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NASA’s asteroid hunter Lucy soars into sky with diamonds

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NASA’s asteroid hunter Lucy soars into sky with diamonds

By MARCIA DUNN

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A NASA spacecraft named Lucy rocketed into the sky with diamonds Saturday morning on a 12-year quest to explore eight asteroids.

Seven of the mysterious space rocks are among swarms of asteroids sharing Jupiter’s orbit, thought to be the pristine leftovers of planetary formation.

An Atlas V rocket blasted off before dawn, sending Lucy on a roundabout journey spanning nearly 4 billion miles (6.3 billion kilometers). Researchers grew emotional describing the successful launch — lead scientist Hal Levison said it was like witnessing the birth of a child. “Go Lucy!” he urged.

Lucy is named after the 3.2 million-year-old skeletal remains of a human ancestor found in Ethiopia nearly a half-century ago. That discovery got its name from the 1967 Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” prompting NASA to send the spacecraft soaring with band members’ lyrics and other luminaries’ words of wisdom imprinted on a plaque. The spacecraft also carried a disc made of lab-grown diamonds for one of its science instruments.

In a prerecorded video for NASA, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr paid tribute to his late colleague John Lennon, credited for writing the song that inspired all this.

“I’m so excited — Lucy is going back in the sky with diamonds. Johnny will love that,” Starr said. “Anyway, if you meet anyone up there, Lucy, give them peace and love from me.”

The paleoanthropologist behind the fossil Lucy discovery, Donald Johanson, had goose bumps watching Lucy soar — “I will never look at Jupiter the same … absolutely mind-expanding.” He said he was filled with wonder about this “intersection of our past, our present and our future.”

“That a human ancestor who lived so long ago stimulated a mission which promises to add valuable information about the formation of our solar system is incredibly exciting,” said Johanson, of Arizona State University, who traveled to Cape Canaveral for his first rocket launch.

Lucy’s $981 million mission is the first to aim for Jupiter’s so-called Trojan entourage: thousands — if not millions — of asteroids that share the gas giant’s expansive orbit around the sun. Some of the Trojan asteroids precede Jupiter in its orbit, while others trail it.

Despite their orbits, the Trojans are far from the planet and mostly scattered far from each other. So there’s essentially zero chance of Lucy getting clobbered by one as it swoops past its targets, said Levison of Southwest Research Institute, the mission’s principal scientist.

Lucy will swing past Earth next October and again in 2024 to get enough gravitational oomph to make it all the way out to Jupiter’s orbit. On the way there, the spacecraft will zip past asteroid Donaldjohanson between Mars and Jupiter. The aptly named rock will serve as a 2025 warm-up act for the science instruments.

Drawing power from two huge circular solar wings, Lucy will chase down five asteroids in the leading pack of Trojans in the late 2020s. The spacecraft will then zoom back toward Earth for another gravity assist in 2030. That will send Lucy back out to the trailing Trojan cluster, where it will zip past the final two targets in 2033 for a record-setting eight asteroids visited in a single mission.

It’s a complicated, circuitous path that had NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, shaking his head at first. “You’ve got to be kidding. This is possible?” he recalled asking.

Lucy will pass within 600 miles (965 kilometers) of each target; the biggest one is about 70 miles (113 kilometers) across.

“Are there mountains? Valleys? Pits? Mesas? Who knows? I’m sure we’re going to be surprised,” said Johns Hopkins University’s Hal Weaver, who’s in charge of Lucy’s black-and-white camera. “But we can hardly wait to see what … images will reveal about these fossils from the formation of the solar system.”

NASA plans to launch another mission next month to test whether humans might be able to alter an asteroid’s orbit — practice in case Earth ever has a killer rock headed this way.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Gophers rally for late lead but fall to unbeaten Nebraska

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Gophers rally for late lead but fall to unbeaten Nebraska

Without its floor leader on Monday, Lindsay Whalen’s Gophers were at a disadvantage from the start. But the head coach felt confident she still had enough to hand Nebraska its first loss of the season.

They’d done it before. Minnesota swept the Cornhuskers last season, winning the second game without starting point guard Jasmine Powell. They came tantalizingly close to doing it again on Monday, but in the end Nebraska had too much in a 70-67 victory at Williams Arena.

Kadi Sissoko scored a career-high 25 points, and Sara Scalia added 20 despite playing the point most of the game, but the Gophers couldn’t build on a four-point fourth quarter lead.

“It’s tough to lose. I thought we had our chances to win,” Whalen said. “I thought some guys stepped up with Jazz being out, and so there’s a lot of performances that I thought were really good. But obviously, we didn’t get it done, so it’s tough to take.”

Deja Winters gave the Gophers a 61-57 lead with a driving layup with 4 minutes, 34 seconds remaining, but Nebraska used an 11-4 run over the next three minutes to take control. Sam Haiby, a senior guard from Moorhead, scored eight of those points, giving the Cornhuskers a 68-65 lead with 43 seconds left.

