Newly spotted comet is likely an interstellar traveler

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Astronomers suspect the comet C/2019 Q4 — imaged here by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Hawaii’s Big Island — is just passing through our solar system. Photo by Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope
Sept. 13 (UPI) — Astronomers have identified a new comet, named C/2019 Q4, traveling inbound toward the sun. Early analysis of the comet’s trajectory suggest the space rock came from beyond our solar system.

The comet was first spotted by Gennady Borisov, an astronomer at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea. Word of Borisov’s discovery quickly spread among astronomers.

The Scout system, a comet and asteroid-tracking program based out of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, determined C/2019 Q4 didn’t have an elliptical orbit and flagged it as a possible interstellar visitor.

Astronomers have scrambled to gather additional observations and more precisely work out the comet’s trajectory and origins.

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“The comet’s current velocity is high, about 93,000 miles per hour, which is well above the typical velocities of objects orbiting the Sun at that distance,” Davide Farnocchia, researcher at NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies, said in a news release. “The high velocity indicates not only that the object likely originated from outside our solar system, but also that it will leave and head back to interstellar space.”

Currently, the comet — which appears only as a moving speck in images — is located 260 million miles from the sun. It will reach its closest approach to the sun at 190 million miles.

As Quanzhi Ye, an astronomer at the University of Maryland, explained to National Geographic, the comet boasts an unusually high orbital eccentricity. The more circular a comet’s orbit is, the closer its eccentricity is to zero. Comets with very stretched-out, oblong orbits boast eccentricities closer to one. C/2019 Q4’s eccentricity is three.

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What’s more, the comet’s trajectory is 44 degrees off-kilter from the orbital plane of the solar system’s planets.

“That’s why we say that gravitational perturbations are almost impossible,” Ye said.

In other words, the comet’s odd trajectory isn’t a glitch or brief anomaly. It’s path through the solar system suggests it is an interstellar visitor.

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C/2019 Q4 has yet to be official confirmed as a visitor from outside the solar system, but if and when it is, it will be just the second one — after ‘Oumuamua — to be spotted by astronomers. Scientists estimate hundreds of thousands of interstellar visitors are passing through the solar system at any given moment, but most of them are too small and too far away to ever be spotted by telescopes.

Despite limited observations, Karen Meech and a team of astronomers at the University of Hawaii determined that the comet’s nucleus measures between 1.2 and 10 miles in diameter.

As the comet continues on its path through the solar system, astronomers will continue to observe it. As it gets closer, scientists hope to more precisely calculate its trajectory, as well as work out its size, shape and composition.

For 2nd time in 30 years, less than half of Americans view NRA favorably

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Activists march and hold signs in front of the NRA Headquarters in Fairfax, Va., on August 4, 2018. File Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 13 (UPI) — For just the second time in 30 years, the share of Americans who view the National Rifle Association favorably has fallen below 50 percent, a new survey showed Friday.

Gallup said in the poll 49 percent of respondents expressed an unfavorable view, compared to just 48 percent who view the NRA favorably. It’s the first time since 1998 there are more unfavorable opinions than favorable views.

The survey follows deadly shooting attacks in Texas, Ohio and California this summer.

“With Congress returning to session this week for the first time since the El Paso and Dayton shootings, gun control advocates are pushing for legislative action on the issue,” Gallup wrote in its survey. “Though the NRA has typically been successful in scuttling gun control legislation, its attempts to do so at this time come when public support for the group is the lowest it has been in 20 years.”

The most unfavorable opinions of the NRA were polled in 1995, when Gallup reported 51 percent of Americans had a negative view.

Friday’s survey said 87 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of Democrats shared a favorable view.

The majority of gun owners, 61 percent, said they own a firearm for protection and a third said theirs are for hunting. Twelve percent said their weapons are for “recreation” or “sport,” and 5 percent solely to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

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Texas Republican lawmaker to Beto O’Rourke: ‘My AR is ready for you’

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Brandon Formby, The Texas Tribune

At Thursday night’s debate, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke,  touted his proposed mandatory buyback program for assault weapons. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 13 (UPI) — Republican Texas state Rep. Briscoe Cain drew fierce ire Thursday night for a gun-related tweet that many considered to be a death threat against Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Twitter took the comment down within hours because it violated a rule forbidding threats of violence and O’Rourke’s campaign planned to report the tweet to the FBI, according to CNN. It’s against federal law to threaten “major candidates” for president.

The online conflict came on the heels of two mass shootings in Texas and on the night that O’Rourke debated fellow Democratic presidential candidates in Houston. O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, touted his proposed mandatory buyback program for assault weapons at the debate and said “hell yes” he plans to take Americans’ AR-15s and AK-47s.

“My AR is ready for you Robert Francis,” Cain tweeted, calling O’Rourke by his full first and middle names.

