Science X Newsletter Tuesday, Dec 3

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Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for December 3, 2019:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

The direct observation of van der Waals stacking-dependent interlayer magnetism

World first as artificial neurons developed to cure chronic diseases

Scientists invent method to create olefins

Astronomers propose a novel method of finding atmospheres on rocky worlds

Gamma-ray binary HESS J0632+057 contains a pulsar, study suggests

Novel material switches between electrically conducting and insulating states

NASA's exoplanet-hunting mission catches a natural comet outburst in unprecedented detail

Through the eyes of animals

NASA finds Indian Moon lander with help of amateur space enthusiast

Old Norse plunder tactic inspires Oslo team to call Android flaw StrandHogg

Female fish can breed a new species if they aren't choosy about who is Mr. Right

Deep learning identifies molecular patterns of cancer

Using pathogen-specific viruses to control pathogen outbreaks

Illuminating the path for super-resolution imaging with improved rhodamine dyes

3-D model of human liver for better diagnosis

Physics news

Novel material switches between electrically conducting and insulating states

Northwestern Engineering researchers have developed a novel design strategy to identify new materials exhibiting a metal-insulator transition (MIT), a rare class of materials categorized by their ability to reversibly switch between electrically conducting and insulating states.

Scientists analyze handwriting with lasers to evaluate mental states

Scientists at the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI (Russia) along with international colleagues have studied the biomechanics of hand movements when writing and drawing and developed a unique method to evaluate the individual properties of writing speed and pencil pressure. The research results were published in the journal Laser Physics Letters.

Astronomy & Space news

Astronomers propose a novel method of finding atmospheres on rocky worlds

When NASA's James Webb Space Telescope launches in 2021, one of its most anticipated contributions to astronomy will be the study of exoplanets—planets orbiting distant stars. Among the most pressing questions in exoplanet science is: Can a small, rocky exoplanet orbiting close to a red dwarf star hold onto an atmosphere?

Gamma-ray binary HESS J0632+057 contains a pulsar, study suggests

Using NuSTAR spacecraft and the VERITAS array of telescopes, an international team of astronomers has investigated a gamma-ray binary known as HESS J0632+057. The study found that a compact object in this system is most likely a pulsar—a highly magnetized, rotating neutron star emitting beams of electromagnetic radiation. The finding is reported in a paper published November 21 on arXiv.

NASA's exoplanet-hunting mission catches a natural comet outburst in unprecedented detail

Using data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), astronomers at the University of Maryland (UMD), in College Park, Maryland, have captured a clear start-to-finish image sequence of an explosive emission of dust, ice and gases during the close approach of comet 46P/Wirtanen in late 2018. This is the most complete and detailed observation to date of the formation and dissipation of a naturally-occurring comet outburst. The team members reported their results in the November 22 issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

NASA finds Indian Moon lander with help of amateur space enthusiast

India's Vikram lunar lander, which crashed on its final approach to the Moon's surface in September, has been found thanks in part to the sleuthing efforts of an amateur space enthusiast.

Heavyweight in the heart of the Abell 85 central galaxy

In space, black holes appear in different sizes and masses. The record is now held by a specimen in the Abell 85 cluster of galaxies, where an ultra-massive black hole with 40 billion times the mass of our sun sits in the middle of the central galaxy Holm 15A. Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics and the University Observatory Munich discovered this by evaluating photometric data from the Wendelstein Observatory as well as new spectral observations with the Very Large Telescope.

Science around the planet uses images of Earth from the space station

Artificial lighting at night affects the behavior of urban wildlife, according to a recent study published in Nature Scientific Reports, which examined animals in the laboratory and the field. The researchers mapped light levels in the city of Chicago using publicly available images of Earth taken by astronauts from the International Space Station.

A study of Saturn's largest moon may offer insights for earth

Scientists studying the weather and climate of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, have reported a significant seasonal variation in its energy budget—that is the amount of solar energy absorbed by the celestial body and the thermal energy it emits.

