Science X Newsletter Wednesday, Dec 11

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for December 11, 2019:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

ROBOSHERLOCK: a system to enhance robot performance on manipulation tasks

Water common—yet scarce—in exoplanets

Single-cell analysis of the earliest cell fate decisions in development

Research confirms timing of tropical glacier melt at the end of the last ice age

Relativistic jet of the blazar S5 0836+710 investigated in detail

Heat energy leaps through empty space, thanks to quantum weirdness

ALMA spots most distant dusty galaxy hidden in plain sight

Close friends help macaques survive

Team develops first of a kind in-vitro 3-D neural tissue model

Arctic has one of warmest years, raising fears over rising sea levels

First commercial electric plane takes flight in Canada

Nvidia works out speedy process to turn out 3-D models from 2-D images

The secret to a long life? For worms, a cellular recycling protein is key

A window into the hidden world of colons

New technique to determine protein structures may solve biomedical puzzles

Physics news

Heat energy leaps through empty space, thanks to quantum weirdness

If you use a vacuum-insulated thermos to help keep your coffee hot, you may know it's a good insulator because heat energy has a hard time moving through empty space. Vibrations of atoms or molecules, which carry thermal energy, simply can't travel if there are no atoms or molecules around.

Scientists develop molecular sensor that can emit light in more colours than ever before

Physicists at the University of Alberta have created a molecular colourant that can emit light in a wider range of colours than any other molecule currently available.

Cheers! Maxwell's electromagnetism extended to smaller scales

On Dec. 11, 2019, a general framework for incorporating and correcting for nonclassical electromagnetic phenomena in nanoscale systems will be presented in the journal Nature.

Multiplication and division of the orbital angular momentum of light

Optical beams carrying orbital angular momentum (OAM) have attracted growing attention during the last decades, exhibiting disruptive applications in a wide range of fields: particle trapping and tweezing, high-resolution microscopy, astronomical coronagraphy, high-capacity telecommunication and security.

Astronomy & Space news

Water common—yet scarce—in exoplanets

The most extensive survey of atmospheric chemical compositions of exoplanets to date has revealed trends that challenge current theories of planet formation and has implications for the search for water in the solar system and beyond.

Relativistic jet of the blazar S5 0836+710 investigated in detail

Using very long baseline interferometry (VLBI), astronomers have performed comprehensive multiwavelength observations of the radio emission in the blazar S5 0836+710. The new research, presented in a paper published December 2 on arXiv.org, reveals important insights about the structure the blazar's relativistic jet.

ALMA spots most distant dusty galaxy hidden in plain sight

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have spotted the light of a massive galaxy seen only 970 million years after the Big Bang. This galaxy, called MAMBO-9, is the most distant dusty star-forming galaxy that has ever been observed without the help of a gravitational lens.

Two rovers to roll on Mars again: Curiosity and Mars 2020

Curiosity won't be NASA's only active Mars rover for much longer. Next summer, Mars 2020 will be headed for the Red Planet. While the newest rover borrows from Curiosity's design, they aren't twins: Built and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, each has its own role in the ongoing exploration of Mars and the search for ancient life. Here's a closer look at what sets the siblings apart.

Second stellar population found in Milky Way's thick disk

A new study on the kinematics and chemical composition of a sample of stars in the vicinity of the sun, led by Dr. Daniela Carollo, researcher of the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, has revealed that the stars that make up the thick disk of the Milky Way belong to two distinct stellar populations with different characteristics and not to a single one, as has been thought for more than two decades.

NASA's treasure map for water ice on Mars

NASA has big plans for returning astronauts to the Moon in 2024, a stepping stone on the path to sending humans to Mars. But where should the first people on the Red Planet land?

A new way to measure cosmic black holes

Supermassive black holes are the largest black holes, with masses that can exceed a billion Suns. Just this spring, the first-ever image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy was taken, and researchers recently spotted the largest supermassive black hole ever seen. Despite these groundbreaking efforts, figuring out how these black holes drive a galaxy's shape and structure continues to be a challenge because most of them are too far away for current telescopes to resolve accurately.

Engineers pull off daring rescue of OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission

On Friday, Oct. 11, the OSIRIS-REx team should have been preparing to point their spacecraft cameras precisely over the asteroid Bennu to capture high-resolution images of a region known as Osprey. It is one of four sites scientists are considering from which the spacecraft can safely collect a sample in late 2020.

Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rocket makes 12th test flight

Blue Origin, the space company owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, launched the 12th crewless test of its New Shepard rocket on Wednesday, pushing the first flights with passengers to 2020.

