Science X Newsletter Week 25

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for week 25:

Research sheds new light on intelligent life existing across the galaxy

Is there anyone out there? This is an age-old question that researchers have now shed new light on with a study that calculates there could be more than 30 intelligent civilizations throughout our Galaxy. This is an enormous advance over previous estimates which spanned from zero to billions.

Scientists reveal a lost eight billion light years of universe evolution

Last year, the Advanced LIGO-VIRGO gravitational-wave detector network recorded data from 35 merging black holes and neutron stars. A great result—but what did they miss? According to Dr. Rory Smith from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Gravitational Wave Discovery at Monash University in Australia—it's likely there are another 2 million gravitational wave events from merging black holes, "a pair of merging black holes every 200 seconds and a pair of merging neutron stars every 15 seconds" that scientists are not picking up.

Stunning new Hubble images reveal stars gone haywire

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope demonstrates its full range of imaging capabilities with two new images of planetary nebulae. The images depict two nearby young planetary nebulae, NGC 6302, dubbed the Butterfly Nebula, and NGC 7027. Both are among the dustiest planetary nebulae known and both contain unusually large masses of gas, which made them an interesting pair for study in parallel by a team of researchers.

Spectacular bird's-eye view? Hummingbirds see diverse colors humans can only imagine

To find food, dazzle mates, escape predators and navigate diverse terrain, birds rely on their excellent color vision.

Massive Sahara dust plume headed for southeastern US, could bring sensational sunsets

The southeastern U.S. is getting dusted by the Sahara.

As many as six billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, according to new estimates

To be considered Earth-like, a planet must be rocky, roughly Earth-sized and orbiting Sun-like (G-type) stars. It also has to orbit in the habitable zones of its star—the range of distances from a star in which a rocky planet could host liquid water, and potentially life, on its surface.

First egg from Antarctica is big and might belong to an extinct sea lizard

In 2011, Chilean scientists discovered a mysterious fossil in Antarctica that looked like a deflated football. For nearly a decade, the specimen sat unlabeled and unstudied in the collections of Chile's National Museum of Natural History, with scientists identifying it only by its sci-fi movie-inspired nickname—"The Thing."

Astronomers detect regular rhythm of radio waves, with origins unknown

A team of astronomers, including researchers at MIT, has picked up on a curious, repeating rhythm of fast radio bursts emanating from an unknown source outside our galaxy, 500 million light years away.

Is teleportation possible? Yes, in the quantum world

"Beam me up" is one of the most famous catchphrases from the Star Trek series. It is the command issued when a character wishes to teleport from a remote location back to the Starship Enterprise.

Flushing toilets create clouds of virus-containing particles

Researchers used a computer simulation to show how a flushing toilet can create a cloud of virus-containing aerosol droplets that is large and widespread and lasts long enough that the droplets could be breathed in by others.

Teaching physics to neural networks removes 'chaos blindness'

Researchers from North Carolina State University have discovered that teaching physics to neural networks enables those networks to better adapt to chaos within their environment. The work has implications for improved artificial intelligence (AI) applications ranging from medical diagnostics to automated drone piloting.

A cosmic baby is discovered, and it's brilliant

Astronomers tend to have a slightly different sense of time than the rest of us. They regularly study events that happened millions or billions of years ago, and objects that have been around for just as long. That's partly why the recently discovered neutron star known as Swift J1818.0-1607 is remarkable: A new study in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters estimates that it is only about 240 years old—a veritable newborn by cosmic standards.

Achievement isn't why more men are majoring in physics, engineering and computer science

While some STEM majors have a one-to-one male-to-female ratio, physics, engineering and computer science (PECS) majors consistently have some of the largest gender imbalances among U.S. college majors—with about four men to every woman in the major. In a new study published today in the peer-reviewed research journal, Science, NYU researchers find that this disparity is not caused by higher math or science achievement among men. On the contrary, the scholars found that men with very low high-school GPAs in math and science and very low SAT math scores were choosing these math-intensive majors just as often as women with much higher math and science achievement.

