Wednesday was the day astronomers said goodbye to the old Milky Way they had known and loved and hello to a new view of our home galaxy.
A European Space Agency mission called Gaia just released a long-awaited treasure trove of data: precise measurements of 1.7 billion stars.
It’s unprecedented for scientists to know the exact brightness, distances, motions and colors of more than a billion stars. The information will yield the best three-dimensional map of our galaxy ever.
“This is a very big deal. I’ve been working on trying to understand the Milky Way and the formation of the Milky Way for a large fraction of my scientific career, and the amount of information this is revealing in some sense is thousands or even hundreds of thousands of times larger than any amount of information we’ve had previously,” said David Hogg, an astrophysicist at New York University and the Flatiron Institute. “We’re really talking about an immense change to our knowledge about the Milky Way.”
The Gaia spacecraft launched in 2013 and is orbiting our sun, about a million miles away from Earth. Although it has surveyed a huge number of stars, Gaia is charting only about 1 percent of what is out there. The Milky Way contains around 100 billion stars
For 7 million stars, Gaia even has measurements showing their velocity as they move toward or away from the spacecraft. “This is just a fantastic new addition,” said Anthony Brown of the Netherlands’ Leiden University, with the Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium.
In 2016, Gaia released some initial results but that was just a tease compared with Wednesday’s massive data dump. Astronomers around the world have been planning how to attack it for months, knowing that discoveries are just waiting in there for the taking.
“Enjoy it,” Antonella Vallenari, another member of the consortium from the Astronomical Observatory of Padua in Italy, said at a news conference as she announced that the data was becoming available.
The European team presented new images of our galaxy based on some initial analyses of the data, along with little movies that simulated what it would be like to fly through the stars. “It’s not fake, it’s real measurements,” Brown said. “We know exactly where the stars are.”
Scientists around the world who were watching the event online struggled to take it all in. “This is like massive scientific progress and we were blinked an image,” said Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History, one of more than a dozen astronomers who woke up before dawn and gathered together at the Flatiron Institute in New York City to watch.
Then it was time to play, as the scientists bent their heads over their laptops and tried to download data. Researchers are expecting a slew of discoveries in the coming hours and days, but analyses will go on for years and even decades.
“This is the data we’re going to be working on for the rest of my career. Probably no data set will rival this,” Faherty said. “It’s the excitement of the day that we see it. It’s why we were up at 5 a.m. to get here. It’s exciting to be around each other and trying to get the data all at once. It’s a day we’re going to remember.”
Capitol Police Arrests Man With ‘Unauthorized’ Inauguration Credential & Gun
(New York Times) — The U.S. Capitol Police arrested a man at a security checkpoint in Washington on Friday after he flashed what an officer described as an “unauthorized” inauguration credential and a search of his truck found an unregistered handgun and more than 500 rounds of ammunition, the authorities said.
A federal law enforcement official said that the man, Wesley A. Beeler, 31, worked as a contractor, and that his credential was not fake, but was not recognized by the police officer. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the arrest.
Mr. Beeler’s father, Paul Beeler, said in an interview that his son was part of a security team working alongside the Capitol Police and the National Guard, and that his son must have simply left his personal gun in his truck. Wesley Beeler has an active private security license in Virginia and was approved to have a handgun, shotgun or patrol rifle while on assignments, according to a state website.
“It was an honest mistake,” Mr. Beeler told The Washington Post after being released on Saturday afternoon. He said he had been working a security job in Washington, was running late to work, and had forgotten that his firearm was in his truck. He denied having 500 rounds of ammunition, as listed in the police report.
“I pulled up to a checkpoint after getting lost in D.C. because I’m a country boy,” he told The Post. “I showed them the inauguration badge that was given to me.”
The arrest comes as law enforcement officials have tried to fortify Washington ahead of Inauguration Day on Wednesday, when they fear that extremists emboldened by the attack on the Capitol by President Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6 could seek to cause violence. A militarized “green zone” is being established downtown, National Guard members are flooding the city, and a metal fence has gone up around the Capitol grounds in advance of the swearing-in of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Mr. Beeler, of Front Royal, Va., had driven up to a security checkpoint less than half a mile from the Capitol grounds on Friday evening and presented “an unauthorized inauguration credential,” according to a statement from a Capitol Police officer filed in a District of Columbia court on Saturday. The officer, Roger Dupont, said that he had checked the credential against a list and found that it did not give Mr. Beeler authority to enter the restricted area.
A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police later described the credential that Mr. Beeler had shown as “nongovernment issued.”
Officers searched his truck, which had several gun-related bumper stickers, and found a loaded Glock pistol, 509 rounds for the pistol and 21 shotgun shells, the police said. Mr. Beeler had admitted having the Glock in the truck’s center console when he was asked if there were weapons in the car, they said.
Mr. Beeler was charged with five crimes, including possessing a weapon and ammunition in Washington without having it registered as required. He and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
Paul Beeler said his son, a father of four, had held other security jobs over the years. “He was proud of the work he was doing with the police and the National Guard,” the father said.
Asked if he thought his son supported a peaceful transition of power, Paul Beeler said, “That’s the reason he’s there.”
The elder Beeler said he had grown worried about his son when he did not return his text messages on Friday night, and that he had called him on Saturday morning, when he thought his son would be returning to Virginia after his shift. He and his wife discovered that Mr. Beeler had been arrested when she received a call from a reporter, he said.
