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iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot held prisoner by Russia for almost two years, returned home to Kiev Wednesday following a dramatic prisoner swap for two captured Russian soldiers.

Her release removes a source of tension between Russia and Ukraine, and led some to hope it could help efforts to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, though relations between the two countries remain deeply hostile.

Following weeks of negotiations, Savchenko was abruptly released from prison in southern Russia straight onto a Ukrainian government plane and flown to Kiev, where she emerged to a hero’s welcome. Meanwhile, two Russian special forces officers were simultaneously flown hurriedly to Moscow hours after they were pardoned by Ukraine's president.

President Petro Poroshenko met Savchenko at Kiev’s Boryspil airport, where she was mobbed by journalists. In Moscow, the two soldiers were greeted on the runway by their wives, in a carefully controlled scene filmed by state television.

Savchenko’s release is significant because it removes a symbolic sticking point between Russia and Ukraine, as well as the United States and the European Union, which could help Moscow to push for sanctions to be eased. It also clears at least one obstacle to finding a more final peace settlement for eastern Ukraine, though few expect the release will lead to much progress immediately.

For Ukraine, though it was celebrated as a major symbolic victory in the country’s conflict with Russia, which two years ago launched a covert war in support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. Savchenko has become a national hero in Ukraine, with her face plastered across the country.

The 35-year-old pilot was captured by the Moscow-backed rebels in the east while fighting in June 2014 and handed over to Russia. Earlier this year, a Russian court sentenced her to 22 years in jail for murder, convicting her of allegedly directing artillery fire at journalists.

The case was condemned internationally as politically motivated, with the E.U. and U.S. demanding Savchenko’s release. Savchenko went on a hunger strike, with her lawyers describing her as a hostage. The case was one of a number in Russia targeting Ukrainian citizens criticized by rights groups as show trials. Her imprisonment was widely considered by observers as a bargaining chip for Russia.

The two Russian soldiers released Wednesday, Aleksandar Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were captured in eastern Ukraine last year and convicted of terrorism by a Ukrainian court. The two admitted to being Russian officers, but Russia’s military has denied they were on active service, saying they traveled to Ukraine on their own initiative.

The prisoner exchange was made possible after Poroshenko, Ukraine's president, pardoned the soldiers. Russian President Vladimir Putin also pardoned Savchenko, saying he had done so at the request of the relatives of the two journalists she was alleged to have murdered.

In a televised meeting, Putin thanked the journalists’ widow and sister, who sat silently, saying he hoped the release would help "alleviate the stand-off" in eastern Ukraine.

The return of the two soldiers was a tricky moment for Moscow, appearing to be a tacit recognition that they operated on Russia’s behalf. The Kremlin, though, has continued to insist that Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev were volunteers.

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File photo. iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — An overcrowded boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized today in the Mediterranean Sea, killing at least five, according to the Italian Navy.

Roughly 562 people had been pulled to safety off the coast of Libya, but there was a possibility the death toll could rise, an Italian navy official told ABC News.

Search efforts are ongoing.

The Italian Navy's Bettica patrol boat spotted "a boat in precarious conditions off the coast of Libya with numerous migrants aboard," it said in a statement.

The waters near Libya have become a hot spot for perilous voyages such as this one, as thousands of people have sought refuge from war-torn regions of the Middle East in recent years -- the bulk of whom are refugees escaping from Syria.

Amnesty International, a non-profit organization focused on human rights, estimated in February of this year that "more than 50% of Syria's population" was displaced as a result of war.

"One-in-every-two of those crossing the Mediterranean this year -- half a million people -- were Syrians escaping the conflict in their country," the report said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Taliban named its newest leader Wednesday, just days after U.S. drone strikes killed former chief Mullah Mansur.

Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, previously the deputy to Mansur, will take command of the extremist group, according to a Taliban spokesperson. The group released a photo of Akhundzada with the announcement.

Just hours after Akhundzada’s leadership was announced, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing of a minivan in Kabul, which killed at least 10 people. In a statement, the Taliban said the attack was revenge for the executions of six Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government several weeks ago.