Gas giant composition not determined by host star

A surprising analysis of the composition of gas giant exoplanets and their host stars shows that there isn't a strong correlation between their compositions when it comes to elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, according to new work led by Carnegie's Johanna Teske and published in the Astronomical Journal. This finding has important implications for our understanding of the planetary formation process.

Detecting solar flares, more in real time

Computers can learn to find solar flares and other events in vast streams of solar images and help NOAA forecasters issue timely alerts, according to a new study. The machine-learning technique, developed by scientists at CIRES and NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), searches massive amounts of satellite data to pick out features significant for space weather. Changing conditions on the Sun and in space can affect various technologies on Earth, blocking radio communications, damaging power grids, and diminishing navigation system accuracy.

Image: Exoplanet satellite encapsulated

At Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, ESA's Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, Cheops, is being encapsulated into the flight adapter of the Soyuz-Fregat rocket that will lift it into space on 17 December.

Mars: We may have solved the mystery of how its landslides form

Some landslides on Mars seem to defy an important law of physics. "Long, runout landslides" are formed by huge volumes of rock and soil moving downslope, largely due to the force of gravity. But their power is hard to account for. With volumes exceeding that of the Empire State Building, they move at high speeds of up to 360 kilometers per hour over flat surfaces for up to tens of kilometers.

NASA develops second-generation search and rescue beacon technology

NASA's Search and Rescue (SAR) office, technology development lead for the international Cospas-Sarsat program, has developed second-generation emergency beacons that offer users improved accuracy and quicker response times. Artemis astronauts returning from the Moon will be the first users of these beacons, which will be commercially available to the general public in the coming years.

Meteorite-loving microorganism

Chemolithotrophic microorganisms derive their energy from inorganic sources. Research into the physiological processes of these organisms—which are grown on meteorite—provides new insights into the potential of extraterrestrial materials as a source of accessible nutrients and energy for microorganisms of the early Earth. Meteorites may have delivered a variety of essential compounds facilitating the evolution of life, as we know it on Earth.

Technology news

World first as artificial neurons developed to cure chronic diseases

Artificial neurons on silicon chips that behave just like the real thing have been invented by scientists—a first-of-its-kind achievement with enormous scope for medical devices to cure chronic diseases, such as heart failure, Alzheimer's, and other diseases of neuronal degeneration.

Old Norse plunder tactic inspires Oslo team to call Android flaw StrandHogg

An Android bug can steal bank credentials, namely bank logins. The flaw is called StrandHogg and security investigators at an Oslo, Norway-based security company say it has been targeting 60 financial institutions—at least.

Car batteries can be frozen for safer transportation

Currently, transporting damaged and defective car batteries is an expensive process as they need to be placed in an explosion-proof box, which costs thousands of pounds. However, researchers from WMG at the University of Warwick in collaboration with Jaguar Land Rover engineers have been able to freeze batteries with liquid nitrogen.

Bending an organic semiconductor can boost electrical flow

Slightly bending semiconductors made of organic materials can roughly double the speed of electricity flowing through them and could benefit next-generation electronics such as sensors and solar cells, according to Rutgers-led research.

Tracking power generation and use in the U.S. on an hourly basis

A team of researchers at Stanford University has found a way to track how much electricity is generated and used in the U.S. on an hourly basis. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group describes their method and how it can be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New software aims to make science more replicable

Every field in science and engineering employs highly specialized equipment: surface area analyzers, nanosizers, recording membrane osmometers. This equipment is often incredibly specific, designed for just a single function, but it's essential for performing accurate, replicable research. And without the ability to replicate the research of other scientists, the validity of science itself falls apart.

The government is hyping digitalized services, but ignoring a history of e-government failures

In politics, when you have little to show for your achievements, you can release a "roadmap" for what will supposedly be achieved in the future.

Machine-learning algorithm automatically classifies sleep stages of lab mice

Researchers at the University of Tsukuba have created a new artificial intelligence program for automatically classifying the sleep stages of mice that combines two popular machine learning methods. Dubbed MC-SleepNet, the algorithm achieved accuracy rates exceeding 96 percent and high robustness against noise in the biological signals. The use of this system for automatically annotating data can significantly assist sleep researchers when analyzing the results of their experiments.