Scalia missed from the paint, and Deja Winters missed an open 3-pointer before Ashley Scoggin hit two free throws with 11.3 seconds left to seal it.

Haiby finished with 13 points, and Jaz Shelley and Bella Cravens each scored 15 points for the Cornhuskers, who improved to 9-0, 1-0 in the Big Ten. The Gophers fell to 6-5, 0-1.

Powell, averaging 12.3 points and a team-high 5.9 assists, was out with a lower right leg injury and wore a stationary boot while watching from the bench. It’s unclear whether she’ll be available for Sunday’s game at Michigan.

“She’s getting treatment and she’ll continue to work with the medical staff and we’ll see how she’s feeling,” Whalen said.

Without Powell, Scalia was forced to move from off guard to point, which she has done before and done well. But the move throws a wrench in a lot of what Minnesota likes to do on offense. Scalia is the team’s best 3-point shooter, and playing point made it nearly impossible for teammates to get her an open shot.

Still, Scalia was effective. She was 4 for 7 from 3-point range and scored on a handful of drives down the center of the lane.

“It was definitely a lot more work,” Scalia said. “They were picking me up in the backcourt almost every possession. I just had to get the offense going and then when it was my turn, or I saw a shot or a play open, I did what I could to create or knock down my shot.”

Turnovers played a major part down the stretch. The Gophers were charged with six in the fourth quarter and the Cornhuskers finished with 21 points off turnovers.

The Gophers trailed 33-31 at intermission but immediately gave up four points on two turnovers to start the third quarter as Nebraska scored the first six points. They started the fourth on an 11-4 run to take a 61-57 lead, but couldn’t get enough stops to expand it.

Nebraska grabbed seven of the next 10 rebounds while outscoring the Gophers 13-3.

“That’s what it comes down to in this league,” Whalen said. “Everybody’s fighting, everybody’s battling, and it’s about those hustle plays and who can get those extra boards when things aren’t falling. We talked about it at halftime, and there were times I thought we were pretty good, but obviously we were not good for long enough stretches.”

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Federal inmate killed in Florence, third such U.S. prison death in a month

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Federal inmate killed in Florence, third such U.S. prison death in a month

WASHINGTON — A federal prisoner at a high-security penitentiary in Colorado died Monday in an altercation with another inmate, marking the third time an inmate has been killed in a U.S. federal prison in the last month.

Jamarr Thompson, 33, was pronounced dead Monday afternoon at USP Florence, shortly after prison staff members responded to the fight, the Bureau of Prisons said.

Thompson’s death was the latest security issue for the federal prison system, which has been plagued by chronic violence, serious misconduct and persistent staffing shortages. His death also comes as the Justice Department is facing mounting pressure from Democrats in Congress to take action to reform the agency.

Last month, a 61-year-old man died after an altercation at USP Tucson in Arizona. And a 32-year-old man was killed last week after a fight with another prisoner at USP Canaan in Waymart, Pa.

The Bureau of Prisons said staff members were called to respond to an altercation between Thompson and another inmate around 2:30 p.m. and “promptly initiated life-saving measures,” but Thompson was pronounced dead by emergency medical crews. The other inmate involved in the fight was treated for minor injuries, officials said.

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Mike Pence’s former top aide cooperating with Jan. 6 panel

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Mike Pence’s former top aide cooperating with Jan. 6 panel

WASHINGTON — The former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence is cooperating with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Marc Short was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and accompanied Pence as he fled his post presiding over the Senate and hid from rioters who were calling for his hanging. Short is cooperating with the panel after receiving a subpoena, according to the person, who was granted anonymity to discuss the private interactions.

Former President Donald Trump was openly criticizing his vice president even as the insurrectionists broke into the building because Pence had said he would not try to unilaterally reject the electoral count as Congress certified President Joe Biden’s victory. Pence didn’t have the legal power to do so, but Trump pressured him anyway.

As Pence’s top aide, Short was also present for several White House meetings ahead of the insurrection. At one point, Trump banned Short from the White House grounds because he objected to the pressure on Pence to reject the legitimate election results.

CNN first reported Short’s cooperation and subpoena.

Some people close to Pence were furious about the way that Trump tried to scapegoat the former vice president on Jan. 6 and became even more incensed after Pence, his closest aides and his family were put in physical danger by the rioters.

Alyssa Farah, who served as Pence’s press secretary before taking on other roles and left her job at the White House before Jan. 6, voluntarily met with Republicans on the House select committee and provided information.

In a series of tweets as the insurrection unfolded, Farah urged Trump to condemn the riots as they were happening and call on his supporters to stand down. “Condemn this now, @realDonaldTrump,” she tweeted. “You are the only one they will listen to. For our country!”

The panel in November subpoenaed Keith Kellogg, who was Pence’s national security adviser, writing in the subpoena that he was with Trump as the attack unfolded and may “have direct information about the former president’s statements about, and reactions to, the Capitol insurrection.” The committee wrote that according to several accounts, Kellogg urged Trump to send out a tweet aimed at helping to control the crowd.

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