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Vox Sentences: A better world could be a mere 40 light-years away

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.

Super-cool stars are the new hotness in the search for Earth-like planets.

On at least one of these planets, Donald Trump is not president

Artist’s rendering of Earth-size planets around Trappist-1 NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • NASA astronomers have discovered a single star system, 40 light-years away, that has seven Earth-like planets (small, rocky, and within the range of orbit in which liquid water could form). [Vox / Brian Resnick]
  • Three of the planets are directly in what's called the "habitable zone," meaning temperature water could easily remain in liquid form on their surfaces; the other four could have water as well, depending on the compositions of their atmospheres. [NASA]
  • The star at the center of the system — called Trappist-1 — isn't like the sun at all. It's a super-cool dwarf star (which means sunsets on these planets are likely salmon-colored). [The Atlantic / Marina Koren]
  • That's actually extremely promising — not only are super-cool stars easier to discover planets around (because they are dim enough to flicker when a planet passes in front of them), but they are also far more common than sun-like stars. []
  • To discover more potential Earth-like planets around super-cool stars, NASA is working with an initiative called (in an epic act of backronymery) SPECULOOS — like the cookie butter. [SPECULOOS]
  • Few, if any, of these worlds will actually be habitable by human standards. The astronomical term "habitable" applies to plenty of arrangements that sensible humans would call, as Katie Mack puts it, "lethal nightmare planets." [Cosmos / Katie Mack]
  • But for the moment, the planets of Trappist-1 exist in the world of tantalizing possibility. Fittingly, Nature magazine published a sci-fi story side by side with the paper announcing the discovery. [Nature / Laurence Suhner]


Gender-neutral restroom sign John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
  • The Trump administration has officially revoked guidance to federally funded public schools informing them that under Title IX, school officials are obligated to protect the rights of trans students, including allowing them to use their preferred bathroom. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • The guidance was issued by President Obama in the final year of his term, and has led to a court battle between the federal government and Republican governors. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • The Trump administration has revoked the guidance "in order to further and more completely consider" the question of whether Title IX protects gender identity and expression. [US Department of Justice]
  • The guidance revocation was formally posted as a notice to the Supreme Court, which agreed last fall to hear a case in which the federal government sided with a trans student against his school district. [Washington Post / Gavin Grimm]
  • Withdrawing the guidance could throw the SCOTUS case into limbo, depending on whether the Court had a majority on legal issues beyond the federal government's opposition to the states. Josh Blackman laid out how this might go last fall. [Josh Blackman]
  • (Typically, the Supreme Court doesn't look kindly on new administrations that switch sides on a bunch of pending cases when they arrive in office. But the Trump administration doesn't appear to spend too much time worrying about what the judicial branch thinks.) [BNA / Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson]
  • Such a move has been anticipated for weeks. It was held up, reportedly, by the resistance of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — who ultimately caved to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the president himself in their push to strike down the guidance. [NYT / Jeremy W. Peters, Jo Becker, Eric Lichtblau, and Julie Hirschfeld Davis]
  • Since President Trump (not to mention his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner) has sometimes portrayed himself as the face of a new, more LGBTQ-friendly GOP, it's striking that he stood so strongly on the side of conservative Christians on this fight. [Politico / Annie Karni]
  • But perhaps it's not surprising. This issue has often been collapsed to the question of bathrooms, and bathrooms have, historically, been a point of anxiety when marginalized groups start fighting for integration and equal rights. [The Guardian / Maria L. La Ganga]

#NoDAPL no longer

Dakota Access Pipeline protester Alex Milan Tracy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
  • The protest camp on the site of the planned Dakota Access pipeline is no more. Most protesters left the camp Wednesday, while those who remained were arrested. [AP / Blake Nicholson and James Macpherson]
  • Before leaving, protesters ceremonially burned camp structures. [NBC News / Cal Perry, Chiara Sottile, and Corky Siemaszko]
  • (The ceremonial burning is a reminder that the protests against the DAPL have always been led by Native American activists and rooted in Native American religion and spirituality.) [Think Progress / Jack Jenkins]
  • The evacuation was ordered last month by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who expressed concerns about seasonal flooding — and (perhaps trollishly) smeared protesters for damaging the environment around the site with litter and waste. [Gov. Doug Burgum]
  • Pipeline opponents are running out of options. Last week, a request to halt construction of the pipeline — which was granted after an expedited review requested by President Trump — was rejected by a federal judge. [BuzzFeed News / Zoe Tillman]
  • Vice's Jay Caspian Kang, reporting from the camp, offers a portrait of a group of activists who are determined, but abandoned. It's not clear what comes next. [Vice / Jay Caspian Kang]


  • Meet Dylan, the 10-year-old communist who's converting thousands of comrades to the cause through his YouTube vlogs. [NY Mag / Madison Malone Kircher]
  • Kilkenny, Ireland's war on rhododendron has begun, and it will be a long and vicious fight indeed. [Irish Times / Dan Griffin]
  • Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has issued a powerful dissent on lethal injection, saying it "may turn out to be our most cruel experiment yet." [Slate / Mark Joseph Stern]
  • So you know particle accelerators? What would happen if you stuck your head in one? In 1978, a Soviet scientist named Anatoli Bugorski had the misfortune to find out. [The Atlantic / Joel Frohlich]
  • Keeping Up With the Kattarshians is an extremely important and deservedly popular Icelandic reality show about kittens living in an oversize dollhouse. [Vice / Sirin Kale]


  • "The article was corrected to say that it is no accident that Putin shares the name Vladimir with Lenin. If it is not an accident, this may be because it is one of the most common Russian names. But still, it cannot be denied. Both Putin and Lenin are named Vladimir." [The Guardian / Keith Gessen]
  • "At times, it seems like the goal of the Benedict option is just as much about getting away from gay people as it is affirming the tenets of Christianity." [The Atlantic / Emma Green]
  • "Now the entire alt-right is realizing, in full view of a few million popcorn-munching online leftists, that they were never the new punk. They were never the suave and seductive blackshirts of the new American authoritarianism. They are, at best, the brownshirts, and they are becoming less useful to their benefactors by the day." [Pacific Standard / Laurie Penny]
  • "Alveda King noticed two moments on Tuesday when President Donald Trump seemed visibly moved during his tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. … They came upon a set of shackles that were used to restrain children. 'That is really bad,' King quoted the president as saying. 'That is really bad.'" [Atlanta Journal-Constitution / Ernie Suggs]
  • "To say in the wake of so many mass shootings in so many localities across this country that the people themselves are now to be rendered newly powerless, that all they can do is stand by and watch as federal courts design their destiny — this would deliver a body blow to democracy as we have known it since the very founding of this nation." [Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III via the Trace / Alex Yablon]

Watch this: The Oscars’ voting process awards safe movies

The Oscars’ voting process is ... complicated. [YouTube / Estelle Caswell and Todd VanDerWerff]