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Vox Sentences: We may have found a Plan(et) B

The most important planetary discovery of our lifetimes (probably); a surprisingly deadly earthquake in Italy; the American university in Kabul, under attack.

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dara Lind and Dylan Matthews. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

The most important planetary discovery of our lifetimes (probably); a surprisingly deadly earthquake in Italy; the American university in Kabul, under attack.


A pale red dot

ESO/M. Kornmesser
  • Scientists from the European Southern Observatory and the "Pale Red Dot" project (I know, right?) announced Wednesday they've discovered a planet orbiting Proxima Centauri that's within the right distance from its star to support life. [Vox / Brian Resnick]
  • This is huge. Proxima Centauri is the closest star to the sun — only 4.2 light-years away. One astronomer compared it to a "flashing neon sign," in the words of the New York Times. [NYT / Kenneth Chang]
  • Proxima b — the name by which the planet's known for now — is much closer to Proxima Centauri than we are to the sun. But because Proxima Centauri is a weaker star, that's the right distance for liquid water to form — the key to supporting life. [The Atlantic / Rebecca Boyle]
  • (The difference might, however, mean any plants on Proxima b would be red instead of green.)
  • Some scientists are still holding out for the "Earth twin," a planet that's not only within the "Goldilocks zone" but that orbits a sunlike star. [LAT / Amina Khan]
  • Even if the analogous distance works, scientists still don't know if Proxima b meets all the conditions for liquid water. If the planet doesn't rotate on its axis, for example, it would host extreme temperatures that wouldn't allow for it. [Nature / Alexandra Witze]
  • But this is possibly knowable information, because Proxima Centauri is so close that it might be visitable — not by humans, but by a "starshot" project (involving a Russian billionaire and Stephen Hawking) that launched earlier this year and hopes to send nanobots to the Centauri system. [NYT / Dennis Overbye]

Il terremoto

AFP / Filippo Monteforte via Getty
  • At least 159 people were killed in an earthquake that hit central Italy on Wednesday, destroying much of the small town of Amatrice and causing substantial damage in nearby small towns as well. [WSJ / Giada Zampano, Manuela Mesco and Giovanni Legorano]
  • The quake was relatively weak, at only a 6.2 on the Richter scale, but started relatively close to Earth's surface. It's not an unusual event for the region, known as the Apennines, which has suffered earthquakes for thousands of years. [BBC / Jonathan Amos]
  • But it was still deadlier than most quakes of comparable strength. The buildings in towns like Amatrice are hundreds of years old — built long before builders learned how to make structures earthquake-safe — and Italian regulations don't exactly have requirements for earthquake-proofing centuries-old buildings. [NYT / Dan Bilefsky and Henry Fountain]
  • For comparison: An earthquake in Myanmar, which at a 6.8 on the Richter scale was more severe than the Italian quake, only killed three people (though it did damage about 170 temples, many of them ancient). [The Guardian / Oliver Holmes]
  • Nor has Italy been terribly good at rebuilding after quakes. In past rebuilding efforts, the country's handed out huge tax reductions to companies without actually ensuring they help with rebuilding — and even small quakes have left residents stuck. [NYT / Celestine Bohlen]

Is anywhere in Afghanistan safe?

Anadolu Agency / Haroon Sabawoon via Getty
  • At least one person was killed in an attack on the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul on Wednesday, in which gunmen stormed the campus and set off an explosion. [BBC]
  • As of this writing, people may still be trapped inside the school's campus. [ABC News / Michael Edison Hayden]
  • News of the attack was broken by a photojournalist studying at the university, who jumped out a window to escape. [ABC News / Michael Edison Hayden]
  • The university has been a symbol of Afghan progress (or at least Westernization) since it opened in 2006. But symbols like that have been attractive targets for the Taliban, as they've regained territory in Afghanistan and stepped up attacks in the capital. [NYT / Mujib Mashal and Zahra Nader]
  • The deteriorating state of Afghan security forced President Obama to delay his timeline for troop withdrawal earlier this summer. [Time / Nikhil Kumar]
  • Earlier this month, two university professors were kidnapped at gunpoint. The kidnappings still have not been solved. (Kidnappings are often done by street criminals, but the captives are sometimes "traded up" to terrorist groups.) [The Diplomat / Catherine Putz]

Miscellaneous

The pro-Trump Facebook page "Make America Great" has 450,000 followers. Its owner outsources the work of actually posting its content to the Philippines. [NYT / John Herrman]

  • CORRECTION: In last night's edition of Sentences I (Dara) erroneously referred to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) as Sen. Tim Manchin. I was thinking of performer and songwriter Tim Minchin, who is very much not the same dude. [YouTube / Tim Minchin]
  • The problem with evaluating what Obama actually did in Syria (or what anyone actually did anywhere) against a hypothetical he "coulda woulda shoulda" done. [The National Interest / Paul Pillar]
  • Uber, but for the litigation strategy that brought down Gawker. [MotherBoard / Jason Koebler]
  • Apparently that elevated Chinese "superbus" that went over lanes of cars was an investor scam. [Bloomberg View / Adam Minter]

Verbatim

  • "'Fight Song’ is an anthem. ‘Fight Song’ is a way of f––ing life. It unironically brings me joy." [Anonymous Hillary Clinton staffer to Yahoo! / Hunter Walker]
  • "Ned Flanders wasn’t good enough for neighbors who wanted Norman Rockwell." [Slate / Henry Grabar]
  • "Chance invited me to the house he said he’d rented for him and his friends. ... I turned up and he told me my name was on the lease, which was creepy because I’d never signed anything." [James Blake to GQ / Zach Baron]
  • "Emphasizing private malfeasance is also appealing because it pins the blame for mass incarceration on a diabolical force external to our body politic. It conceives of Americans as the victims of mass incarceration instead of its perpetrators." [Salon / Daniel Denvir]
  • "In the summer months, 84 inmates at the Price Daniel Unit, a medium-security prison four hours west of Dallas, share a 10-gallon cooler of water that’s kept locked in a common area. An inmate there can expect to receive one 8 oz. cup every four hours." [The Intercept / Alice Speri]

Watch this: The hippest internet cafe of 1995

One of New York City’s first internet cafes says a lot about how the early internet felt. Here’s its story, told by one of the founders. [YouTube / Phil Edwards]

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