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Hajj, 1MDB, Van Gogh: Your Wednesday Briefing

2020-07-29 00:59:42

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Good morning.

We’re covering the beginning of this year’s hajj, a guilty verdict in the first of five major 1MDB trials and a protest movement that has electrified a town in Russia’s Far East.

In any other year, Muslims undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca would drink from a holy well and kiss the Kaaba’s Black Stone as they thronged the Grand Mosque. Before they left Mecca, they would collect pebbles to ritually stone the devil.

During the coronavirus edition of the hajj, which begins today, the Black Stone is off limits. The authorities in Saudi Arabia are issuing bottled water instead of letting pilgrims drink from the source. A special package for hajjis includes sterilized pebbles to hurl at the devil and personal prayer rugs.

It’s another example of a major gathering that has been drastically scaled back to ensure safety and prevent contagion during the pandemic. Across the Middle East, celebrations for Eid al-Adha, the festival that marks the end of the hajj this weekend, will likewise be toned down.

Numbers: Last year, 2.5 million Muslims went on the hajj. This year, Saudi Arabia said it would allow only 1,000 pilgrims from within the kingdom.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:

David W. Brown: There’s an entire solar system waiting to be explored. Since 2001, NASA has flown eight consecutive successful missions to Mars, including five landers. Humanity now has a library of Mars data sitting on servers that no one has had a chance to study. Data collected from brief encounters by spacecraft with the moons of Jupiter, on the other hand, or the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, have been squeezed dry.

Rebecca: Meanwhile, as planetary scientists debated how to pay for their missions, some geologists salivate for a second look at Venus, the second planet from the sun. Venus is about the same size as Earth, it’s rocky, it has an atmosphere. And, it orbits the sun in a zone where temperatures are just right for liquid water — and maybe life.

We know Mars had water at some point in its past, but it’s long gone. By contrast, Venus might have had oceans more recently and for longer periods, and may have been comfortably livable for billions of years.

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Melina

Thank you
To Theodore Kim and Jahaan Singh for the break from the news. You can reach the team at
[email protected].

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