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August 10, 2018

Saturday marks the day we finally send a spacecraft to the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe, named for the scientist who first theorized about the existence of solar winds, is expected to get as close as we've ever been to our local star. The goal is to collect data and images on the sun's atmosphere, called the "corona," Engadget reports.

Though the mission has affectionately been dubbed as one to "touch the sun," the probe won't quite go that far, Fox News explained. In reality, it will aim to eventually reach about 3.8 million miles away, well within the sun's atmosphere. While we don't have technology that would survive the sun's surface heat of 2 to 3 million degrees Fahrenheit, the Parker probe has heat shields that will protect it from the temperatures it will face, about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. (Icarus, take note.)

NASA will use the data collected by the Parker probe in order to better prepare us for solar winds, which present problems for satellites and even our power grids here on Earth, Engadget explained. But these findings are going to take a long time — first, the Parker probe will have to orbit around the sun, getting closer and closer, for as many as seven years. By that time, it will be traveling at around 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object ever.

The Parker Solar Probe is expected to launch early Saturday morning from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch window opens at 3:33 a.m. ET. You can watch it live on NASA TV, or read more about this historic launch at Engadget. Shivani Ishwar

7:35a.m.

There are wealthy Democrats throwing money at the 2018 midterms, on track to be the most expensive election in U.S. history, but nobody in either party comes close to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam. With a recent $25 million donation to the GOP super PAC the Senate Leadership Fund, the Adelsons have now given Republicans $113 million through September to help them hold both houses of Congress, surpassing the $82.6 million the couple spent during the entire 2016 election cycle.

The late cash infusion by Adelson, a casino magnate worth an estimated $33.4 billion, is the "new benchmark for the most any individual household has spent on one election — including campaign committees, parties, and PACs — since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010," Roll Call reports, citing OpenSecrets data. "The rankings by OpenSecrets do not include donations through 501(c)(4) 'dark money' groups."

Thanks largely to this unprecedented political largesse, Republicans have passed Democrats in cash for the final stretch of the 2018 campaign, CNN reports. The Adelsons contributed two-third of the Senate Leadership Fund's haul last month, and a good share of the House GOP super PAC's windfall, too. The Adelson-flush GOP super PACs have at least evened out the advantage individual Democrats had from outraising their GOP rivals in competitive races.

"There's an intensity to these midterm elections that has been boiling since Election Day 2016," says Sheila Krumholz at the Center for Responsive Politics. But the small-donor furor fueling the Democrats "may not matter as much" on Election Day if one or two large Republican donors can make up the difference. That money may not overcome Democratic enthusiasm to vote in House races, but ProPublica has a long look at Adelson's healthy return on investment. Peter Weber

6:20a.m.

In a speech to his ruling Justice and Development Party on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Saudi Arabia's acknowledgment that Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed Oct. 2 inside its Istanbul consulate a good first step, but he forcefully disputed the Saudi story that Khashoggi died in a spontaneous fistfight. Saudi officials began planning Khashoggi's "savage murder" in late September, Erdogan said, and a team of three Saudis arrived Oct. 1 to scout a forest, possibly for a place to bury Khashoggi's dismembered remains. He also confirmed that the Saudis used a body double to try and make it seem Khashoggi left the consulate alive.

Erdogan said the 18 people Saudi Arabia says it has arrested for the murder include the 15 Saudi agents identified by Turkish intelligence plus three consular officials, and he requested that Saudi Arabia let them be tried for their crimes in Istanbul. He also said a Saudi official told him a Turkish co-conspirator may have helped dispose of the body. Erdogan questioned who ordered the assassination, asked what happened to Khashoggi's body, and said he expects all perpetrators to be brought to justice, "from the highest level to the lowest level."

“I do not doubt the sincerity of King Salman," Erdogan said. "That being said, an independent investigation needs to be carried out. This is a political killing." He did not mention Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king's son. But the speech carried a strong implication that Erdogan did not believe the crown prince is innocent, says Bethan McKernan, Middle East correspondent for The Guardian. Peter Weber

5:20a.m.

Two weeks before the midterm elections that will determine control of Congress, 52 percent of Republicans told a HillTV/HarrisX poll that they support expanding Medicare to all Americans, a proposal mostly famously promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The other 48 percent of Republicans opposed the idea, the poll found. The 'Medicare for all' idea was unsurprisingly more popular among Democrats (92 percent support) and independents (68 percent support). Overall, 70 percent of Americans supported expanding Medicare to everyone, including 42 percent who strongly favored the idea.

Reid Wilson, a campaign correspondent for The Hill, told HillTV's Joe Concha that this is mostly a messaging problems for Republicans. "This is a debate that has only just started, and there are a lot of Republicans right now who are trying to figure out ways to talk about 'Medicare for all' in ways that will bring that number down, and bring the overall number down," Wilson suggested. "So this is not baked in at all."

The poll could also be an outlier, or it could signal a shift in acceptance for expanding a popular government program to everyone. HarrisX conducted the poll online Oct. 19-20, surveying 1,000 registered voters. It has a sampling margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Peter Weber

4:33a.m.