Wednesday's attack, along with the U.S. targeting of Mansur, signal little hope for peace prospects between the Taliban and Afghan government.

A U.S. intelligence official told ABC News the Taliban can either choose to double down on its military focus or choose to work toward reconciliation, a path which has failed to gain traction in the past.

The official said Akhundzada's appointment will have little affect on the battlefield -- aggressive attacks by the Taliban are still expected as this fighting season begins.

Who is Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada?


Akhundzada, 47, was the former chief of the Sharia-based justice system during the Taliban’s five-year rule over Afghanistan, which ended in 2001 with the U.S.-led invasion. He is from the Noorzai tribe and spent most of his life in Kandahar city in the south of Afghanistan.

The Taliban also touted his background in religious studies and experience as a Jihadi leader, in the statement.

Taliban Acknowledges Mansur's Death


His appointment to the Taliban’s top position comes the same day that the group acknowledged Mansur was killed in a drone strike over Pakistan on Saturday.

The Pentagon said that strike was “defensive” because Mansur was actively involved in plots against U.S. and coalition personnel inside Afghanistan.

During a trip to Vietnam on Monday, President Obama confirmed Mansur was killed in a U.S. strike he had authorized.

The operation targeting Mansur appears to be the first “defensive strike" to have taken place inside Pakistan and required special negotiations under new guidelines for air strikes set last year. Pakistan has previously been accused by both the U.S. and Afghan governments of providing shelter for Taliban leaders.

"We can adjust authorities or take things higher up the chain of command to get approvals and that’s what we did in this case,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

The timing of the airstrike had to do more with opportunity and location, to ensure civilian casualties could be avoided as much as possible, he said.

A Different Kind of Announcement


The Taliban’s quick naming of Akhundzada is in stark contrast to how the group handled past leadership changes.

They waited two years to acknowledge the death of one-eyed leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who the U.S. had hunted for over a decade, and only did so after the Afghan government announced in 2015 that he had died in a Pakistani hospital in 2013.

Following that announcement, a senior Taliban official confirmed to ABC News that Omar had died in 2013 of tuberculosis and was buried in the restive region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It wasn’t until Omar’s death became public that the Taliban officially instated Mansur as the new leader, although it was rumored that he was secretly running the organization for the two years that Omar was deceased.

This formal media announcement of Mansur’s death and Akhundzada’s appointment as the new chief marks a different strategy for the organization.

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(SHIMA, Japan) — In a news conference where he was harshly lectured by the prime minister of Japan, President Obama extended his "sincerest condolences and deepest regrets" for what he termed a "tragedy" in Okinawa, after a former U.S. Marine is suspected in the death of a young Japanese woman.

"The U.S. will continue to cooperate fully with the investigation to ensure that justice is done under the Japanese justice system," Obama pledged.

Japanese police say Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, a 32-year-old former U.S. Marine, confessed to stabbing and strangling a 20-year-old office worker on the island of Okinawa.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerged from the bilateral meeting with Obama, announcing live on Japanese television that he raised a formal protest over the death that he says shocked not only Okinawa, but the people of Japan.

“I firmly launched a protest as the Japanese prime minister in regards to the most recent case in Okinawa,” Abe said right off the top of his statement. “The entire time for the small group discussion was spent on the specific case in Okinawa, and I feel profound resentment for this self-centered and despicable crime.”

Abe said he feels "profound resentment" when thinking of the victim, calling it an "utterly despicable crime" that Japan will investigate in a "rigorous manner."

"Japan was shocked," Abe said. "I conveyed to the president that such feelings of the Japanese people should be taken to heart sincerely."

Abe said the entire time for the leaders' discussion was spent on the murder case and urged Obama to “take effective and thorough means” to prevent a re-occurrence.

Obama emphasized that the United States is "appalled by any violent crime that may have been committed by any U.S. personnel or U.S. contractor."