Revealing the physics of the Sun with Parker Solar Probe

Nearly a year and a half into its mission, Parker Solar Probe has returned gigabytes of data on the Sun and its atmosphere. Following the release of the very first science from the mission, five researchers presented additional new findings from Parker Solar Probe at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union on Dec. 11, 2019. Research from these teams hints at the processes behind both the Sun's continual outflow of material—the solar wind—and more infrequent solar storms that can disrupt technology and endanger astronauts, along with new insight into space dust that creates the Geminids meteor shower.

X-ray satellite XMM-Newton celebrates 20 years in space

Two decades ago, on Dec. 10, 1999, an Ariane 5 rocket climbed into the morning sky from Kourou, French Guiana. It carried into orbit the X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton), the largest scientific spacecraft yet built by ESA (European Space Agency) and a pioneering satellite for studying the universe with different kinds of light. XMM-Newton has studied over half a million X-ray sources, including supernovae, star-shredding black holes and superdense neutron stars.

Refueling satellites in space with the help of a robot

Many technologies that are essential for daily life—from communications to GPS navigation to weather forecasting—rely on the thousands of satellites that are orbiting Earth. When those satellites run out of gas and stop working, there's not much that can currently be done to fix them.

Image: Holiday Kristall

This box of holiday cheer is actually tubes of plasma containing suspended microparticles exposed to an electrical current to form 3-D crystal structures.

New NASA ebook reveals insights of Earth seen at night from space

Earth has many stories to tell, even in the dark of night. Earth at Night, NASA's new 200-page ebook, is now available online and includes more than 150 images of our planet in darkness as captured from space by Earth-observing satellites and astronauts on the International Space Station over the past 25 years.

Technology news

ROBOSHERLOCK: a system to enhance robot performance on manipulation tasks

Over the past decade or so, advancements in machine learning have enabled the development of systems that are increasingly autonomous, including self-driving vehicles, virtual assistants and mobile robots. Among other things, researchers developing autonomous systems need to identify ways to integrate components designed to tackle different and yet complementary sub-tasks.

First commercial electric plane takes flight in Canada

The world's first fully electric commercial aircraft took its inaugural test flight on Tuesday, taking off from the Canadian city of Vancouver and offering hope that airlines may one day end their polluting emissions.

Nvidia works out speedy process to turn out 3-D models from 2-D images

The goal: To change 2-D images into 3-D models using a special encoder-decoder architecture. The actors: Nvidia. The praise: A clever utilization of machine learning with beneficial real-world applications.

Punching holes in opaque solar cells turns them transparent

Researchers in Korea have found an effective and inexpensive strategy to transform solar cells from opaque to transparent. Existing transparent solar cells tend to have a reddish hue and lower efficiency, but by punching holes that are around 100 μm in diameter (comparable in size to a human hair) on crystalline silicon wafers, it allows light through without coloring. The holes are then strategically spaced, so the human eye is unable to "see" the pattern. The work appears December 11 in the journal Joule.

This object-recognition dataset stumped the world's best computer vision models

Computer vision models have learned to identify objects in photos so accurately that some can outperform humans on some datasets. But when those same object detectors are turned loose in the real world, their performance noticeably drops, creating reliability concerns for self-driving cars and other safety-critical systems that use machine vision.

Financial markets embrace brave new world of AI

Artificial Intelligence has spread rapidly across markets in recent years as traders constantly strive to gain the upper hand, while regulators have given a guarded welcome to the cutting-edge technology.

Water-scarce Gulf states bank on desalination, at a cost

"We have water, and it's the most important thing in a house," says Abdullah al-Harthi from the port city of Sur in Oman, a country that relies on desalination plants.

Amid climate change concern, GM rolls out big new Chevy SUVs

Global concerns about climate change are not stopping General Motors from making large SUVs for U.S. drivers.

UK authorities give Amazon 5 days for new Deliveroo plan

British authorities are asking Amazon to address concerns that its plan to buy a stake in food delivery platform Deliveroo could damage competition between businesses that do takeaways and those that deliver groceries.

A new network design for the "internet from space"

A new generation of low-flying satellites promises an "internet from space," that will be able to cover even remote regions around the world. Computer scientists at ETH Zurich are proposing a novel network design that could double the network capacity of such systems.

We calculated emissions due to electricity loss on the power grid – globally, it's a lot

When it comes to strategies for slowing the effects of climate change, the idea of reducing wasted energy rarely gets a mention. But our recent Nature Climate Change article makes the case that reducing wastage in the power sector, focusing specifically on the grid, can be a critical lever in lowering national emissions.

'Robotic blacksmithing': A technology that could revive US manufacturing

Although it may not be obvious, there's a close link between manufacturing technology and innovation. Elon Musk often talks of the "machines that build the machines" as being the real enabler in both his space and automotive businesses.

