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3 February

In the headlines

The US is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon flying over Montana. Pentagon officials say they considered shooting down the spy craft after it was spotted hovering over a nuclear silo field, but held off because falling debris could injure nearby residents. Energy regulator Ofgem has banned British Gas from breaking into customers’ homes to install prepayment meters. The other big energy companies have also agreed to suspend the practice, after a Times investigation found that debt collectors were fitting pay-as-you-go devices in the properties of “extremely vulnerable” people. Hong Kong is giving away 500,000 free airline tickets worth $250m in a bid to revive its Covid-hit tourism industry. The World of Winners lottery will open for travellers living outside Southeast Asia on 1 May.


Teams at the 32nd International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado were tasked with creating a 25-ton, 15ft-tall artwork in just five days. Top prize went to Team Germany-Bavaria for its minimalist design inspired by concrete sculpture. Team USA’s depiction of the Norse God Ullr took second; third was Lithuania’s arbour-like carving topped with intersecting clouds. See all the finalists here.

On the money

Nasa is sending a spaceship to an asteroid “worth 70,000 times more than the entire global economy”, says the Daily Mirror. Asteroids are normally made of rock and ice, but the 220km-wide “Pysche” is mostly made up of iron and nickel – with an estimated value of $10 quintillion, or $10,000,000,000,000,000,000. Disappointingly, the aim of the mission isn’t to work out how to drag this lucrative rock back to Earth – it’s to provide us with a better insight into how planets form. How boring.

Tomorrows world

Chinese scientists are attempting to end the country’s dependence on imported dairy by cloning “super cows” that produce large amounts of milk. Three animals born in the last month are reportedly each able to create 18 tons of milk per year, says Der Spiegel, more than twice the yield of the average German cow. Researchers at a Xianyang university are confident that by identifying the five out of every 10,000 cattle that produce more than a hundred tons of milk in their lifetimes, and copying their DNA, the country will have “a herd of more than a thousand super cows in two to three years”.

Inside politics

French under-35s are now more likely to drink beer than wine, says John Lewis-Stempel in UnHerd. Luckily, the nation’s vineyards have a high-profile champion: Emmanuel Macron. The president is a “self-avowed oenophile who drinks two glasses of wine a day, one with lunch and one with dinner”. Santé.


Following the news that Ai Weiwei is putting on an exhibition at the Design Museum, a Times reader sent in a picture of various front pages spotted in a newsagents back in 2011, when the Chinese dissident was under house arrest. “Free sandwich for every reader” promised the Daily Express; “Free Lego” offered The Sun; The Times, rather more generously, had: “Free Ai Weiwei.”


It’s a perfect “sun halo”, caused by light being refracted off ice crystals floating around in Sweden’s -21C skies. Photographer Göran Strand was dashing to his office in Östersund when he snapped the solar spectacle a few days before the winter solstice. The resulting image was so mesmerising that NASA selected it as its astronomy picture of the day.


quote 3.2.23

“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Mark Twain