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Good morning. It's Friday, Dec. 16, and we're covering missile defense in Ukraine, the return of a box office blockbuster, and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.


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Need To Know

Russia Warns the US

Russian officials said yesterday the potential decision by the US to send advanced technology to repel missile attacks to Ukraine may lead to "unpredictable consequences," while accusing the US of escalating the conflict. The transfer, which has been reported on but not formally announced, would provide Ukrainian forces with a Patriot missile defense system widely used by the US Army. 


Russia has battered Ukrainian infrastructure with missile attacks, frequently targeting its power grid ahead of the harsh winter season. Unlike previous systems provided by the West, experts say the system can knock down aircraft and Russian-fired ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of up to 100 miles. 


Russia has also increased its use of Iranian-made explosive drones in attacks, which are too small to be effectively destroyed by Patriot missiles. See updates on the war here


Separately, US Air Force veteran Suedi Murekezi was reportedly released from Russian custody as part of a larger prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine. Murekezi had traveled independently to Ukraine to aid in the war.


'Avatar' Sequel Premieres

The highly anticipated sequel to the 2009 science fiction film "Avatar" hits theaters today, after its world premiere in London Dec. 6 and the US premiere in Los Angeles earlier this week.


The three-hour film, "Avatar: The Way of Water," is directed again by filmmaker James Cameron and returns stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, and more. The movie is set over a decade after the first film and follows the Sully family, who are driven from their home when humans return to recolonize parts of Pandora.


The sequel is one of the most expensive films in Hollywood history, with a budget between $350M and $400M, and is projected to bring in between $150M and $170M domestically this weekend. The original "Avatar," praised for its groundbreaking use of 3D technology, holds the record for the highest-grossing film, earning nearly $2.9B. The sequel will also be released in China today, which is expected to increase ticket sales—the first film grossed over $260M in the country alone.  


Read what critics are saying here.


Sentences in Whitmer Plot

Three men convicted of supporting a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) were sentenced to multiple years in prison yesterday, the latest in a winding, high-profile legal case with origins stretching back to the early stages of the pandemic. 


The trio—Joe Morrison, Pete Musico, and Paul Bellar—received sentences ranging from seven to 12 years in prison, but were not directly implicated in attempting to carry out the plot. Rather, they were convicted of providing material support to a terrorist act—primarily helping train and run drills for their militia group, known as the Wolverine Watchmen. The broader legal case against the group has faced a number of issues, including accusations that undercover agents unduly influenced the group into acting on their plans. 


Adam Fox, the accused ringleader, faces a maximum punishment of life in prison and will be sentenced Dec. 27. See a timeline of the scheme here

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In The Know

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

In partnership with Purity Woods

> Claudine Gay becomes first Black person and the second woman to serve as Harvard University's president (More) | Grammy Awards to be hosted by Trevor Noah for third straight time (More)

> College football bowl season kicks off today; see preview of all 42 matchups (More) | NCAA taps Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) as its next president (More)

> France and Argentina square off Sunday (10 am ET, Fox) in the FIFA World Cup Final (More) | EU court sides with UEFA and FIFA, rejecting claim by upstart European Super League of a UEFA monopoly (More)

From our partners: Your skin is very receptive to the right changes. Research now shows you can reverse wrinkled and “loose-looking” skin quickly. In "22 Essential Natural Steps for Your Youngest-Looking Skin," courtesy of Purity Woods, you’ll discover the little-known best steps to do so! Get the free report here.


Science & Technology

> Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos-backed foundations join others in making $75M investment into brain-computer interface startup Synchron (More) | Company has already begun clinical trial to allow severely paralyzed patients to communicate via thought-to-text without requiring open brain surgery (More)

> Scientists link immune system molecule known to play a role in neurodegeneration to estrogen depletion; findings may help explain why women experience higher rates of Alzheimer's (More)

> Astronomers detect evidence of a pair of exoplanets orbiting a red dwarf star that are likely "water worlds," marking the most direct observation of planets made up primarily of liquid (More)


Business & Markets

> US stock markets close lower (S&P 500 -2.5%, Dow -2.3%, Nasdaq -3.2%) on growing recession fears (More)

> US retail sales fall 0.6% in November amid higher prices, lower than the projected 0.3% reduction (More)

> Online gaming giant Roblox releases update showing reduced growth; shares down 16% (More)


Politics & World Affairs

> Thousands of classified documents related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. released; document dump includes CIA files on assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (More)

> Senate passes one-week government funding extension ahead of today's midnight deadline (More) | Full omnibus spending bill likely to be introduced Monday; negotiators have just over two weeks before current congressional session ends (More)

> European Parliament pledges reform in wake of scandal alleging former Vice President Eva Kaili took bribes from Qatar in the run-up to the country's hosting of the World Cup (More) | Qatargate 101 (More)



> How to Mend a Broken Heart

Nautilus | Shayla Love. A new therapy looks to block the negative memories associated with romantic betrayal. (Read)


> Plant-Saving Drones

Reuters | Staff. How plant conservationists are using nimble drones to find and rehabilitate dying species in Hawaii. (Read)

> This TikTok Influencer Doesn't Exist

Vice | Katherine Denkinson. The tangled story of one fraudulent woman who has assumed numerous false identities in the UK and Ireland—and who is still on the run. (Read)


> The Flamingos of Mumbai

Hakai | Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar. Hundreds of thousands of pink flamingos descend every year on the city's sewage-filled creeks to feast on a bounty of algae. (Read)

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Please support our sponsors!


The best science images of the year.


Have fun launching asteroids at Earth.


How to detect if someone is lying.


Visualizing three decades of UFO sightings.


Myths, misconceptions, and the science of stuttering.


The world's oldest jeans look oddly fashionable


"Road sleeping" deaths soar in Tokyo


In a historic first, no British fans were arrested at the World Cup.


Clickbait: Foggy glasses hate this one weird trick


Historybook: Ludwig van Beethoven born (1770); Boston Tea Party occurs (1773); Author Jane Austen born (1775); Anthropologist Margaret Mead born (1901); World War II’s Battle of the Bulge begins (1944).

"The traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep."

- Margaret Mead

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