U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley suddenly resigns

Haley, who's at times been both a supporter and critic of the president, reportedly "shocked" White House officials by announcing the end of her two-year tenure as a U.N. ambassador.

U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley suddenly resigns
Photo: Mark Wilson via Getty Images
  • Nikki Haley has resigned as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
  • Haley didn't offer a clear reason why she's stepping down, but said "it's time."
  • The resignation reportedly came as a surprise to many White House officials, though Trump said she first floated the idea of stepping down about six months ago.

Nikki Haley has resigned from her position as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and plans to leave the administration by the end of 2018.

In an Oval Office press briefing, President Donald Trump accepted Haley's resignation and praised her two-year tenure.

"She's done a fantastic job and we've done a fantastic job together. We've solved a lot of problems and we're in the process of solving a lot of problems," Trump said.

Haley said it's been an honor "to serve the country I love so much," and that the Trump administration's stances on foreign policy have helped the U.S. become respected in the international community.

Trump said Haley teased the idea of resigning six months ago.

"She told me probably six months ago, 'You know maybe at end of the year -- at the end of the two year period -- but by the end of the year I want to take a little time off, I want to take a break.'"

However, multiple sources reported that White House staffers and senior officials were "shocked" by the announcement. Haley, who's at times clashed with administration officials, didn't offer a clear reason for her resignation.

"There's no personal reason," she said. "It's very important for government officials to understand when it's time to step aside...I want to make sure this administration, this president, has the strongest person to fight."

Trump said he hopes Haley will return to the administration in some capacity, and that she could have her "pick" of administration posts.

(Read Haley's full resignation letter here.)

​Why did Haley resign?

Without any explicit explanation, there's only speculation about why the U.N. ambassador chose to announce her resignation just weeks ahead of the midterm elections.

The South Carolina swap

One possibility is that Haley plans to take the Senate seat of Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the state for which Haley spent six years as governor, should he replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general, though Graham said he has no interest in pursuing the position. To gain the Senate seat, Haley would need the approval of South Carolina's governor, Republican Henry McMaster, according to Senate vacancy rules.

Clashes with the Trump administration

Others note that Haley has had a strained relationship with White House officials like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. CNN wrote that "Haley was outwardly very tough within the UN (and the Trump administration), she was reportedly a voice urging more moderation -- and toeing the preferred line of establishment Republicans -- in private."

Haley has also clashed with Trump himself, perhaps most visibly in April when she announced U.S. sanctions on Russia. Larry Kudlow, the Trump administration's top economic adviser, later told media there were no sanctions and that Haley was confused. Haley shot back on live TV that she doesn't "get confused."

More recently, Haley penned an opinion piece responding to an anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times in September that outlined a secret resistance inside the White House. Haley wrote:

"...I don't agree with the president on everything. When there is disagreement, there is a right way and a wrong way to address it. I pick up the phone and call him or meet with him in person."

The treatment of sexual assault allegations has likely been one area of disagreement between Haley and the president.

"They should be heard, and they should be dealt with," Haley told CBS in December. "And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.

2020 presidential run

Some have speculated that Haley could be plotting a 2020 presidential bid, though she's denied that and said she plans to campaign for Trump. Still, if Haley does indeed believe that the special counsel investigation could ruin the current administration, she'd be in a unique position to run for office, as Jennifer Rubin noted in an opinion piece for the Washington Post:

"She will then be in a position to pick up the pieces, a unifying figure not objectionable to Trump cultists or to the flock of Republicans who when things go downhill will claim they opposed Trump all along. She will be untainted and arguably the most highly credentialed challenger to Trump still within the GOP fold in 2020."

Expenses controversy

It's also worth noting that the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal nonprofit watchdog group in Washington, issued a report to the State Department on Monday night asking for officials to investigate how Haley and her husband had accepted free flights from businessmen in 2017, which could constitute violations of executive branch rules on accepting gifts.

Taking a break

Despite rumors of a presidential run, it's also plausible that Haley, who's served in high-level government positions for more than a decade, simply wants to take a break from politics, possibly with the intent to rest or make more money.

"It's been eight years of intense time, and I'm a believer in term limits," Haley told reporters on Tuesday. "I think you have to be selfless enough to know when you step aside and allow someone else to do the job."

Haley is close with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner

Haley praised Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in the Oval Office briefing on Tuesday.

"Jared is such a hidden genius that no one understands," Ms. Haley said. "And Ivanka has been just a great friend, and they do a lot of things behind the scenes that I wish more people knew about, because we're a better country because they're in this administration."

Some have speculated that Trump could pick his daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump to fill the role, noting Haley's positive comments and the fact that Ivanka's Twitter account recently began following many government accounts on Monday.

The New York Times noted some other possible successors, including "Dina Powell, a former deputy national security adviser to the president, and Richard A. Grenell. Mr. Grenell, the American ambassador to Germany, served as spokesman for John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, when he was ambassador to the United Nation under former President George W. Bush."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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