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Within hours, more than 4,000 people replied to the tweet, mostly criticizing Cain for making what they considered to be a death threat. Later in the evening, O’Rourke himself called it one.

“This is a death threat, Representative,” O’Rourke said on Twitter. “Clearly, you shouldn’t own an AR-15 — and neither should anyone else.”

Cain responded by calling O’Rourke a child. His comments come after two August mass shootings in Texas, including one in O’Rourke’s hometown. In that massacre, a white gunman targeting Hispanic people used an AK-47 to fatally shoot 22 people in an El Paso Walmart. Many cited President Donald Trump‘s divisive rhetoric on immigrants and people of color for inspiring the act.

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That shooting also forced a reckoning of the incendiary immigration rhetoric that some Texas Republicans have deployed over the years. That included an alarmist fundraising letter from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott‘s campaign that was dated one day before the massacre. Abbott later admitted that “mistakes were made” with the letter.

On Thursday night, Democratic state Rep. Mary González of Clint responded to Cain’s original tweet by saying the state needs leaders who want to change “our culture of violence.”

“In case you forgot, people were just killed in El Paso,” she said. “People were murdered. The language you are using and the way you are using it is dangerous.”

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Weeks after the El Paso shooting, a 36-year-old man killed seven people and wounded 22 others in Odessa as he fired at them while he was driving. That man was federally barred from possessing a firearm. But he was able to avoid a background check because he purchased his weapon in a private person-to-person sale. Abbott has since suggested improving voluntary background checks for such sales, but has stopped short of saying the Legislature should make them mandatory.

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Sackler family protecting $1B using Swiss accounts

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Sept. 13 (UPI) — The Sackler family has transferred $1 billion from Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company they own, to their own bank accounts to avoid relinquishing the funds amid legal action over the company’s involvement in the opioid crisis, the New York attorney general office said Friday in a court filing.

Attorney General Letitia James accused the family of using Swiss bank accounts to transfer the money and protect it from legal liabilities.

“Records from one financial institution alone have shown approximately $1 billion in wire transfers between the Sacklers, entities they control, and different financial institutions, including those that have funneled funds into Swiss bank accounts,” she said.

The court documents come two days after Purdue Pharma reached a tentative $3 billion settlement with 23 states and 2,300 local governments that sued the company. The jurisdictions accused the Sackler family of directing the company to downplay health risks associated with opioids by saying the prescription drug was rarely the cause of abuse, addiction or death.

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Under the agreement, the Sackler family will pay around $3 billion in cash over a period of years and relinquish control of the company in order to likely avoid going to trial. Under the deal that was negotiated over several months, Purdue Pharma would be dissolved and a new company would be formed with any future profit it gains from the sale of OxyContin going to communities struggling with opioid addiction.

While Republican attorneys general were mainly in favor of the agreement Wednesday, their Democratic counterparts balked at it. Forbes estimates the family’s worth is about $13 billion.

“While the Sacklers continue to lowball victims and skirt a responsible settlement, we refuse to allow the family to misuse the courts in an effort to shield their financial misconduct,” James said.

China adds U.S. agricultural products to tariff-exempt list

A Keokuk County, Iowa, farmstead is pictured with soybeans in the foreground and silos, a barn and out buildings in the back. File Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 13 (UPI) — The Chinese government said Friday it will add American-made soybeans and other agricultural products to its list of items exempt from new punitive tariffs on U.S. imports.

The Chinese commerce ministry said it made the move as a result of U.S. President Donald Trump delaying some U.S. tariffs by two weeks — from Oct. 1 to Oct. 15, as a “gesture of good will.”

Soybeans and pork products are among the new exempted items, which will be added to a list of 16 other U.S. products not affected by the new taxes.

Beijing said the exemptions will stand until Sept. 16, 2020.

“China has a huge market, and the prospects for importing high-quality U.S. farm produce are broad,” the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Friday. “China hopes the United States will be true to its word, make progress on its commitments and create favorable conditions for bilateral agricultural cooperation, said sources with the relevant departments of China.”

Friday’s announcement follows weeks of new tensions between the two nations and a year-long trade conflict that’s produced multiple rounds of negotiations, but no solutions.

Trump said Thursday he’s open to an interim trade deal to ease some of the conflict, as negotiators work toward a final agreement.

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Felicity Huffman to be sentenced in the college admission scandal

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Actress Felicity Huffman is set to be sentenced Friday in the college cheating scandal. File Photo by Christine Chew/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 13 (UPI) — Actress Felicity Huffman is scheduled to be sentenced Friday for paying thousands in a cheating scandal aiming to get her daughter admitted to college.

The sentencing hearing is set for 2:30 p.m. EDT in Boston.

Huffman is the first parent to be sentenced in the scandal, which engulfed several wealthy, high-profile parents. Prosecutors are seeking one month in prison for the Desperate Housewives star.