Newly observed phenomenon could lead to new quantum devices

An exotic physical phenomenon known as a Kohn anomaly has been found for the first time in an unexpected type of material by researchers at MIT and elsewhere. They say the finding could provide new insights into certain fundamental processes that help determine why metals and other materials display the complex electronic properties that underlie much of today's technology.

Coal-burning in Siberia led to climate change 250 million years ago

A team of researchers led by Arizona State University (ASU) School of Earth and Space Exploration professor Lindy Elkins-Tanton has provided the first ever direct evidence that extensive coal burning in Siberia is a cause of the Permo-Triassic Extinction, the Earth's most severe extinction event. The results of their study have been recently published in the journal Geology.

Super-potent human antibodies protect against COVID-19 in animal tests

A team led by Scripps Research has discovered antibodies in the blood of recovered COVID-19 patients that provide powerful protection against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease, when tested in animals and human cell cultures.

Does intelligent life exist on other planets? Technosignatures may hold new clues

In 1995 a pair of scientists discovered a planet outside our solar system orbiting a solar-type star. Since that finding—which won the scientists a portion of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics—researches have discovered more than 4,000 exoplanets, including some Earth-like planets that may have the potential to harbor life.

Virus already in Italy by December, sewers show

The coronavirus was present in two large Italian cities in December, more than two months before the first case was detected, a national health institute study of waste water has found.

Honeybee lives shortened after exposure to two widely used pesticides

The lives of honeybees are shortened—with evidence of physiological stress—when they are exposed to the suggested application rates of two commercially available and widely used pesticides, according to new Oregon State University research.

New research hints at the presence of unconventional galaxies containing two black holes

A Clemson University scientist has joined forces with an international team of astronomers to identify periodic gamma-ray emissions from 11 active galaxies, paving the way for future studies of unconventional galaxies that might harbor two supermassive black holes at their centers.


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▼ Five features to hope for at WWDC

They may not be likely, but that doesn't mean they're not needed‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 

Hey friends -- here's an off-schedule newsletter looking forward to WWDC. In fact, you should probably expect the newsletter to be delivered on odd days and at odd times (or at least, odder than usual) this week as I fit in writing with covering Apple's news. We'll be liveblogging the event and Walt Mossberg is going to join us -- I'm very excited about that. A link for that liveblog will go up tomorrow morning.

On a personal note, normally I very much dislike writing these wishlist posts -- they end up reading like I'm asking for Homercars. But these five things I am hoping for here are -- I think -- reasonable, feasible, overdue, important ....and probably not very likely. If you're looking for what you should actually expect, Chaim Gartenberg has you covered.

Thanks again for allowing me to intermittently pop up in your inbox.

- Dieter

Tech news

┏ Lenovo's IdeaPad Gaming 3 is almost a good $1,000 gaming laptop. Cameron Faulkner reviews:

It's easy to dismiss the IdeaPad Gaming 3's faults when you consider its price, but the reality is Lenovo could have done a better job here. It's great that it includes a powerful processor and high refresh rate display, but without a better graphics card, those benefits go to waste.

┏ Google's new Chrome extension lets you link directly to specific text on a page. 

┏ Microsoft to upgrade its xCloud servers to Xbox Series X hardware in 2021. Tom Warren:

We understand Microsoft is still on track for an xCloud launch later this year on Android mobile devices. Microsoft started testing xCloud on iOS earlier this year, but admitted it can't fully test its service on Apple's platform due to some unspecified App Store restrictions. The software maker has been trying to pressure Apple into adjusting its App Store policies to allow xCloud to launch on iOS, but those discussions are ongoing and it's unlikely the service will launch fully on Apple devices later this year.

┏ Fortnite's new season has flooded the map. Andrew Webster:

The new season of Fortnite is finally here — and it brought with it a flood. Today Epic Games released the long-delayed third season for Fortnite: Chapter 2, following a massive event earlier in the week which saw the game's battle royale island surrounded by a wall of water. Fittingly, the new season has submerged large areas of the island, creating a bigger focus on aquatic gameplay elements. That includes a new Waterworld-style floating city area, and the ability to water ski — while pulled by a shark.

