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July 20, 2014

Buzz Aldrin: Famed astronaut, second man on the moon, and puncher of smug faces.

Sunday marks the 45th anniversary of the lunar landing — unless, of course, it never happened and the government faked the whole danged thing to make America look super powerful at the height of the Cold War. Is that conspiracy theory likely? Probably not, though there are some who ardently believe in it.

Bart Sibrel is one of those lunar truthers. And back in 2002, he ambushed Aldrin outside a Los Angeles hotel and berated him about his supposed role in the hoax, asking him to swear on a Bible he landed on the moon and calling him a "liar" and a "coward." Offended that someone would question his integrity, and fed up with being pestered for so long, Aldrin finally snapped and socked Sibrel in the face.

Police declined to press charges. Jon Terbush

Survey says...
11:04 a.m. ET
John Moore/Getty Images

The World Health Organization's response to West Africa's Ebola outbreak was lagging and dangerously inconsistent, according to a new independent report on the international body's practices.

The report, led by former head of Oxfam Barbara Stocking, critiqued WHO's initial response to the epidemic that began in 2013 and has since claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people.

"The panel considers that WHO does not currently possess the capacity or organizational culture to deliver a full emergency public health response," the report reads, as covered by The Guardian.

While the report also blasted individual countries' slow responses — especially citing the implementation of travel bans to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea — the bulk of the blame fell on "significant and unjustifiable delays" by WHO's workers. Such gridlock could be detrimental in the event of future public health emergencies, and the report advises the creation of a WHO emergency preparedness center, which could operate independently and with authority in affected countries. Sarah Eberspacher

Space is cool
11:01 a.m. ET
Handout/Getty Images

Actually, it's red!

Pluto has long been popularly depicted as grayish or blue, though scientists have suspected for decades that the distant dwarf planet has a reddish hue. But because Pluto is millions of miles away, we really didn't know for sure. Now, thanks to photos taken by the unmanned spacecraft New Horizons, we know that Pluto is red.

New Horizons, which has been in transit for nearly a decade, has come closer to Pluto than any manmade material ever has before. In a week, New Horizons will be a mere 7,750 miles from the surface of Pluto. By that time, we'll surely learn a whole lot more about Pluto than just its color. But for now, the color thing is exciting.

Unlike Mars, which had claim to the "red planet" label first, Pluto's red coloring is likely due to "hydrocarbon molecules that are formed when cosmic rays and solar ultraviolet light interact with methane in Pluto's atmosphere and on its surface," NASA says. Mars is just red from boring old iron oxide. Jeva Lange

long walks
10:45 a.m. ET

If Disney is looking for a sequel to Homeward Bound, this is it: An 8-year-old Shar Pei mix named Georgia trekked through 35 miles of California canyons and suburbs to return home through the backyard doggy door after having been missing for nine days, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Georgia got lost while chasing a rabbit in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve in late June. Due to a high number of coyotes in the region, rangers told her owner, Kris Anderson, that the 30-pound dog likely wouldn't survive even a night.

However, at 8:30 a.m. over a week after she went missing, Georgia unexpectedly ran into Anderson's room and jumped on the bed. The dog was emaciated, covered in scratches, and in need of a good bath — but she somehow walked at least 35 miles home from the park, braving a storm, Fourth of July fireworks, traffic, and maybe even a coyote or two.

How animals find their way home after getting lost is a bit of a scientific mystery: In 1920, Bobbie the dog walked from Oregon to Indiana to get home, and in 2013, a Florida cat walked 200 miles home, to West Palm Beach from Daytona. Some scientists have found evidence that mammals can construct mental maps, similar to the way a rat finds its way out of a maze.

We may never know how Georgia did it — it's just all the more reason to wish animals could talk. Jeva Lange

Greek debt crisis
10:31 a.m. ET
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New Greek Finance Minster Euclid Tsakalotos reportedly showed up to an emergency summit in Brussels to determine Greece's economic fate without any written proposals in hand. While Tsakalotos was urged to offer his reform proposals in written form, three eurozone sources speaking on the condition of anonymity said that he only offered Greece's creditors an oral update on the country's financial situation, The Associated Press reports. Details of what updates Tsakalotos gave in his oral presentation were not available.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will soon arrive at the summit in hopes of working out a bailout deal. On Sunday, Greece soundly rejected austerity measures proposed by European creditors in a bailout plan. Becca Stanek

keeping up with caitlyn
10:16 a.m. ET
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

For the first time since Bruce Jenner transitioned to become Caitlyn Jenner, a major piece of the decathlete's Olympic memorabilia is going to auction. Heritage Auctions estimates that the 1984 Summer Olympic Torch that Jenner carried through Lake Tahoe, Nevada, will sell for at least $20,000. Auction director Chris Ivy described the 24-inch torch as a "wonderful symbol that masculinity and femininity are not mutually exclusive."

After becoming a national hero upon winning the 1976 Olympic Decathlon Gold Medal, Jenner attracted the spotlight again in June when she came out as a transgender woman and revealed herself as Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair. Jenner will accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY Awards on next week for her courage in coming out as a transgender woman. Becca Stanek

college costs
10:07 a.m. ET
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A report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York suggests that federal student aid programs are doing more harm than good. When subsidized federal loans have the effect of "relaxing students’ funding constraints," universities respond by raising tuition to collect the newly available cash.

The resultant tuition hikes can be substantial: The researchers found that each additional dollar of Pell Grant or subsidized student loan money translates to a tuition jump of 55 or 65 cents, respectively. Of course, the higher tuition also applies to students who don't receive federal aid, making college less affordable across the board.

The report also found that subsidized federal loans do not appear to increase enrollment. "[W]hile one would expect a student aid expansion to benefit recipients," the study authors wrote, "the subsidized loan expansion could have been to their detriment, on net, because of the sizable and offsetting tuition effect." Bonnie Kristian

Winter is staying
10:02 a.m. ET

With highs well into the 80s these days, Boston's record-breaking, snowy winter seems like a distant memory. That is, unless you visit the city's last pile of snow: a 12-foot, trash-choked mound of solid ice whose slow, steady melting is a lasting reminder of the grueling winter, The New York Times reports.

The last of Boston's so-called "snow farms," the pile was created in an empty lot so plows would have somewhere to dump some of the 110 inches of snow that blanketed the city. Once 75 feet high and covering a full four acres, new snowfall could make it look "beautiful… like the White Mountains," said Michael Dennehy, the commissioner of public works. These days, the slowly shrinking snow pile is mostly notable for its trash — the tons of urban detritus also swept up by the snow plows. City workers have pulled out everything from candy wrappers to newspaper boxes and manhole covers. And as the mound gets smaller, more and more trash is revealed. As the Times notes, city workers cleared 12 tons of trash from the pile in May. In June, 56 tons.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has asked people via Twitter to guess when the snow pile will finally be gone. The winner gets a "meet and greet" with Mayor Walsh.

For many, though, they'll just be happy to see the snow go. One woman summed up what surely must be the feelings of many Bostonians in regards to the snow: "It's almost gone — thank God." Marshall Bright

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