It could be time to start thinking about a cybernetic Bill of Rights

Like it or loathe it, the robot revolution is now well underway and the futures described by writers such as Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl and Philip K. Dick are fast turning from science fiction into science fact. But should robots have rights? And will humanity ever reach a point where human and machine are treated the same?

Reselling your personal data pays off for Spokeo

When you do a search for yourself or others on Google, you are not alone.

2020: A look back at the decade in tech from Alexa to Xbox

"Alexa" was just another female name. Uber hadn't taken anyone for a ride yet. And the buzz around Facebook had more to do with the fact that seemingly everyone you once knew was turning up on "The Social Network," and less about the numerous data and privacy scandals that would tarnish the company's reputation later on.

Windows 7, Ford Flex, Yahoo Groups are among products vanishing in 2020

In life, nothing lasts forever.

Austrian court strikes down 'Trojan horse' surveillance law

Austria's Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down parts of a law passed by the previous government which would have enabled authorities to read encrypted messages online using so-called "Trojan horse" software.

Meet the scholar who diagnosed 'surveillance capitalism'

A year ago, Shoshana Zuboff dropped an intellectual bomb on the technology industry. She hasn't stood still since.

US aviation chief says Boeing 737 MAX won't be recertified until 2020

The top US air transport regulator on Wednesday doused Boeing's hopes that its 737 MAX will return to the skies this year while lawmakers probed why the agency did not ground the plane after the first of two crashes.

Here's how Facebook's ad delivery system makes the US political divide even wider

Facebook is wielding significant power over political discourse in the United States, thanks to an ad delivery system that reinforces political polarization among users, according to new research from a team of computer scientists.

Testing tech ideas in public? San Francisco says get permit

Tired of San Francisco streets being used as a testing ground for the latest delivery technology and transportation apps, city leaders are now requiring businesses to get permits before trying out new high-tech ideas in public.

Partisan news outlets seek to fill void in US 'news deserts'

Open the website of the Kalamazoo Times of Michigan and you will see a smattering of articles such as might be found on the sites of any number of news organizations.

Trade turbulence pushes airline profits lower

Global trade tensions have sent airline profits into a descent, the industry's trade association said Wednesday, and while profitablity is expected to rebound next year it will unlikely match the level hit in 2018.

Creating a more resource-efficient solar power industry

PV systems continue expanding faster than any other renewable energy source thanks to their ability to harvest sustainable, clean and low-cost energy from the sun. Newly installed PV capacities in Europe grew by 31 % year-on-year and reached 9.2 GW in 2017, according to SolarPower Europe's 2018-2022 global market outlook. "If Europe fully embraces the enticing business case of low-cost solar, in 2022 the market could reach 39.1 GW."

What can drones do to protect civilians in armed conflict?

Drones are usually in the news for bad reasons, like controversial killings of suspected terrorists in the Middle East, bombings of Saudi oil facilities or an assassination attempt on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Developing a digital twin for the electricity grid

The rapid transition to renewable energy threatens to cause major problems to the very expensive electricity grid in the Netherlands. In his quest for solutions, Professor Peter Palensky is now working on a "digital twin" to make it possible to study the grid effectively.

Sea-Tac is first airport to resist federal push for facial recognition and other biometric technologies

At least for now, controversial facial-recognition technology won't be installed at boarding gates at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, making the airport the first in the country to resist the rollout of a federal biometric identification program.


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Yes, the Mac Pro costs exactly as much as you expected: a lot

I was in a rush to fill out all the boxes for the newsletter late light night and ended up doing it wrong, sending it from my email address instead of the more traditional newsletter@theverge.com.  My apologies to any and all who had their inbox filters jacked up by it. Know that my punishment was an inbox full of automated out-of-office replies.

Today's the day that Apple finally started taking real orders for the Mac Pro. In case you were wondering where our review is, Apple chose not to provide review units to the usual group of journalists. The best of the very few first impressions I've seen so far has been by Marques Brownlee. MacRumors has a short roundup of the other imporessions out there so far. We'll find our way to reviewing one when we can, though it might take a minute.

I've got a few thoughts about what the "Pro" in "Mac Pro" really means, but rather than do a whole essay I'll just leave some notes below. I think you'll get the gist.

- Dieter

The Mac Pro

Apple's most expensive Mac Pro costs $52,599

It's stories like this that sort of make me wish Apple hadn't diluted the meaning of the word "Pro." It's absolutely appropriate for a workstation to cost this much given the right context. This Mac Pro really is "Pro" in a way that the iPad Pro or even MacBook Pro simply aren't.

That dissonance, more than anything else, is the source of whatever feelings that eye-popping number might engender. Some of Apple's "Pro" devices are egalitarian, meant for regular people who just want the better thing. This is something different. Even this maximum price, for the people Apple ACTUALLY wants to sell this computer to, isn't actually all that unreasonable. 

