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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

2:30 p.m.

President Trump on Thursday attempted to downplay the significance of his former lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen's three year prison sentence.

In an interview with Fox News, Trump claimed that Cohen only did "very low-level work" for him and that he did "more public relations than he did law." Trump also repeated the defense he mounted on Twitter earlier in the day: that he "never directed" Cohen "to do anything wrong" and that if Cohen violated the law, that's his fault. But Trump contends the campaign finance charges against Cohen were not criminal and that they were brought "to embarrass me."

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday in part for violating campaign finance laws by arranging for the National Enquirer's publisher to "catch and kill" a woman's story about an alleged affair with Trump; the tabloid's publisher says this was done for the express purpose of protecting the Trump campaign. But Trump told Fox News that he doesn't "think" a payment was ever actually made to the National Enquirer; he can be heard in a recording discussing the payment with Cohen.

Trump's attempt to paint Cohen, who was his personal lawyer for over a decade, as a "low-level" employee brings to mind his similar dismissal of Paul Manafort after the former campaign chairman was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. "He worked for me for a very short period of time," Trump said of Manafort at the time, per Reuters.

Trump also said that he usually hires "very good people" but that in the case of Cohen, hiring him was a "mistake." Watch Trump's interview with Fox News below. Brendan Morrow

1:58 p.m.

'Twas a few weeks before Christmas, and all through one U.K. Christmas festival, things were most definitely stirring. Namely the festival's Santa Claus impersonator.

The English town of St. Ives was trying to host a peaceful holiday affair on Sunday, where Santa was slated to arrived by boat with his Chief Snowman. But a "family rave" — not affiliated with the festival — was thumping below Santa's "grotto," as the festival described it. And when an alarm went off thanks to the rave's smoke machine, Santa started acting "very strangely," parents tell Cambridgeshire Live.

As the festival describes it, Santa "immediately assisted in the evacuation of the building." By parents' accounts, he ripped off his hat and beard and yelled at kids "to get the f--k out," per Cambridgeshire Live. Parents later complained on Facebook that Santa was "an absolute disgrace" in front of "50 odd kids," and said they were "not too sure why he was so cross," per CNN.

The DJ at the event seems to have an explanation for Santa's conduct. "He probably sat there trying to talk to kids with thumping music playing," he told The Irish Times, adding that "the fire alarm going off was probably the final straw for him." The festival apologized for "any offense or distress caused to parents and children," and hasn't said whether the same Santa will sail into his grotto again this weekend. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:57 p.m.

Accused Russian spy Maria Butina officially pleaded guilty to conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors Thursday, NBC News reports.

Butina, who is said to have worked on Russia orders to infiltrate American politics, pleaded not guilty to her single count of conspiracy a few months ago. But she reportedly entered a plea deal with prosecutors earlier this week, and officially reversed her plea Thursday.

Back in July, Butina was arrested on a single conspiracy count of being an unregistered foreign agent in the United States. Prosecutors and reports detailed how Butina got close to conservative politicians by touting gun rights and working closely with the National Rifle Association. She notably "agreed and conspired" with Republican operative Paul Erickson "under direction of" Russian Central Bank leader Alexander Torshin, prosecutors said. Butina was studying international relations in the U.S. under a student visa, but allegedly reported back to Moscow at the same time.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Butina had reversed her fight against the charges and had started cooperating with prosecutors. Butina's Thursday appearance in a Washington, D.C. court confirms her reversal, and shows she'll "cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in any ongoing investigations," ABC News reports. She faces at most five years in prison and will probably be deported afterward, per CNN. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:25 p.m.

President Trump on Thursday suggested the lies told by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn weren't really that significant — even after having fired him for lying.

Trump wrote on Twitter that Flynn got a "great deal," responding to the fact that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has recommended Flynn receive no prison time. Trump went on to assert, though, that the reason for this recommendation was that "they were embarrassed by the way he was treated." In particular, Trump claimed that the "FBI said he didn't lie."