Law enforcement officials have said they are alarmed by chatter among far-right groups and other racist extremists who are threatening to target the nation’s capital to protest Mr. Biden’s electoral victory. Federal agencies have tried to keep some people who breached the Capitol with weapons earlier this month from returning to the city, including by restricting their ability to board commercial planes, according to an administration official.
Mr. Biden has resisted calls to move the inauguration ceremony indoors for the sake of safety. His inauguration committee had already been planning a scaled-back celebration with virtual components because of the coronavirus.
U.S. Set To Announce New Sanctions On Six Individuals Linked To Hong Kong Mass Arrests
WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) – The United States is set to announce fresh sanctions on Friday on six individuals connected to the mass arrests earlier this month of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Hong Kong police on Jan. 5 arrested 53 people in dawn raids on democracy activists in the biggest crackdown since China last year imposed a security law which opponents say is aimed at quashing dissent in the former British colony.
U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo last week warned of fresh sanctions in response to the arrests of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. That warning came a day after supporters of Republican President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 stormed Congress in a bid to overturn his November election defeat, prompting China’s state media to accuse U.S. politicians of “double standards.”
Pompeo also said last week the United States would also explore restrictions against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the United States.
Action on Friday would come just days before Trump is due to leave office and be succeeded by Democrat Joe Biden next Wednesday and would be the latest in a series targeting China, which analysts see as a bid driven by Pompeo to lock in a tough approach to Beijing.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has pursued hard-line policies toward China on issues ranging from trade to espionage and the coronavirus. Relations plummeted to their worst level in decades when he ramped up rhetoric in his unsuccessful November re-election campaign.
His administration has already imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for their actions involving the pro-democracy movement and other alleged rights abuses, and last July declared an end to the territory’s privileged economic status under U.S. law.
The Trump administration took another swipe at China and its biggest companies on Thursday, imposing sanctions on officials and companies for alleged misdeeds in the South China Sea and imposing an investment ban on nine more firms.
Last Saturday, Pompeo said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and counterparts in Taiwan, a move that greatly angered Beijing, which considers the island a renegade province. (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
2nd GOP Senator Urges Trump To Resign Over Capitol Riot
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican senators now say President Donald Trump should resign as support for the drive to impeach him a second time is gaining momentum in his final days in office after the deadly riot at the Capitol by a violent mob of Trump supporters.
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania on Sunday joined Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in calling for Trump to “resign and go away as soon as possible.” Murkowski, who has long voiced her exasperation with Trump’s conduct in office, told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday that Trump simply “needs to get out.”
Toomey said that even though he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses in encouraging loyalists in the Capitol siege on Wednesday, he did not think there was enough time for the impeachment process to play out. Toomey said that resignation was the “best path forward, the best way to get this person in the rear view mirror for us.” He was not optimistic that Trump would step down before his term ends on Jan. 20.
The White House had no immediate comment Sunday.
The House appears determined to act despite the short timeline.
Late Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., sent a letter to her colleagues reiterating that Trump must be held accountable. She told her caucus, now scattered across the country on a two-week recess, to “be prepared to return to Washington this week.”
“It is absolutely essential that those who perpetrated the assault on our democracy be held accountable,” Pelosi wrote. “There must be a recognition that this desecration was instigated by the President.”
Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said “it may be Tuesday, Wednesday before the action is taken, but I think it will be taken this week.” Clyburn, D-S.C., said he was concerned that a Senate trial could distract from the process of confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees.
Clyburn said one option could be giving Biden the “100 days he needs to get his agenda off and running and maybe we’ll send the articles sometime after that” to the Senate for a trial.
He said lawmakers “will take the vote that we should take in the House” and that Pelosi “will make the determination as when is the best time” to send them to the Senate.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has said an impeachment trial could begin as early as Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
The new Democratic effort to stamp Trump’s presidential record — for the second time and days before his term ends — with the indelible mark of impeachment is gaining supporters. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I, a leader of the House effort to draft impeachment articles — or charges — accusing Trump of inciting insurrection, said Saturday that his group had grown to include 185 co-sponsors.
Lawmakers planned to formally introduce the proposal on Monday in the House, where articles of impeachment must originate.
The articles, if passed by the House, could then be transmitted to the Senate for a trial, with senators acting as jurors who would ultimately vote on whether to acquit or convict Trump. If convicted, Trump would be removed from office and succeeded by the vice president.
Potentially complicating that decision about impeachment is what it means for Biden and the beginning of his presidency. While reiterating that he has long viewed Trump as unfit for office, Biden on Friday sidestepped a question about impeachment, saying what Congress does “is for them to decide.”
A violent and largely white mob of Trump supporters overpowered police, broke through security lines and rampaged through the Capitol on Wednesday, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were putting the final, formal touches on Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.
The crowd surged to the domed symbol of American democracy following a rally near the White House, where Trump repeated his bogus claims that the election was stolen from him and urged his supporters to march in force toward the Capitol.
Five people, including a Capitol police officer, died as a result of the siege.
Outrage over the attack and Trump’s role in egging it on capped a divisive, chaotic presidency like few others in the nation’s history. There are less than two weeks until Trump is out of office but Democrats have made clear they don’t want to wait that long.
Trump, has few fellow Republicans speaking out in his defense. He’s become increasingly isolated, holed up in the White House as he has been abandoned in the aftermath of the riot by many aides, leading Republicans and, so far, two Cabinet members — both women.
Toomey appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Clyburn was on “Fox News Sunday” and CNN.
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