┏ Pok√©mon Snap is coming to the Nintendo Switch.

┏ Twitter starts rolling out audio tweets on iOS. These were fun for precisely 30 minutes in my Twitter timeline and then they stopped. I do wonder what the long-term usage will look like. More and more I think Twitter could benefit from a "media feed" in addition to the standard feed.


Verge Deal of the day

Amazon's Kindle Paperwhite is $30 off in time for Father's Day

The Amazon Kindle Paperwhite is $100 right now ($30 off) for the 8GB version in black. It has a pixel-dense display for smooth fonts and crisp images. In terms of other features, it's backlit for night-time reading, IPX8-rated waterproof, and it supports Bluetooth headphones, so you can listen to Audible audiobooks if that's what the moment calls for instead of reading.

Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy. Prices displayed are based on the MSRP at time of posting.


Policy

┏ Senate Republicans want to make it easier to sue tech companies for bias. Russell Brandom:

Called the Limiting Section 230 Immunity to Good Samaritans Act, the bill would require companies to undertake a "duty of good faith" in order to receive the protections of Section 230, instituting significant penalties for companies who do not uphold that duty. The result would be a major new avenue for users to sue platforms for improper moderation practices.

┏ Justice Department asks Congress for a sharp cut to websites' legal protections. Adi Robertson:

The Department of Justice has released a proposal for changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, urging Congress to pass a dramatic reduction in the law's scope and expose services like apps and websites to greater legal liability. The proposal creates new categories of "egregious content" that wouldn't be covered, makes it potentially easier to sue for content removal, and denies protection if a service "purposefully facilitates or solicits third-party content" that's illegal.

┏ K-pop fans and TikTok teens say they reserved tickets for Trump's Tulsa rally to leave seats empty.

Covid-19

┏ Apple will re-close some stores in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arizona due to coronavirus spikes.

┏ Comcast extends free Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspot access through the end of 2020.


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Five features to hope for at WWDC

On Monday, Apple will kick off its annual developer conference in the strangest and most contentious climate it has faced in many years. Not only does Apple have to hold all of its presentations online, it's doing so to a developer audience that has become aware of a collective, unspoken discontent. 

Chaim Gartenberg has posted our long list of features you should expect to come to Apple's operating systems this year. The short version: what's most likely is a smattering of feature updates for the iOS-based platforms like iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and iOS and then a potentially massive shift for macOS from Intel to ARM. 

That's what you should expect, but there are five things that I've been wanting Apple to deliver for years. Some of these have actually been rumored for this year, some are things I think Apple ought to do simply because they're necessary. Do I truly believe any of these five things will happen? In truth, I think that most of these are unlikely. I hope they happen, but I think they won't. My best guess is I'll get at least one, I'd be happy with two, and I'd be elated by three or more. 

But everything on this list is something that users or developers have been wanting for years. At a certain point, it's just time. Here's hoping 2020 is that time.

Apple changes its App Store policies

Apple's 30 percent App Store cut has come under heavy fire in the last week, and though Apple could probably weather the storm of discontent, it will have a harder time recovering from the sense that developers fear Apple. Ben Thompson, John Gruber, and many others have reported that developers big and small are just as unhappy as Hey and Spotify are with Apple's terms — but are afraid to speak out. 

Politicians have to proclaim their support for small business — and hope to receive support back from them. It's a sacrosanct group and anybody perceived to be taking advantage of them is not long for their office, regardless of party. It is the same way with tech companies and developers. It's fun to joke about the old Steve Ballmer's "Developers! Developers! Developers! Developers!" chant, but he did it for good reason.

What to hope for here? There are many ways it could go. The simplest would be for Apple to drop its cut down to something less than the 30 percent (15 percent for long-term subscriptions) it currently charges and then see if that appeases everybody. It could allow side-loading, as Android does. It could simply give up and allow apps to use non-Apple payment systems — or it could follow Google and say only games have to use Apple's payment system. There are lots of options.