But CNN's Josh Campbell points out that the FBI only said that Flynn showed no signs of lying. "But, they had him on tape, so they knew he was lying," Campbell adds. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI when he said he did not discuss sanctions with Russians; he has not yet been sentenced but has asked for no jail time. Trump himself said in December 2017 that he had to fire Flynn "because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI." Brendan Morrow

12:02 p.m.

A Seattle school district's decision to implement a later start time for students allowed them to get more sleep and may have even improved their academic performance, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Washington tracked sophomores both before and after a school district pushed its start time from 7:50 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. They found that with the 8:40 start, students got on average an extra 34 minutes of sleep each night, reports NPR. They didn't simply move their bedtime later and get the same amount of sleep, as some suspected could happen.

That wasn't the only positive outcome: the study also found that there was a 4.5 percent increase in the students' median grades.

"These results demonstrate that delaying high school start times brings students closer to reaching the recommended sleep amount and reverses the century-long trend in gradual sleep loss," the researchers say. While it's easy to draw a link between the late start time and the additional sleep, it's "much harder to attribute causality for 4.5% higher grades on increased sleep." However, it's "certainly reasonable" to conclude that students who are more well-rested would see an improvement in their grades, and one teacher told NPR that her students seemed to find it easier to engage in class after the later start time began.

The study additionally showed that the number of absences and late arrivals also went down with the later start time, but this was only apparent in the economically disadvantaged school they looked at, which they conclude suggests "delaying high school start times could decrease the learning gap between low and high socioeconomic groups." Brendan Morrow

11:47 a.m.

The Oklahoma City bombing woke up U.S. counterterrorism officials to violent white supremacy and other forms of right-wing extremism. But 9/11 and political pressure turned their attention elsewhere — and "now, they have no idea how to stop" far-right extremists, The New York Times details in Thursday's episode of The Daily podcast.

After Timothy McVeigh's deadly 1995 attack, an FBI crackdown "somewhat succeeded in sending the far right underground," Times contributor Janet Reitman reports on The Daily. Then 9/11 arrived, and "the entire national security apparatus," including the FBI under then-director Robert Mueller, shifted to "countering Islamic extremism," Reitman says. Just one man — Daryl Johnson — was left to probe domestic right-wing extremism under the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.

Things seemed quiet until former President Barack Obama gained national prominence, and Johnson — a registered Republican — correctly assumed the first black president would reinvigorate white supremacists. Under Obama, Johnson authored a report warning of this new threat, which was largely taking shape online, Johnson tells The Daily. But conservative media didn't like tying "right-wing" to "extremism," Johnson said. And their intense backlash led then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to rescind the report altogether.

National security monitoring of violent white supremacy only faded from there. Johnson was reassigned to a new job and eventually left DHS, and today, not a single person at DHS is dedicated solely to right-wing extremism, Johnson tells The Daily.

This shift may have successfully prevented another 9/11. But "white supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed more people in the United States ... than any other category of domestic extremist" in the meantime, per the Times. Listen to more on The New York Times' The Daily. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:23 a.m.

The 2019 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees were announced Thursday, with Radiohead, Janet Jackson, and Def Leppard among the latest to be enshrined in Cleveland, reports Pitchfork.

Joining them in the March induction ceremony will be Stevie Nicks (already in as a member of Fleetwood Mac), The Cure, Roxy Music, and The Zombies. Among the acts who will be left out despite a nomination: Devo, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, and Rage Against the Machine.

Radiohead got the nod despite its well-publicized indifference to the honor. "If you ask me what I'd rather be doing that night," guitarist Ed O'Brien told Rolling Stone upon the band's first nomination in 2017, "I'd rather be sitting at home in front of the fire or going to a gig." It seems that for O'Brien and his bandmates, that cozy night will have to be postponed. See the full list of inductees at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jacob Lambert

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