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Black hole scientists to announce ‘groundbreaking’ Milky Way galaxy discovery

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of the Milky Way from an area of Puyehue National Park near Osorno City, Chile, May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado/File Photo

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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Scientists are set to announce on Thursday what they call a “groundbreaking” Milky Way discovery in what could be the release of an image of the supermassive black hole lurking at our galaxy’s center and devouring any matter wandering within its gargantuan gravitational pull.

The researchers are part of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) international collaboration that in 2019 unveiled the first-ever photo of a black hole. They have been concentrating recently on the black hole called Sagittarius A*, or SgrA*, at the heart of the Milky Way.

This monstrous object possesses 4 million times the mass of our sun and is located about 26,000 light-years – the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km) – from Earth. If the researchers indeed have managed to take a photograph of Sagittarius A*, it would be only the second black hole ever so pictured.

The EHT project three years ago released an image of the supermassive black hole at the center of another galaxy called Messier 87, or M87, showing a glowing ring of red, yellow and white surrounding a dark center.

Thursday’s announcement will be made in simultaneous news conferences at 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) in the United States, Germany, China, Mexico, Chile, Japan and Taiwan. The researchers have declined to disclose the nature of the announcement ahead of time but in a news release called it a “groundbreaking result on the center of our galaxy.”

Black holes are extraordinarily dense objects with gravity so strong that not even light can escape, making viewing them quite challenging. A black hole’s event horizon is the point of no return beyond which anything – stars, planets, gas, dust and all forms of electromagnetic radiation – gets dragged into oblivion.

Project scientists have looked for a ring of light – super-heated disrupted matter and radiation circling at tremendous speed at the edge of the event horizon – around a region of darkness representing the actual black hole. This is known as the black hole’s shadow or silhouette.

The Event Horizon Telescope is a global network of observatories working collectively to observe radio sources associated with black holes. The project was begun in 2012 to try to directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole.

There are different categories of black holes. The smallest are so-called stellar-mass black holes formed by the collapse of massive individual stars at the ends of their life cycles. There also are intermediate-mass black holes, a step up in mass. And finally there are the supermassive black holes that inhabit the center of most galaxies. These are thought to arise relatively soon after their galaxies are formed, devouring enormous amounts of material to achieve colossal size.

The Milky Way is a spiral galaxy that contains at least 100 billion stars. Viewed from above or below it resembles a spinning pinwheel, with our sun situated on one of the spiral arms and Sagittarius A* located at the center.

The M87 black hole is far more distant and massive than Sagittarius A*, situated about 54 million light-years from Earth with a mass 6.5 billion times that of our sun.

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Ukrainian force begins evacuating from last Mariupol stronghold

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A local resident rides a bicycle past a charred armoured vehicle during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the separatist-controlled town of Volnovakha in the Donetsk region, Ukraine March 15, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko/File Photo

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By Natalia Zinets

KYIV/MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) -The force holed up in the last Ukrainian stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol began evacuating on Monday, appearing to cede control of the city to Russia after months of bombardment.

Five buses carrying troops from the Azovstal steelworks arrived in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk late on Monday, some 32 kilometres (20 miles) to the east, a Reuters witness said.

Some of the evacuated troops were wounded and carried out of the buses on stretchers. Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Anna Malyar said 53 were taken to a hospital.

It was not immediately clear how many troops were aboard the buses. Malyar said 211 other troops were taken to another site. Some 600 troops were believed to have been inside the steel plant.

“We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday night.

The Ukrainian regiment at the steel plant said it was fulfilling orders to save the lives of troops by evacuating them.

“In order to save lives, the entire Mariupol garrison is implementing the approved decision of the Supreme Military Command and hopes for the support of the Ukrainian people,” the Azov Regiment said in a social media post.

It said its troops in Mariupol, on the Azov Sea in the southeast, had held out for 82 days, buying time for the rest of Ukraine to battle Russian forces and secure Western arms needed to withstand Russia’s assault.

But the evacuation likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Ukraine war and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after a Russian siege that Ukraine says killed tens of thousands of people in the city.

Since Russia launched its invasion in February, Mariupol’s devastation has become a symbol both of Ukraine’s ability to withstand Russia’s invasion and of Russia’s willingness to devastate Ukrainian cities that hold out.

The evacuation came hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.

“An agreement has been reached on the removal of the wounded,” Russia’s defence ministry said. “A humanitarian corridor has been opened through which wounded Ukrainian servicemen are being taken to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.”

Azovstal’s last defenders had been holding out for weeks in bunkers and tunnels built deep underground to withstand nuclear war. Civilians were evacuated from inside the plant, one of the largest metallurgical facilities in Europe, earlier this month.