But I don't think Apple will take any of them at WWDC. This event is about unveiling new features and the ARM transition for the Mac. This is one that I don't expect Apple to directly address, because that's not generally how Apple rolls in the Tim Cook era. Especially with this scandal, everything Apple has said points to the company believing it's in the right. There won't be a conference hall full of developers ready to grumble at each other if it doesn't come up — though there will be Twitter. 

Choose your own default apps

There have been rumblings that Apple might finally allow you to set non-Apple apps as the defaults for certain core features. Click on an email and perhaps it could open up Outlook instead of Apple's Mail app — or maybe Gmail or Hey (OK, not Hey). Same with regular links to web pages.

That's the idea, but Apple has very much stood against allowing it for many, many versions of iOS. It hasn't really ruined the iPhone experience, but it does mean a lot more cutting and pasting than would otherwise be required.

I'd put this one at 50/50, given the rumors. But I wouldn't expect Apple to budge on some other policies — like all web browsers being required to use Apple's webkit web rendering engine. My secret hope, by the way, is that there would be a system-wide setting for banning in-app browsers and/or letting those browsers share cookies (as they do on Android). Imagine not having to re-log-in to the same sites in every single app where you happen to click a link.

Home screen customization

Apparently there will be some kind of list view of all your apps — perhaps similar to how Android offers a separate app drawer. You might also be able to add widgets to home screens. Ironically, while I have asked for precisely that since 2012 (!), I'm less eager for it now. Apple's left-of-home-screen widget tool is better than the way Android handles the home screen. 

But if I could put a weather or calendar widget on the main home screen, I probably would. That's all well and good. But what I really want is the ability to move icons down to the bottom of the home screen while leaving blank spaces at the top. Our phones are HUGE now, our icons should be a little easier to reach. Forcing them to fill in from the top left is as annoying today as it was in 2012. It's time, Apple!

True multi-user support on the iPad

For me, this is the most important feature. It's flatly ridiculous that the iPad only allows for one primary user account. I am aware that there are ways to set up multi-user in an education context, but that doesn't matter for the average consumer.

My frustration over this issue isn't borne of a personal need, by the way. I do not have kids and am lucky that both I and my partner can afford our own iPads. But it seems like Apple wants that to be the solution for every household, and that's just not right. 

Multi-user support for the iPad would mean you could hand it to a child and keep them from getting into your iMessage or work email or whatever else you have installed. It would mean families could set up their iPads as communal devices, something that belongs to everybody instead of to one person. 

You can buy a $40 tablet from Amazon that can do what the iPad cannot: handle multi-user accounts, including strong parental controls and loads of cheap or free kids content. It's past time for Apple to offer something similar (in terms to multi-user support, not price).

If you want to argue that the iPad isn't technically "a computer" because it's limited in this way, I'm annoyed enough by this issue to just let you win that argument. I give this one a 25 percent chance of happening, if only because there's been such a dearth of iPadOS rumors that I don't know what else they'd have to announce.

iMessage for Android, RCS on the iPhone

Look, I know this is not going to happen. I hope for a lot of things that are never going to happen. I hope I will win the lottery tomorrow. 

But I still think that offering iMessage on Android would be the morally correct thing for Apple to do. It would offer a nice way for Android users to get access to encrypted messaging without having to convince their friends to switch to Signal. I will brook no arguments that somehow this would be a security nightmare for Apple: Signal handles it just fine. So does WhatsApp. 

As for RCS, well, if not this year then it needs to come next year. Despite the carriers' inevitable keystone kops implementation, it will become the global standard to replace SMS and so Apple should get on board. I'm not technically hoping for it this year, though: I'd like Apple to hold out support until there's a standard for encrypting those messages, too.


A correction on my last newsletter: The original story referred to Apple's policies for both "Reader" apps and "business services" as "unwritten." In fact Apple's policies do refer to "Reader" apps (quotes included), but do not note clear distinctions for business services. The article on the site linked here has been updated with clearer details on that clause, and I regret the error.

You are reading Processor, a newsletter about computers by Dieter Bohn. Dieter writes about consumer tech, software, and the most important news of the day from The Verge. This newsletter delivers about four times a week, at least a couple of which include longer essays.

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