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Super-size black hole reveals baby photo of universe; Franken may resign; GOP pushes through House bill for concealed carry; more in U.S. news

Space

Super-size black hole reveals
baby photo of universe

Astronomers have discovered a super-size black hole harkening back to almost the dawn of creation. It’s the farthest black hole ever found. A team led by the Carnegie Observatories’ Eduardo Banados reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday that the black hole lies in a quasar dating to 690 million years of the Big Bang. That means the light from this quasar has been traveling our way for more than 13 billion years. Banados, in an email from Pasadena, Calif., said the quasar provides a unique baby picture of the universe, when it was just 5 percent of its current age. Quasars are incredibly bright objects deep in the cosmos, powered by black holes devouring everything around them. That makes them perfect candidates for unraveling the mysteries of the earliest cosmic times. The black hole in this newest, most distant quasar is 800 million times the mass of our sun. Much bigger black holes are out there, but none have been found so far away. These larger black holes have had more time to grow in the hearts of galaxies since the Big Bang, compared with the young one just observed. Around the time of this newest quasar, the universe was emerging from a so-called Dark Ages. Stars and galaxies were first appearing and their radiation ionizing the surrounding hydrogen gas to illuminate the cosmos. Banados suspects there are more examples out there, between 20 and 100. Still on the lookout, astronomers are uncertain how close they’ll get to the actual beginning of time, 13.8 billion years ago.

Washington, D.C.

Flynn said Russian sanctions would be ‘ripped up,’ whistleblower says

Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, told a former business associate that economic sanctions against Russia would be "ripped up" as one of the Trump administration’s first acts, according to an account by a whistleblower made public Wednesday. Flynn believed ending the sanctions could allow a business project he had once participated in to move forward and texted the associate on Inauguration Day that the project was "good to go," according to the whistleblower. The account is the strongest evidence to date that the Trump administration wanted to end the sanctions immediately, and suggests Flynn had a possible economic incentive for the U.S. to forge a closer relationship with Russia..

How GOP tax plans reward the rich

Life may get even easier for people with rich parents. They can thank the Republicans’ tax plans. Part of their prep school tuition could be shielded from taxes. A larger chunk of their inheritances would be free of estate tax. Family-owned businesses they have a stake in could be taxed at a discount. Stock portfolios gifted to them by their parents may keep climbing because of lower corporate tax rates. And their parents could enjoy a bigger child tax credit than poor working families would. All told, such perks would likely further widen the increased wealth gap. Government and outside analyses of the House and Senate tax bills show the benefits would flow disproportionately to the wealthy, though the Trump administration argues lower tax rates for companies and the wealthy would trickle down to middle-income workers. On Wednesday, the top GOP senator said he’s willing to compromise on the major sticking point for lawmakers from high-tax states to push legislation through.

Washington, D.C.

Franken may resign

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken appeared on the verge of resigning after fellow Democrats, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, abandoned him Wednesday in the mounting allegations of sexual misconduct that are roiling Capitol Hill. A majority of the Senate’s Democrats, including more than a half-dozen women, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Minority Leader Chuck Shumer, called on Franken to get out. Hours earlier, another woman said Franken forcibly tried to kiss her in 2006, which he denied. Franken scheduled an announcement for today.

House bill to expand gun owners’ rights

Republicans rammed a bill through the House on Wednesday that would make it easier for gun owners to legally carry concealed weapons across state lines, the first significant action on guns in Congress since mass shootings in Nevada and Texas killed more than 80 people. The bill, a top priority of the NRA, heads to the Senate. Opponents, mostly Democrats, said it could endanger public safety by overriding state laws. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., said: "It’s unspeakable that this is Congress’ response to the worst gun tragedies in American history." — tbt* wires

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