"We consider it inexcusable and we are committed to do anything we can to prevent any crimes like this from taking place," Obama stressed. "We want to see a crime like this prosecuted here in the same way that we would feel horrified and want to provide a sense of justice to a victim’s family" back in the United States.

The Japanese have long resented U.S. military conduct off base, pointing to several incidents over the years of rape and criminal activity. The public airing of grievances in Japan -- the United States' closest Asian ally -- sets a tense tone for the rest of the trip that culminates in an historic "non-apology" presidential visit to Hiroshima on Friday.

A White House official said the president expected the case would come up but disputed Abe’s assertion that it was the sole focus of the meeting. The official said Obama and Abe also discussed coordination on the G7 scheduled for Thursday, as well as other bilateral and regional issues.


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iStock/Thinkstock(FLORENCE, Italy) — A massive sinkhole opened up on a busy Italian street Wednesday, swallowing some 20 parked parks -- and jaw-dropping spectacle was captured on video.

The chaos unfolded Wednesday morning in the center of Florence along the scenic Arno River, a popular tourist destination, but it probably wasn't the kind of scene that visitors were there to behold.

Water gushed onto the roadway after a major pipe breakage involving one of the major water conduits in the area, according to local reports. The powerful and steady stream of water quickly tore through the asphalted road surface, creating the 200-meter-long and 7-meter-wide sinkhole. That's 650 feet in length, and 23 feet across. It wasn't the river that overflowed and cause the damage, as it was earlier thought.

Crews evacuated the area as cleanup and investigations got underway. There were no immediate reports of injuries or casualties.

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JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images(HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam) — President Obama arrived to enthusiastic crowds at his final event in Vietnam Wednesday, a town hall with young Asian leaders in Ho Chi Minh City, where the president fielded some of the most colorful questions he's ever taken.

Eager crowds asked the president questions ranging from his marijuana use in his youth to where he sees himself in five years.

His focus was on connecting with young people, explaining their generation will change the world.

"Your generation can look at the world with fresh eyes without some of the old notions, the old habits of a previous generation," Obama said in the townhall with the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.

The president later fielded one question about his marijuana use during his youth. A young Vietnamese man asked how the president transitioned from a youth of irresponsibility to becoming president of the United States.

"You never know exactly why something inside you clicks and you decide to take a different path," Obama said, explaining he struggled a long time with his relationship with his father. "I grew up."

The president even dropped a beat for a young musician who rapped for him.

Obama received a typical job interview question: "Where will you be in five years?"

"I'll be doing all my organizing work and involved in the public policy issues, but I won't be doing it through a formal way" Obama said. "I'll be a community organizer except a little more famous than I used to be," he joked.

Without mentioning any candidate by name, the president briefly weighed in on the state of U.S. politics.

"One of the great things about the United States is even when it makes mistakes it's able to adjust and recognize our mistakes and then we correct course and take different steps." He reassured the audience "things are going to be ok. I promise!"

Earlier in the day, the president met with seven Foreign Service nationals who served at the U.S. embassy in Saigon during the 1975 evacuation.

The town hall in the city formerly known as Saigon capped off Obama's historic three-day visit to Vietnam. The president is traveling to Japan where he will attend the G7 Summit. On Friday, he will make an historic stop at Hiroshima, becoming the first American president to visit the site where the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb during World War II.


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HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images(HANOI, Vietnam) — President Obama sent a message to the government of Vietnam Tuesday — make improvements on human rights in order to succeed as a nation.

He made his case in a speech to thousands in Hanoi, just one day after meeting with Vietnamese leaders.

"Nations are more successful when universal rights are upheld," the president said, saying countries prosper when they embrace freedom of expression, speech and assembly.

The president relayed the same message during a meeting with civil society groups. Obama said some activists were blocked from attending the meeting.

"There were several other activists who were invited that were prevented from coming," he said. "There are some folks who find it very difficult to assemble and organize peacefully around issues that they care deeply about."