Huffman admitted to paying the ringleader of the scandal, Rick Singer, $15,000 to correct wrong answers on her oldest daughter’s SAT. The cheating improved her daughter’s score 400 points from her PSAT she’d taken the previous year.

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Huffman’s legal team will argue for no prison time, one year probation, 250 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.

The probation office argued there is no victim in this crime.

“I have a deep and abiding shame over what I have done,” Huffman said in a letter to the judge. “Shame and regret that I will carry for the rest of my life.”

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Prosecutors showed that the universities and testing companies involved in the scandal suffered losses because of the actions of Huffman and others. But the court’s probation department didn’t find a victim in the case, which could support Huffman’s argument for no prison time.

“It was wrong, she knew it was wrong, and she actively participated in manipulating her daughter’s guidance counselor, the testing services and the schools to which her daughter applied,” prosecutors said. “Her efforts weren’t led by need or desperation, but by a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness, facilitated by wealth and insularity.”

They argued that home confinement wouldn’t be a “meaningful punishment” nor would it deter others from committing similar crimes. The $20,000 fine would be “little more than a rounding error for a defendant with a net worth measured in the tens of millions of dollars.”

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Sending Huffman to prison would “make clear that this was a real crime, causing real harm and reinforce the vital principle that all are equally subject to the law regardless of wealth or position.”

Huffman said her daughter had learning disabilities and she went looking for a guidance counselor who could help her get into the college of her choice. That’s how she met Singer, who recommended the cheating scheme.

“As warped as this sounds now, I honestly began to feel that maybe I would be a bad mother if I didn’t do what Mr. Singer was suggesting,” Huffman said. “In my desperation to be a good mother I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot. I see the irony of that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair. I have broken the law, deceived the education community, betrayed my daughter and failed my family.”

A total of 51 people are charged in the scandal, including actress Lori Loughlin. They’re accused of paying more than $25 million collectively to Singer to promote their children as fake athletes with scholarships or to cheat on the SAT. So far, 23 people, including parents, coaches and Singer have pleaded guilty to felonies.

Former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer pleaded guilty to accepting $610,000 in bribes to recruit potential sailing applicants to Stanford. He served one day in prison.

Annual U.S. deficit tops $1 trillion for first time in 7 years

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A trader works on the the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on on August 23 in New York City. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 13 (UPI) — For the first time in seven years, the U.S. national deficit for the year has surpassed the $1 trillion mark, the Treasury Department said.

Statistics issued by the department Thursday show the deficit in August alone reached $214 billion, which pushed the overall debt for fiscal 2019 to nearly $1.1 trillion. It’s the first time the annual debt surpassed the mark since late 2012.

The figures suggest the deficit will almost certainly end the fiscal year in trillion-dollar territory. The debt was $779 billion at the end of 2018.

The total national debt stands at $22.5 trillion, and has increased by 13 percent so far under President Donald Trump‘s administration.

“Absent more responsible budgets, the deficit and interest costs will continue to grow rapidly, diminishing America’s future,” said analyst Michael Peterson, chief executive of the conservative Peterson Foundation. “The longer we wait, the more costly and difficult it will be to put our nation on a stronger path.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Stanford, who is challenging Trump for the 2020 Republican presidential nomination, called on the president to act.

“We edge closer to the brink. When will we wake up to this threat?” he asked in a tweet. “Time for [Trump] to quit tweeting and start leading.”

Some financial experts have blamed the deficit woes on Trump’s 2017 tax overhaul, but nearly all analysts say it’s a result of recent bipartisan policies.

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Nearly 150 businesses sign letter to Senate urging gun control action

The letter calls on the upper chamber to act on legislation already passed by the House, to strengthen background checks for weapons purchases. File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 12 (UPI) — Nearly 150 U.S. companies have signed and sent a letter to the U.S. Senate, urging the chamber to act on gun control legislation that requires tougher background checks on all gun sales and imposes strong “red flag” laws.

The CEOs of dozens of large and small businesses signed the letter — including Uber, Lyft, Twitter, Bloomberg, Yelp, Airbnb and Royal Caribbean Cruises.

“Gun violence in America is not inevitable; it’s preventable,” the joint letter states. “There are steps Congress can, and must, take to prevent and reduce gun violence. We need our lawmakers to support common-sense gun laws that could prevent tragedies like these.”

The letter was first reported Thursday by The New York Times.

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“As leaders of some of America’s most respected companies and those with significant business interests in the United States, we are writing to you because we have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country,” it added.

The business coalition called on senators to take up bipartisan legislation already passed by the House that would update background check laws.

“Expanding Extreme Risk laws to enable families and law enforcement nationwide to intervene when someone is at serious risk of hurting themselves or others is critical to preventing future tragedies,” the letter states.