Apple's most expensive Pro Display XDR requires a special, Apple-made cloth to clean it

It's like Apple WANTS us to keep reifying our stereotypes about the company's penchant for making pretty things that won't work in the real world. This definitely does that, but it also definitely underscores the point I made above. These displays are not meant for the average user or even the "pro" user.

Truthfully there's a word for the non-pro pro that has been tossed around a bit, one I could use to resolve this whole quandary. It's "Prosumer," and I hope you and I can both agree that we're all better than that.

The Mac Pro's optional wheels cost $400

For just $400 more, you could opt to buy a Boosted Mini board instead and then your Mac Pro could be mounted to an electric skateboard you could remotely send flying across the office. You know, for fun.

Verge Deal of the day 

Microsoft's Surface Laptop 3 is down to $799 at Amazon

The latest iteration of Microsoft's Surface Laptop is down to $799 (usually $999) at Amazon. This is the base model, which features an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of solid-state storage. If you're shopping for a well-built Windows 10 laptop with a great keyboard, this one should be on your shortlist.

More from The Verge

The Verge's gadgets of the decade

This was a ton of fun to participate in. A lot of us argued a lot. These aren't necessarily the best, the more successful, or even the most influential (though all three are reasons for some of them to be included). To my mind they're the most definitional, which is a fuzzy idea but to me it means that if you wanted to understand what tech and gadgets were and meant for the last 10 years, this is the list.

This was the decade climate change slapped us in the face

Warming up a degree or two might seem like small beans, but consider this: at 2 degrees Celsius of warming, nearly all of the world's coral reefs could vanish. Tens of thousands of people could lose their lives each year to extreme heat at 2 degrees of warming compared to meeting the 1.5-degree target.

Wheels redesigns its shareable e-bikes to include a helmet

Wheels the company, not the Mac wheels. Anyway: Yes! This is great! I bought a little collapsable helmet and I have no idea if it actually is as safe as promised (I checked for certifications but you know how it goes). Even if my helmet was totally okay, it doesn't matter because I never really carry it around.

Somebody should do a startup with lockable helmets that can just be bolted on to any rentable rideable.

The Justice Department will reportedly investigate Google's Fitbit acquisition

Justice Department antitrust chief Makan Delrahim has hinted that privacy concerns could play a role in any investigation. "It would be a grave mistake to believe that privacy concerns can never play a role in antitrust analysis," Delrahim said at a conference in November, soon after the acquisition. "Without competition, a dominant firm can more easily reduce quality — such as by decreasing privacy protections — without losing a significant number of users."

Google is using machine learning to make alarm tones based on the time and weather

How odd that this is only launching on this specific Lenovo clock. I would definitely give this a shot on my phone -- I am sure many many more people use their phones as alarm clocks than smart speakers.

Chrome now warns you when your password has been stolen

I use 1Password, which has a similar (and honestly more robust) feature. I may have mentioned this before but I'll say it again: sometime in the near future when you find yourself binge watching something, pull our your laptop and just run through changing some passwords. With 1Password, I was able to just grind through dozens of passwords in the course of an afternoon with Netflix.

Google built its own tiny HDMI 2.1 box to jump-start 'the next generation of Android TV'

Before you get too excited, know that it's a developer device. Like its predecessor, the ADT-2, it's possible you'll never see one officially available for purchase. After all, the ADT-2 didn't exactly spawn a wave of new tiny Android TV devices (unless you count Nvidia's chunky new Shield TV tube).

Facebook tells US attorney general it won't remove encryption from its messaging apps

I wonder if this will differ in any way from the fight Apple had with the FBI over encrypted messages. Facebook does not have the foundation of wide public support for its privacy policies that Apple does.

iOS 13.3 arrives with full support for physical security keys

So far I haven't managed to get it to work with the Google Advanced Protection Program on the iPhone, which still requires a Bluetooth key (or, ironically, a secure Android phone) to go along with Google's silly, bad Smart Lock app. There's a whole story to be written about the number of inter-app redirects that are required to make this work on the iPhone and why they're happening, but it's all just too exhausting to even start.

Waze now allows you to report unplowed roads and black ice

This would have been really useful when I was plotting how to drive three hours in Minnesota right before Thanksgiving after that snowstorm. Honestly surprised it's taken this long. I would like to think it's not because most of Waze's developers live in places where this kind of weather never happens.

Microsoft's full-screen Windows 7 upgrade prompts start next month

If you're reading this, there's a better than even chance you'll not see this dialog. But a friend or relative might. Please be helpful. Sometimes it sucks offering tech advice or help because it puts you on the hook to have to help out the next time too. But in this case, it's worth that risk.

+ Legit finally Lightroom finally adds direct photo import on iOS

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