The president didn't say who blocked the activists from attending, but did say this to Vietnam’s government:

"It's my hope that the government of Vietnam comes to recognize what we've recognized and what so many countries around the world have recognized, and that is that it's very hard to prosper in this modern economy if you haven't fully unleashed the potential of your people," he said.

Sitting right next to President Obama was singer and songwriter Mai Khoi — known as the "Lady Gaga of Vietnam."

She attempted to run in last week's National Assembly election, but was blocked from the ballot.

ABC's Bob Woodruff interviewed Khoi ahead of her meeting with the president.

"I use my music to influence the people to raise awareness in democracy and human rights," she said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- More fallout for Russia and its athletic doping scandal.

The Russian Olympic Committee said Tuesday that 14 Russians who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, including 10 who won medals, tested positive for doping when their samples were recently reanalyzed.

The news comes after the International Olympic Committee said last week that 31 athletes could be banned from the Rio 2016 Olympics after retesting 454 doping samples from 2008.

Russia's athletes are currently banned from international competition and are looking to still compete in Rio.

If the Russian athletes were to be disqualified and the medals re-awarded, several nations would pick up additional medals by moving from fourth place to third: The U.K. would gain two medals, Brazil 1, Bulgaria 1, Thailand 1, Spain 1, and Belarus 1.

Additionally, a number of nations would have their medals upgraded from silver to gold or bronze to silver. The United States is not among them.

Anna Chicherova, one of the medalists who tested positive, went on to win gold in the women’s high jump in the 2012 London Olympics, an event in which the United States won silver. She won bronze in the high jump in 2008.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Biodegradable plastics, often found in bottles and plastic bags, may not be part of the solution to ocean pollution as once marketed, according to a United Nations report published Monday, because they don't break down well in marine environments.

The report, written by the UN's top environmental scientists, says although biodegradable plastics were specifically designed to "be more susceptible to degradation," they won't solve the problem of litter in oceans because most plastic is extremely durable.

Plastics that break down in the environment were once thought of as an alternative that could possibly reduce the amount of waste in the ocean, but the rate at which they break down depends heavily on environmental conditions, the report stated.

There is also a lack of scientific evidence that biodegradation will occur any more rapidly than unmodified polyethylene, which is non-biodegradable, it said.

In ocean settings, the principal weathering agent is through UV irradiation, which is most pronounced on shorelines. Once the plastic is in the water, it is difficult to estimate the extent of biodegradation, but it is considered to be "extremely slow" due to decreased UV exposure and lower temperatures and oxygen levels, the report said.

The report also says that many biodegradable plastics require temperatures found in industrial composters -- around 122 degrees Fahrenheit -- "to breakdown completely into its constituent components of water, carbon dioxide, methane, on a reasonable or practical timescale."

And the report says that the biodegradable label encourages people to pollute.

The low density in plastics cause them to float, leading plastic debris and "microplastics" to distribute throughout the world through currents from the Arctic to the Antarctic, according to the report.

Microplastics, or particles of plastic less than 5 millimeters in diameter, are another significant problem plaguing the ocean. Most recently used for 3D printing, they're also referred to as "microbeads," found in personal care and cosmetic products such as toothpaste, cosmetics, cleansing agents and skin exfoliators. Last year, the state of California enacted a ban on personal care products containing microbeads, saying they get through typical water treatment plants and end up polluting waterways.

Large-scale production of plastics began in the 1950s because it presented "significant advantages" for food preservation, medical product efficacy, electrical safety and improved thermal insulation, according to the report. In 2014, 311 million tons of plastic were produced globally.

A trash vortex in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has formed between Japan and the West Coast of the U.S. due to a significant amount of plastic, according to National Geographic.

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iStock/Thinkstock(GABORONE, Botswana) -- A camper in Africa experienced a too-close-for-comfort encounter with nature when she recorded three lionesses licking her tent while she was still inside.

Francie Lubbe was camping at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in Botswana on May 9 when she recorded the lionesses licking water on the tent leftover from a heavy rain the night before. The lionesses, inches away, were visible through the tent's clear mesh. Drinks and sunblock lotion can be seen on the other side of the tent, directly opposite the lionesses' heads.