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Tuesday, the House judiciary committee advanced new laws to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and increase “red flag” laws that prevent high-risk individuals from having guns.

The high-capacity magazine bill would limit clips to 10 rounds or less. The red flag law would allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily seize guns from a person who represents a threat. Another measure would prohibit persons convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from possessing firearms.

“I know the pain of losing a child to gun violence,” said Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath, whose son was shot dead in 2012. “And not anyone in this room, anyone in this country, should ever be faced with that pain. Inaction is unacceptable. And today we are acting to help those cities in crisis.”

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Florida Rep. Ted Deutch represents the district where 17 people died in a shooting attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018. The shooter fired 150 rounds in six minutes.

“If this gunman was limited to ten-round magazines, some of those students may have survived that horrible day,” Deutch said. “We need to act today so that we don’t keep breaking the record for the next worst mass shooting in American history.”

Walmart, the site of a shooting attack in El Paso, Texas, last month was not among the signatories but recently agreed to stop selling certain types of ammunition and barred the “open carry” of firearms in their stores nationwide.

Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill expected to miss 4 to 6 weeks

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Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (C) had two catches for 16 yards before leaving in the first quarter of a Week 1 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday in Jacksonville. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 11 (UPI) — Kansas CityChiefs star Tyreek Hill is expected to miss at least one month of action after sustaining an injury in Week 1, which means it’s time to find a replacement if you have him on your fantasy football team.

Sources told NFL Network that Hill’s sternoclavicular joint injury is expected to keep him off the field for 4 to 6 weeks. The Chiefs do not plan to put Hill on injured reserve.

The star wide receiver picked up the collarbone injury in the first quarter of the Chiefs’ win against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday in Jacksonville. He did not return to the game and was taken to a Jacksonville hospital.

Hill would have missed at least eight weeks if the Chiefs placed him on injured reserve. The three-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro had two catches for 16 yards and a 5-yard run before exiting Sunday’s game.

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If you have Hill in your fantasy football lineup, he should go to your bench immediately. I have Sammy Watkins as my No. 8 option at wide receiver this week. Watkins is an elite WR1 until he proves otherwise. Chiefs rookie Mecole Hardman should see an increased role in the offense in the absence of Hill. Hardman is my No. 43 wide receiver for Week 2, landing in WR3 territory.

If you need help at wide receiver after losing Hill, take a look at my Week 2 add/drops from the waiver wire. The Chiefs face the Oakland Raiders at 4:05 p.m. EDT Sunday in Oakland. The Raiders allowed 211 yards and a touchdown on 14 receptions to Denver Broncos wide receivers in Week 1.

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Brewers star Christian Yelich out for season after broken kneecap

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Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich hit .329 with a career-high 44 home runs, 97 RBIs and 30 stolen bases this season. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 11 (UPI) — Milwaukee Brewers star — and reigning National League MVP — Christian Yelich will miss the remainder of the 2019 season after sustaining a knee injury during a road win against the Miami Marlins.

The Brewers announced Yelich would miss the rest of the season due to a fractured kneecap after the 4-3 victory Tuesday at Marlins Park. There is no time frame for his return.

Yelich was at the plate for his first at-bat of the game when the injury occurred. The Brewers right fielder settled in against Marlins starter Elieser Hernandez during the exchange.

Yelich eyed a 1-1 slider before fouling the pitch off of his right knee. He immediately fell to the ground. He attempted to get back to his feet, before going back down.

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Yelich was tended to by the Brewers’ medical staff before walking off the field on his own power and heading to the clubhouse.

Yeah, he’s down,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters. “He’s disappointed. He’s crushed. It’s awful news.

“I went out there and his whole body was shaking, so I was really concerned. It was just different looking. When he got up … I saw him walk down the stairs and I was somewhat optimistic at that point. Obviously, we got some bad news.”

Yelich entered Tuesday’s game leading the league with a .671 slugging percentage, 1.100 OPS and 328 total bases. He hit .329 with 44 home runs, 97 RBIs, 100 runs scored, 40 stolen bases and 29 doubles this season.

The Brewers trail the Chicago Cubs by one game for the second spot in the National League Wild Card standings. Milwaukee is on a five-game winning streak.

“We don’t have a definitive time frame, other than we know he’ll be out for the remainder of the season,” Brewers president of baseball operations and general manager David Stearns said.

RELATED Brewers’ Christian Yelich hits 30th home run of season

“We also don’t know whether surgery is required. He’ll need some further diagnostic imaging [Wednesday] in Milwaukee, then [he’ll] meet with our doctors and we’ll plot a plan going forward.”

Yelich was a frontrunner to win the National League MVP award again this season. He became the 10th player in MLB history to hit 40 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season during a win against the Chicago Cubs Saturday in Milwaukee.

The Marlins host the Brewers in the third game of the four-game series at 7:10 p.m. EDT Wednesday in Miami.