James West

James West

Senior Digital Editor

James West is senior digital editor for Mother Jones, and before that, the senior producer for its reporting project Climate Desk. He wrote Beijing Blur (Penguin 2008), a far-reaching account of modernizing China’s underground youth scene. James has a masters of journalism under his belt from NYU, and has produced a variety of award-winning shows in his native Australia, including the national affairs program Hack. He's been to Kyrgyzstan, and also invited himself to Thanksgiving dinner after wrongly receiving invites for years from the mysterious Tran family.

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Here Is the Clearest Image NASA Has Ever Taken of Pluto and its Moon Charon

| Fri Jul. 10, 2015 2:25 PM EDT
Pluto, left, and its largest moon, Charon, in a photo taken Wednesday from aboard the New Horizons mission.

For years now, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has been hurtling towards the far edges of the Milky Way for its July 14 rendezvous with one of the great mysteries of the solar system: Pluto. But we're already receiving captivating, never-seen-before images of this icy world, such as the one above, of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. NASA says New Horizons was about 3.7 million miles from Pluto when it snapped this picture late on Wednesday. See the full image here.

From NASA:

"These two objects have been together for billions of years, in the same orbit, but they are totally different," said Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.

Charon is about 750 miles (1200 kilometers) across, about half the diameter of Pluto—making it the solar system's largest moon relative to its planet. Its smaller size and lower surface contrast have made it harder for New Horizons to capture its surface features from afar, but the latest, closer images of Charon's surface show intriguing fine details.

Newly revealed are brighter areas on Charon that members of the mission's Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team (GGI) suspect might be impact craters. If so, the scientists would put them to good use. "If we see impact craters on Charon, it will help us see what's hidden beneath the surface," said GGI leader Jeff Moore of NASA's Ames Research Center. "Large craters can excavate material from several miles down and reveal the composition of the interior."

The mission, which launched in 2006, has already traveled 3 billion miles to get to Pluto. The spacecraft will go on to race past the dwarf planet at 30,000 miles per hour next week, absorbing all the data it possibly can about our least-understood distant neighbor—snapping photos with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), a little color-adding camera Ralph, and a host of other gadgetry.

We'll bring you the latest images when they become available next week. Can't wait.

Supercut: Joe Biden Has a Really Itchy Face

| Tue Jul. 7, 2015 6:07 PM EDT

The first thing I want to say is this: I didn't intend to make this video.

My project was more noble. I've noticed Vice President Joe Biden appearing a lot recently with President Obama at big news conferences—the Cuba embassy announcement, when the Supreme Court upholding a key element of the Affordable Care Act, the heckler scene at the White House's LGBT Pride Dinner, the first White House reaction to the Charleston massacre. Biden is such a big, everyday presence in public life—like furniture in a comfortable room—that I wanted to see if there were any common threads I could pick out about him by watching these appearances. Has he visibly changed over the years in the same way Barack Obama has, for example? In what ways has his public performance changed over the years?

Instead, all I noticed was...his itchy face. He scratches his face a lot. More than other people behind the podium, or on stage. Far more. It's true, it must get pretty boring, listening and clapping and laughing so much. And imagine if you wanted to scratch your face, it would build up and you would really want to scratch it.

Now, it's all I can see.

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