Wildfires, COVID-19 deaths, Rich Strike, black hole pictures. It’s Thursday’s news. – USA TODAY

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It’s another warm, dry and windy day – the type of weather a wildfire likes. President Joe Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of 1 million American lives lost to COVID-19. And Rich Strike needs a little more rest after his Kentucky Derby win.

👋 It’s Laura. It’s Thursday. Like the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy, Thursday’s news is out of this world!

But first, more news from out of this world. 🌝 Scientists grew plants using soil from the moon – for the first time. Here’s how it turned out.

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Hot, dry weather has officials on high alert as wildfires rage

Another warm, dry and windy day fanned the flames of the nation’s largest wildfire in New Mexico on Thursday as authorities warned residents in nearby towns to be ready for evacuations. The fire in northern New Mexico along the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo range “is going to keep growing,” U.S. Forest Service officials said Thursday. Weather forecasters said conditions were ripe for more destruction. A wildfire that erupted Wednesday afternoon in Southern California raced through coastal bluffs of multimillion-dollar mansions, burning at least 20 homes, fire officials said. The flames were fanned by gusty ocean winds, but they were dying down Wednesday night. No injuries were reported, but several streets were ordered evacuated.

Nearing ‘1 million empty chairs’

President Joe Biden on Thursday marked the “tragic milestone” of 1 million American lives lost to COVID-19, calling each death an “irreplaceable loss.” “One million empty chairs around the dinner table,” Biden said in a statement. “Each leaving behind a family, a community, and a nation forever changed because of this pandemic.” Biden directed flags on government buildings to be flown at half-staff for five days. Though COVID-19 counts vary, data the White House uses showed deaths approaching the 1 million mark Thursday morning. The president urged Congress to approve additional funding he requested to fight the pandemic. Without more money, the administration says the United States will lose its place in line for new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines for the fall when a new variant could hit.

What everyone’s talking about

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No Triple Crown winner this year

Rich Strike, the improbable winner of last week’s Kentucky Derby, will not run in the Preakness Stakes on May 21 at Pimlico Race Course, ensuring that there will be no Triple Crown winner this year. Rick Dawson, Rich Strike’s owner, said Thursday they will instead look toward the Belmont Stakes on June 11 to get more rest and recovery time. Having just two weeks of prep time before the second leg of the Triple Crown, Dawson and trainer Eric Reed decided to set their sights on the later date. The 80-1 long shot stunned the horse racing world last weekend, breezing past favorites Epicenter and Zandon to win the Kentucky Derby.

Hospital stays led to harm for 1 in 4 Medicare patients

One in 4 older Americans covered by Medicare had some type of temporary or lasting harm during hospital stays before the COVID-19 pandemic, government investigators said in an oversight report published Thursday. The report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector Generalsaid 12% of patients had “adverse events” that mainly led to longer hospital stays but also permanent harm or death, or they required lifesaving intervention. Thirteen percent had temporary issues that could have caused further complications had hospital staff not acted. Though inspector general investigators noted improvements in certain safety measures, officials said the 25% harm rate is concerning and deserves renewed attention.

Real quick

A ‘hole’ new world

If you ever wondered what the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy looks like, you’re in luck. The world got a first look Thursday at the wild but fuzzy image of Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. Sagittarius A* is 4 million times more massive than our sun and is near the border of the Sagittarius and Scorpius constellations – about 27,000 light-years from Earth. Astronomers say nearly all galaxies have giant black holes at their center, where light and matter cannot escape, making it extremely hard to get images of them. Light gets chaotically bent and twisted around by gravity as it gets sucked into the abyss along with superheated gas and dust. The colorized image unveiled Thursday is from the international consortium behind the Event Horizon Telescope, a collection of eight synchronized radio telescopes around the world. Previous efforts had found the black hole in the center of our galaxy too jumpy to get a good picture.

A break from the news

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