressional testimony, a long-awaited space sample delivery, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

 

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Need To Know
 

Garland Testifies 

Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, spending much of the day answering questions related to the Justice Department's investigation into President Joe Biden's son, Hunter. Republicans have accused Garland of slow playing the case against the younger Biden, who was recently indicted on felony counts of lying on forms during the purchase of a firearm (see previous write-up).

 

US attorney David Weiss was appointed as special counsel to lead the Hunter Biden probe in August. Garland has denied accusations of interfering in the investigation, while Republicans pointed to a pair of career IRS officials who accused department leadership of obstructing their efforts. The cases in question are separate from an impeachment inquiry into the Biden family finances launched earlier this week by the House GOP. 

 

The attorney general was also peppered with a variety of other questions, including allegations of religious discrimination within the agency. See top moments from the appearance here.

 

Asteroid Sample Return

NASA is poised to make a historic delivery this weekend of the biggest sample of rocks and dust from an asteroid after a seven-year mission in space. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will fly by Earth Sunday to drop off a capsule—containing the roughly half-a-pound sample from the asteroid Bennu—near Dugway, Utah. If successful, it will be the first US mission to return an asteroid sample to Earth. Livestream the event here (10 am ET).


The craft launched in 2016, arrived at Bennu in 2018, and orbited the asteroid for two years as it took measurements and searched for a landing spot. In 2020, the craft grabbed a sample of Bennu in a "touch and go" move and began its return to Earth in 2021.

 

Bennu—whose diameter is roughly the height of the Empire State building—cricles the sun in orbit roughly between Earth and Mars (see overview). Studying its composition may reveal insights into the early formation of the solar system from nearly 4.5 billion years ago—something not possible with meteorites, which get contaminated during their fall to Earth.

 

OSIRIS-REx will explore the asteroid Apophis next. NASA will launch two more

asteroid missions this fall.

 

Maui Landholders Face Lawsuit

The father of a woman who died last month in the Maui wildfires launches a lawsuit against three major landholders on the islands, alleging dry grasses left to grow wild on their properties fueled the deadly blazes. Observers say the lawsuit, brought by Harold Wells, could become a blueprint for actions against property owners amid growing risk of wildfires worldwide.

 

The tragic Lahaina fires claimed 97 lives and decimated the historic former capital and tourist spot with an unusual speed and ferocity. Scientists have argued the dry, hot conditions amid strong winds fed on swaths of imported buffel and guinea grass—pasture crops, which had spread on land once dominated by dry forest and sugarcane plantations. The grasses, when left to grow unmanaged, are equivalent to 15 tons of fire fuel per acre. 

 

Wells' lawyers will look to prove the landholders—the governments of Maui and Hawaii Counties as well as the local school district—were liable for maintaining dangerous amounts of fire-prone, dry vegetation on their land. 

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

> Tennis legend Billie Jean King nominated by bipartisan group of senators for Congressional Gold Medal, congress' highest civilian honor; King would be the first individual female athlete to receive the award (More)

> Film and television studio chiefs, including CEOs from Disney, Warner Bros., and Netflix, attend negotiations with writers guild as writers strike enters 21st week (More)

> Connecticut Sun top Minnesota Lynx 90-75 in decisive game three to advance to WNBA playoffs semifinals (More) | See latest playoff bracket (More)

 

Science & Technology

In partnership with LiquidPiston

> US health officials reject nasal spray-based alternative to EpiPens, used for emergency treatment of life-threatening allergic reactions (More) | Elon Musk-owned Neuralink to begin human trials for brain-computer interface devices (More)

> Indian officials work to contain Nipah virus outbreak in the southern state of Kerala; six confirmed cases and two deaths from the bat-borne virus have been confirmed (More) | What is Nipah virus? (More)

> Archaeologists uncover what is believed to be the oldest known wooden structure; find suggests ancient human relatives performed advanced woodworking as early as 500,000 years ago (More)

From our partners: A quantum leap in engine technology. Battery power may be the rage, but the combustion engine is experiencing a renaissance. The world’s biggest carmakers are now eyeing hydrogen fuel as a clean energy alternative – which is great news for LiquidPiston, whose engine is both HEV and hydrogen-compatible. They grew revenue 156% last year and now have a surging $400B combustion engine industry ahead of them. Invest in LiquidPiston here.*

 

Business & Markets

> US stock markets close lower (S&P 500 -0.9%, Dow -0.2%, Nasdaq -1.5%); Federal Reserve leaves interest rates unchanged, but signals another increase this year (More) | Marketing automation giant Klaviyo closes up 9% on first day of trading following initial public offering, valuing the company at approximately $9B (More

> Amazon highlights artificial intelligence plans at annual Fall Devices Event (More)

> Uber Eats to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, colloquially known as food stamps, beginning in 2024 (More)

 

Politics & World Affairs

> Trial begins for two former Aurora, Colorado, police officers charged in the 2019 death of 23-year-old Elijah McClain, who died in a hospital days after being restrained by officers and injected with a sedative overdose by paramedics (More)

> Azerbaijan halts military operation in contested Nagorno-Karabakh region as Armenian separatist forces agree to cease-fire deal giving Azerbaijan full control of the breakaway enclave (More) | See previous write-up on the conflict (More

> Senate confirms new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to serve on the president's top military advisory council, circumventing vote block by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) (More) | Biden administration to reopen program offering up to four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household, starting next week (More)  

 

In-Depth

> Climate of Alarm

Kite & Key | Staff. Many media outlets often describe extreme weather events—wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, and more—as being caused by climate change. But pinning down how much warming temperatures are responsible for such disasters is much more nuanced than portrayed. (Watch)

 

> Field of Schemes

Sports Illustrated | Sean Williams. A man orchestrates a rigged livestreamed cricket tournament from a remote village in India to attract online bettors and generate income, but a deeper look unveils a shadowy network behind the money-making scheme. (Read)

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Etcetera
 

The priciest homes in each state.

 

Officials reveal plans for a Chernobyl wind farm.

 

NASA snaps a high-resolution shot of the lunar south pole.

 

Comparing the lifespans of different pets.

 

A timelapse of a mother bird building a nest and hatching chicks.

 

... and awe-inspiring footage of sea life taken from the sky.

 

Charting the history of charts. (best on desktop)

 

Lemuria, the imaginary continent that gained a cult following.

 

Clickbait: A well-dressed llama becomes a wedding hit.

 

Historybook: Science fiction author HG Wells born (1866); "The Hobbit" is published (1937); Bill Murray born (1950); Senate confirms Sandra Day O’Connor as first female Supreme Court justice (1981); Track and field legend Florence Griffith Joyner dies (1998).

"I believe in the impossible because no one else does."

- Florence Griffith Joyner

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