Electric cars might not yet be green, but we should buy them anyway

Transforming the way we travel is an essential part of tackling the climate crisis. The transport sector contributes about 20% of global carbon emissions. In the UK the figure is 33%, and the country has made virtually no progress in reducing emissions from transport. In many countries, they're actually increasing.

Can anyone be completely anonymous?

Research published in the International Journal of Electronic Governance has investigated whether any of five "anonymous" social media applications are secure in that they do not allow a third party to see personal data or track the users.

China to target quarter of vehicle sales to be electric by 2025

China should adopt a plan that will see electric vehicles make up a quarter of all autos sold in the country in six years' time, the industry ministry said Tuesday, as the sector struggles with falling sales.

EU to relaunch push to regulate WhatsApp, Skype on privacy

The EU will relaunch its deadlocked effort to more closely regulate internet phone and message services such as WhatsApp, Skype and Messenger, a top bloc official said on Tuesday.

UN agency: Europe leads in readiness for online shopping

The U.N.'s trade and development agency estimates that Europe, led by the Netherlands, leads the world in readiness for online shopping.

Siting cell towers needs careful planning

No one can overengineer like an engineer. So introducing a little more caution into an existing engineering process is nothing much to ruffle feathers. A new paper published in Environmental Research offers insight on how to include simple precautionary approaches to siting cell towers.

Google co-founders step down as execs of parent Alphabet

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are stepping down from their roles within the parent company, Alphabet.

Video game maker to pay $10 million in gender bias case

The maker of popular video game League of Legends has agreed to pay $10 million to female employees to settle a broad gender discrimination case.

Apple's best games and apps of 2019 for iPhone: Picks pay homage to the past

The best games of 2019 are a throwback.

Pushing the boundaries of land-based rotor growth

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Sandia National Laboratories are searching for ways to maximize the advantages of large-scale rotors and their potential for increased energy generation. Their work as part of DOE's Big Adaptive Rotor (BAR) project aims to create the next generation of land-based wind turbines with 206-meter rotors, which will increase capacity factors by 10 percent or more over a typical land-based turbine.

Criticism mounts as 'peak' season for Amazon arrives

As Amazon ramps up to its holiday "peak," scrutiny and criticism of the company is becoming more strategic, widespread and coordinated.

Workers fired from Google plan federal labor complaint

Four workers fired from Google last week are planning to file a federal labor complaint against the company, claiming it unfairly retaliated against them for organizing workers around social causes.

Huawei to shift research from hostile US to Canada: founder

Chinese tech giant Huawei, facing US criminal charges and economic sanctions, is planning to relocate its telecommunications research from the United States to Canada, founder Ren Zhengfei said in an interview published Tuesday.

Co-combustion of wood and oil-shale reduces carbon emissions

Utilization of fossil fuels, which represents an increasing environmental risk, can be made more environmentally friendly by adding wood—as concluded based on the preliminary results of the year-long study carried out by thermal engineers of Tallinn University of Technology. In search of less polluting means of energy production, increasing the amount of biomass as a source of raw materials offers a good way to use fossil fuels and reduce emissions.

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25 years of PlayStation

Hello! I'm back and rested after a week off with family. My thanks to the whole team that took over the newsletter last week — plus there's one last set of Cyber Monday deals down below despite the fact that it is, in fact, no longer Monday.

As per usual for me, it will take me a little bit to get back into the groove of things, but I did want to make one tech observation from my trip. It will probably be obvious to a lot of people, but I found it illuminating. I'll drop it after the links.

Thankful that you've invited me into your inbox. :)

- Dieter

PlayStation turns 25

All this week, Andrew Webster is writing and has commissioned (and is writing) lots of great stories celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Sony Playstation. A couple are below, but keep an eye on the site today for several more. Our pals at Polygon also have this wonderful half-hour long video of war stories from the people who launched it in the first place.

How the PlayStation's DualShock shaped modern controllers

It would still take time for games and the industry to adapt to what Sony had started here, but the DualShock's basic inputs of four face buttons, a D-Pad, shoulder buttons, and two analog sticks would shortly become the standard for not just PlayStation games, but for basically all console video games.