The video was taken in the Khiding campsite, an area in the preserve that is famous for frequent visits from lions.

Lubbe was able to stay quiet and calm enough to capture the lionesses, who ignored her. On Facebook, she called the experience a "privilege."

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White House/Pete Souza(HANOI, Vietnam) -- President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are in Vietnam this week for a trip the White House says is aimed at rebalancing its interests in the Asia-Pacific region and expanding revitalized commercial relations with the country. But just as soon as the president made good on that and announced he would lift a decades-long arms embargo, heads in the region turned ... and China called foul.

The White House says its decision to give Vietnam access to the power of U.S.-made weapons systems is in no way influenced by China, but the regional powerhouse sees things very differently. On Tuesday, an op-ed in China's Global Times called that denial a "very poor lie," adding that the White House feels an urgent need to contain China.

To understand how the president's trip has angered China and what each side is saying, it's important to understand the tense regional security environment the president has entered.

Struggle for the South China Sea


The entirety of Vietnam's coastline abuts the South China Sea -- 14 million square miles of resource-rich ocean and strategic passageways that have become, in recent years, subject of a tense territorial dispute.

China claims the entirety of the sea, which U.S. observers say defies the basic principle of the Law of the Sea by basing its claim on arbitrary lines, rather than proximity to land features.

More importantly, the U.S. has grown increasingly concerned about China's rush to claim and militarize uninhabited islands that will greatly enhance its ability to enforce those claims and control the waterways. For months now, the U.S. has been risking confrontation by sailing U.S. naval vessels and flying military aircraft closer to those islands, seen by some as a gesture of protest and defiance.

And now, China sees the visit to Vietnam as another step in that encroachment.

It's About Us, China Says

A day after announcing that he would lift the weapons embargo, Obama drew applause in Hanoi when talking about the country's disputes with China and saying that "big nations should not bully smaller ones."

Though Obama didn't mention China by name, the implication was clear. That same morning, editors for the Global Times penned the editorial calling the president's denials about the arms embargo being aimed at China "a very poor lie," saying it is "exacerbating the strategic antagonism between Washington and Beijing."

The paper went on to claim that the U.S. "is taking advantage of Vietnam to stir up more troubles in the South China Sea."

U.S.: This Is Nothing out of the Ordinary

Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry spent his morning making the case to White House reporters the lifted arms embargo is not related to China's assertions in the South China Sea.

"This is not about China," Kerry said. "Nothing that we did here or are doing here is focused on China.... Nothing we’ve done here is out of the ordinary.

"We’ve lifted an embargo which was out of the ordinary," he emphasized.

Kerry claimed the U.S. isn't taking sides in the territorial disputes and only wants to urge that China resolve its disputes peacefully.

"We’re not saying China is wrong in its claims. We’re simply saying, 'Resolve it peacefully, resolve it through a rules-based structure,'" he said. "I hope China will read this correctly. Because our hope is for normal respect for maritime law and for the relationships that are so key in this region."

Nevertheless, warming relations with Vietnam could eventually lead to reopening U.S. naval access to one of the most critical ports on Vietnam's coast: Cam Ranh Bay. The U.S. Navy hasn't been allowed regular entry since it used it as a base during the war, and in 2012, President Obama was the first to send a U.S. defense secretary there in nearly 50 years. That port is Vietnam's nearest point to the contested islands.

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Ramzan Kadyrov/Instagram(MOSCOW) -- Comedian John Oliver has gotten into an unlikely long-distance spat with the feared president of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, on the improbable subject of the leader’s lost cat, a toyger.

Kadyrov, who rules the semi-autonomous republic in Russia’s south, published a post on his popular Instagram account last week, announcing that he had lost his cat and asking Chechens whether they had seen it.

Appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007, Kadyrov, 39, controls a private army of tens of thousands of men and is accused by rights groups of kidnapping and personally torturing his enemies. But Kadyrov wrote last week that he had “begun to seriously worry” about the cat that resembles a miniature tiger, adding that he would be grateful for any information.

“Thank you in advance,” wrote Kadyrov, who was recently accused of ordering a critic’s house burned down.

John Oliver responded Sunday to Kadyrov’s request for aid on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight. After making fun of the Chechen leader for his seemingly obsessive worship of Putin (and his passion for T-shirts depicting the Russian president), Oliver noted Kadyrov’s brutal record and told viewers they urgently needed to find the cat.

The British comedian told his audience to begin tweeting at Kadyrov, writing, if they had seen the pet, “I have seen your cat.” If not, they should write, “I have not seen your cat.”

If people were unsure, Oliver asked them to send photos of themselves with cats, asking “Is this your cat?”

Kadyrov’s Twitter and Instagram have since been filled with people denying they have seen his cat, and cat photos, with the hashtag #Findkadyrovscat.

Kadyrov responded Tuesday to Oliver’s sketch. Kadyrov's Instagram account posted a doctored picture of the comedian wearing a Putin-face T-shirt with the caption: “I am tired of jokes. I want to care for cats in Chechnya. By the way, Putin is our leader.”

The picture on Instagram was accompanied with a long post in idiosyncratic English thanking people for searching for the cat and criticizing America:

“Some people say that they saw the cat in Vladivostok, Japan, Iceland, New Zealand, and even in the Oval Office of the White House! I am grateful to all, but this is NOT my cat.”

The post went on, less clearly: “I knew long ago that in the USA unevenly breathe to my younger friends. One day horses aren't allowed to jump, the other - a cat is a real star of a show.”

The post ended by blaming President Obama for the wars in Syria and Libya and Oliver for supporting him.

This is not the first time the Muslim leader's Instagram has led to odd interactions. In recent years, he has created an elaborate public persona that blends strict Islamic observance with gushing adoration of Putin, Rambo-antics and a cuddly love for animals (including a full-size pet tiger, reportedly not missing).

Kadyrov’s Instagram account is the key platform for all this; 1.8 million followers see his several posts a day, featuring him working out, commanding Chechen special forces, firing machine guns, wrestling crocodiles and cradling lions in his arms.

Tigers are also a recurring feature on the account, and the missing cat is reportedly a U.S. special breed, known as a toyger, or “toy tiger” because of the striped coat that makes it resemble the much larger cat species.

As of this writing, Kadyrov is still looking for it.

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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center(NEW YORK) -- Ferocious solar storms four billion years ago may have been key to warming the Earth and creating the right conditions for life to form on the planet, according to a new study by a team of NASA scientists.

NASA's Kepler mission discovered young sun-like stars and found they released "superflares," which are enormous explosions of energy that often include solar material, as much as 10 times per day. By comparison, superflares are so rare today that NASA points out we experience them about once a century.

Using this information, NASA placed the stars in order according to their age, creating a timeline that gives researchers new insight into how our sun evolved over billions of years. From this data, researchers learned the sun shone with about three-quarters of the luminosity is has today, according to research published Monday in Nature Geoscience.

The timeline allowed scientists to model how our young, active sun may have impacted Earth billions of years ago.

"Back then, Earth received only about 70 percent of the energy from the sun than it does today," Vladimir Airapetian, lead author of the paper and a solar scientist at NASA, said in a statement. "That means Earth should have been an icy ball. Instead, geological evidence says it was a warm globe with liquid water. We call this the Faint Young Sun Paradox. Our new research shows that solar storms could have been central to warming Earth."

With the sun spewing massive amounts of solar material and radiation, the NASA team said these explosions may have provided energy to warm Earth and bring energy needed to turn simple molecules into the more complex RNA and DNA -- necessary ingredients for fostering life.

William Danchi, principal investigator of the project, said understanding Earth's early days may help scientists glean new insights into where else life may exist in the universe.