The pivotal 2018 elections are in two weeks, "Democrats are presently ahead in the polls, but President Trump's is employing the same winning strategy as of 2016: racism and lying," Stephen Colbert said on Monday's Late Show. On both fronts, he said, Trump is trying to paint a huge group of Honduran migrants and their kids as a pack of "criminals and unknown Middle Easterners," a veritable "National Emergy" [sic], as he tweeted Monday. "It's not a dog whistle, that's a dog trombone," Colbert said. "He's just stuffing all the fears into one burrito of doom." He suggest a few ingredients Trump might have missed, including "gay spiders."

"Trump is pulling out all the stops in the midterms to try to avoid the impending blue wave," Seth Meyers said on Monday's Late Night. "And the reason these midterms feel so tense is that right now, millions of Americans feel their democracy isn't working." He pointed to GOP gerrymandering, voter purges, and minority rule. Trump is using that anger to beget more anger.

"People are angry that a minority faction is ruling the country and ignoring what most people want, and they've expressed that anger in various ways, like confronting politicians in public or protesting in the capital," Meyers said. Trump and other Republicans are fancifully calling that "mob violence," and Trump has embraced a catchy rhyme. "When Trump finds a rhyme like 'mobs' and jobs,' that his Gettysburg Address," he sighed. "Meanwhile, there are Republicans who are literally violent," and Trump runs his administration like a "protection racket." You can watch Meyers' case for how Trump is "an actual crime boss" below. Peter Weber

3:41a.m.

CIA Director Gina Haspel flew to Turkey on Monday, ahead of a speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about Turkey's evidence that Saudi Arabia murdered and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Istanbul's Saudi consulate on Oct. 2, The Washington Post reports, citing people familiar with the matter. "The arrival of the director suggests an effort by the U.S. intelligence community to assess the information the Turks have," including purported audio recordings of Khashoggi's killing, the Post says. "Intelligence officials are increasingly skeptical of the Saudi account and have warned President Trump" to take the Saudis' explanations with a large grain of salt.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia finally acknowledged that Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and U.S. resident, had died inside its consulate, but claimed it was due to a fight gone awry with rogue agents and that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no involvement with the plan. Evidence keeps emerging to cast doubt on that story. On Monday, Trump said he's "not satisfied with what I've heard" from Saudi officials, adding: "We have top intelligence people in Turkey. We're going to see what we have. I'll know a lot tomorrow."

The Trump administration and Saudi allies in the region, including Israel and the United Arab Emirates, have vested interests bin Salman and other Saudi royalty being uninvolved in the scandalous murder. "The chief concern for Washington is that Erdogan will reveal details about Khashoggi's killing that implicate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's de facto ruler, who has been a key ally for the Trump administration," the Post notes. Peter Weber

2:59a.m.

On Monday evening, police in New York's Westchester County recovered and "proactively detonated" a suspicious device discovered in the mailbox of billionaire philanthropist and conservative bête noire George Soros, The New York Times reports. The Bedford Police Department said it has handed the investigation over to the FBI, which tweeted Monday night that it is conducting an investigation "at and around a residence in Bedford." An employee of the residence "opened the package, revealing what appeared to be an explosive device," the police said in a statement. "The employee placed the package in a wooded area and called the Bedford police." Soros wasn't home at the time.

Soros, an 88-year-old Hungarian-born U.S. citizen who has given at least $18 billion of his fortune to his Open Society Foundations to promote democracy and human rights around the world, started donating to Democratic candidates during George W. Bush's presidency. "His activism has made him a villain to conservative groups and the target of anti-Semitic smears" and bizarre conspiracy theories, the Times notes. His home address, in Bedford's Katonah area, "is posted on pro-Trump Twitter accounts several times a month, including twice Monday," the New York Daily News adds. One of those posts Monday night said that the "only way we can stop them is to cut the head off the snake."

Soros, who once stated he doesn't "particularly want to be a Democrat," says his U.S. political contributions are in service of encouraging bipartisanship and countering the accelerating rightward drift of the Republican Party, the Times says. He gave more than $25 million to Hillary Clinton and other Democratic candidates and causes in the 2016 election — or less than a quarter of the $113 million fellow billionaire Sheldon Adelson has given to Republican candidates and causes in the 2018 election cycle. Peter Weber

2:12a.m.

Saturday Night Live returns to the air on Nov. 3, right before the midterm elections, but SNL cast member Melissa Villaseñor was on Monday's Tonight Show, and it had nothing to do with politics. Villaseñor had challenged Jimmy Fallon to a round of Wheel of Musical Impressions via Instagram, and on Monday's show she drew Gwen Stefani and Christina Aguilera before nailing Bjork, all singing nursery rhymes. "The world has always wanted to hear this, Bjork doing 'Rock-A-Bye Baby,'" Fallon said. For his part, Fallon requested auto-tune for his Post Malone impersonation but was ready for Barry Gibb all on his own. Watch below. Peter Weber

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