The wife of an Azov Regiment member described conditions at the plant earlier on Monday: “They are in hell. They receive new wounds every day. They are without legs or arms, exhausted, without medicines,” Natalia Zaritskaya said.

PUTIN CLIMBDOWN OVER NATO

Vladimir Putin appeared earlier on Monday to climb down from Russian threats to retaliate against Sweden and Finland for announcing plans to join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

“As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states – none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries,” Putin said.

The comments appeared to mark a major shift in rhetoric, after years of casting NATO enlargement as a direct threat to Russia’s security, including citing it as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine itself.

Just hours before Putin spoke, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences: “They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it.”

Putin said NATO enlargement was being used by the United States in an “aggressive” way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation, and that Russia would respond if the alliance moves weapons or troops forward.

“The expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response. What that (response) will be – we will see what threats are created for us,” Putin said.

Finland and Sweden, both non-aligned throughout the Cold War, say they now want the protection offered by NATO’s treaty, under which an attack on any member is an attack on all.

“We are leaving one era behind us and entering a new one,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said, announcing plans to formally abandon militarily non-aligned status – a cornerstone of national identity for more than 200 years.

Kjell Engelbrekt, professor of political science at the Swedish Defence University, said Moscow now had few military options left to follow through on its previous “very assertive” rhetoric demanding the Nordics never join NATO.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington had seen no indications Russia was moving troops or equipment closer to the border with Finland.

UKRAINE TROOPS REACH BORDER

Moscow calls its invasion a “special military operation” to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.

Nearly three months old, Russia’s invading forces have run into apparent setbacks, with troops forced out of the north and the environs of Kyiv in late March. A Ukrainian counterattack in recent days has driven Russian forces out of the area near Kharkiv, the biggest city in the east.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Monday troops had advanced all the way to the Russian border, about 40 km north of Kharkiv.

The successes near Kharkiv could let Ukraine attack supply lines for Russia’s own main offensive, grinding on further south in the Donbas region, where Moscow has been launching mass assaults for a month achieving only small gains.

In a video message, Zelenskiy hailed the achievement and thanked the troops: “I am very grateful to you from all Ukrainians, from everyone, from myself, from my family, my gratitude is unlimited.”

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California law requiring women on company boards struck down

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of the skyline of downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Jody Godoy

(Reuters) – A state court judge found California’s law requiring publicly held companies to include women on their boards unconstitutional, dealing another blow to the state’s push to diversify corporate leadership.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Maureen Duffy-Lewis issued the decision on Friday in favor of California taxpayers who sought to block enforcement of the law, said the bill’s author, former California State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson.

Jackson said she believes the state will appeal the verdict and prevail.

The ruling was not available on the court’s website on Monday afternoon.

Three taxpayers challenged the law in 2019, saying it amounted to sex discrimination in violation of the state’s constitution.

California’s secretary of state had defended the law at trial, arguing that the state has a compelling interest in gender diversity on boards and that the law was tailored to address a historic lack of women on boards.

Spokespeople for the secretary of state and for Judicial Watch, which represents the plaintiffs, did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Passed in 2018, the statute required publicly held companies based in California to have up to three women directors, and allowed the secretary of state to issue fines of up to $300,000 per violation. No fines have been levied.

Judicial Watch recently won another taxpayer challenge to a similar California law requiring boards to include directors who self-identify as a member of an “underrepresented community,” which includes Asian, Black, Latino, Native American, and Pacific Islander individuals, as well as those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

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California church shooter was motivated by hate, politics

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© Reuters. The Geneva Presbyterian Church is seen after a deadly shooting, in Laguna Woods, California, U.S. May 15, 2022. REUTERS/David Swanson

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By Sharon Bernstein and Andrew Hay

(Reuters) -The man who killed a doctor and injured five others at a California Taiwanese church shooting at the weekend was a U.S. citizen born in China who hated Taiwan and drove from Las Vegas armed with guns, chains and numerous Molotov cocktails, authorities said on Monday.

David Chou, 68, chained shut the doors where up to 40 people were attending a luncheon in honor of a former pastor of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said Monday.

Barnes said that Chou’s violent assault at the Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, a community of mostly elderly residents, was motivated by his hatred of Taiwan and recent tensions between Taiwan and mainland China.

“This is a manifestation of the ugliest part of our humanity that exists in our country today,” Barnes said at a news conference on Monday, also referencing the weekend’s racially motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, New York.

The FBI said it was opening a hate crime investigation in the case.

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