"We want to gather all this information together, how close a planet is to the star, how energetic the star is, how strong the planet's magnetosphere is in order to help search for habitable planets around stars near our own and throughout the galaxy," Danchi said in a statement.

Solar storms are the result of a coronal mass ejection -- basically a flare of charged particles -- that burst from the sun. They're less common today than they were billions of years ago, according to NASA. Earth enjoys a layer of protection due to its strong magnetic field, which keeps a large amount of the energy from reaching Earth. However, some particularly strong solar events can interact with the magnetosphere and potentially wreak havoc on certain technology on Earth.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration classifies solar storms on a scale of one to five (one being the weakest; five being the most severe). For instance, a storm forecast to be a G3 event means it could have the strength to cause fluctuations in some power grids, intermittent radio blackouts in higher latitudes and possible GPS issues.

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ABC News(HANOI, Vietnam) -- She is known as “Vietnam’s Lady Gaga.”

Singer Mai Khoi has developed a reputation not only for her unique performances, but also -- and perhaps more so -- for her political activism.

“I use my music to influence people, to raise awareness about democracy and human rights,” Khoi told ABC News' Bob Woodruff.

The 32-year-old singer's message was amplified Tuesday by one of the most powerful voices in the world: President Obama's. Khoi sat next to him during a meeting of Vietnamese activists in Hanoi, as he pressed the government to improve its record on human rights.

“Obama cares about democracy and human rights,” Khoi said prior to the meeting.

The singer had taken to social media weeks before the president's visit to petition for a meeting. She saw that goal realized, although Obama noted that other activists were blocked from the meeting.

“It’s hard to say” how the Vietnamese government would react to their meeting, Khoi said.

Khoi insists she is “telling the government to change,” rather than criticizing it. But she cited what she believes were several instances of repression of her music and, thus, her message.

“Freedom is a very sensitive word here,” Khoi told Woodruff.

Artists have to ask permission before singing or performing in Vietnam, Khoi says, and many of her shows have been shut down by the police.

But that hasn’t stopped her.

Khoi has taken her concerts to secret venues and broadcast them out to the world on Facebook. When she was barred from the ballot after running in the country’s parliamentary elections, Khoi said, she remained undeterred.

“I have to do what I think is true,” she said.

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iStock/ Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Three climbers have died and two others are still missing after attempting to climb Mt. Everest, officials confirm to ABC News Tuesday morning.

Among the dead are Dutch climber, Eric Arnold, 35; Austrian climber, Maria Strydom, 34, and Indian climber Subhash Paul, 43. All three died of altitude sickness, according to Nepal Tourism official, Gyanendra Shrestha.

ABC News previously reported that four climbers were killed, but the Sherpa who had been reported to have died on Mt. Everest was actually in Mt. Lhotse at the time, according to Shrestha. Mt. Lhotse is adjoined to Mt. Everest.

Shresta said two more Indian climbers, Paresh Nath, 58, and Goutam Ghosh, 50, are still missing as of Saturday. The deceased Indian climber, Subhash Paul, was part of this group of hikers.

Rescue teams said there have been recurring calls of climbers suffering from altitude sickness, frostbite, falls and injuries.

"The most common cause for death on Everest is the altitude. There's not enough oxygen there," said Dan Stretch, a senior specialist in the operations department at Global Rescue, which has evacuated some 30 people since the 2016 climbing season began last month. "The weather can change very quickly. It can be fine one minute and then force winds and heavy snow the next minute."

The 29,035-foot-high mountain was practically empty the two previous years, after fatal avalanches that canceled expeditions. More than 4,000 climbers have reached the treacherous peak since 1953, when Everest was first scaled by New Zealand explorer Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

Foreigners from around the world are drawn to Nepal’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, ancient temples and, of course, Mount Everest.

The tourism industry, which brings in more than $3 million from Everest climbing fees alone, is Nepal’s chief source of foreign income and contributed almost 9 percent of its GDP in 2014, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council. But the impoverished Himalayan country saw its tourist arrivals drop after deadly twin earthquakes and quake-triggered avalanches last year.

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