Naughty Dog's president on how games changed since the first PlayStation: 'They're barely recognizable'

Nowhere is this discrepancy between modern games and early 3D more apparent than in an iconic scene in Uncharted 4. Partway through the game, series lead Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher plop down on a couch in their suburban home to play a video game. But not just any game: they pull out an original PlayStation and jump into some classic Crash Bandicoot action. The entirety of Crash, which was a blockbuster of its time, is available to play inside of a PS4 game. And Wells says it only took a single scripter to pull it off. "They're barely recognizable as the same product," he says.

Verge Deal of the day 

Some great Cyber Monday deals are still happening

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are both, technically, things of the past. Now, may I introduce you to Cyber Week? It's a relatively new thing that means you can find pretty good deals all of this week without competing with crowds. We'll be pulling them all together right here, so you can be rest assured that you won't miss out on anything big.

More from The Verge

T-Mobile launches 600MHz 5G across the US, but no one can use it until December 6th

One big question with T-Mobile's network is whether its 5G is more real than AT&T's fake "5Ge." On an objective "it uses different technology" basis, the answer seems to be "much more real." But on a "what speeds and/or new use cases does it actually enable this year?" basis, we don't know the answer yet. 

T-Mobile doesn't offer specifics on what kind of speeds you'll see on the new network, and the actual improvements will vary a lot by location. "In some places, 600 MHz 5G will be a lot faster than LTE. In others, customers won't see as much difference," a T-Mobile spokesperson tells The Verge.

Apple's rumored Mini-LED iPad and MacBook Pro could arrive in 2020

Siri, show me a good way for an analyst to knock the legs out from under sales of the just-released 16-inch MacBook Pro.

The new research note pins that down, predicting that Apple will release both an iPad Pro and a 16-inch MacBook Pro with Mini-LED screens as early as the end of next year.

Amazon is now offering quantum computing as a service

For now, it sounds like a pretty limited affair, where "you" will mean Amazon's corporate customers, and where "service" means the ability to experiment by running simulations on a set of existing quantum computers from partners D-Wave, IonQ, and Rigetti.

The 'Amazon effect' is flooding a struggling recycling system with cardboard

I don't think it's unreasonable to ask Amazon to do more to deal with this issue.

So the quality of cardboard being recycled today isn't what it used to be, and it's not nearly as valuable as it once was, thanks to China's more stringent demands on cleanliness. Cities across the US are still scrambling to figure out where to send all their cardboard and plastics. There aren't enough domestic paper mills yet to meet the demand, and the glut of recovered materials has led to a dramatic drop in the value of cardboard.

Disney won't share ratings for original Disney+ titles despite industry push to do so

Kerry, Schwarzenegger wage 'World War Zero' on climate change

TikTok prevented disabled users' videos from showing up in feeds

People are finally waking up to the censorship in TikTok. In this instance, the company claims it was a ham-fisted attempt to reduce bullying. It seems reasonable to grant the benefit of the doubt on this one, but overall I think the right stance to take towards moderation on this platform is one of skepticism and concern. But the memes are really good. So.

Smart speakers aren't ready for pre-school yet

It is fascinating to watch small kids interact with smart speakers. Over Thanksgiving, I watched them struggle to get Alexa to do the thing they wanted and get annoyed when it didn't work. But they got annoyed in the same way they got annoyed at me when I didn't understand their babble or thwarted their little terrible twos desires.

It made me realize that smart speakers infantilize adults too — we are struggling to figure out voice interfaces and make sense of the larger system behind them. It's tiring to not be understood, to have an arcane, seemingly-powerful and knowledgable Voice just not get what we are talking about.

There's a flip side, too. In the same way that talking to little kids can be exhausting if you aren't used to it (I am not), so too is talking to a smart speaker. We are very good an intuiting a child's capabilities very quickly and adjusting our expectations to match (and, hopefully, helping them to learn). We get so many signals beyond just voice to help guide our interactions.

We have no such relationship with the Google Assistant, Alexa, or Siri. We want to believe they're growing, getting smarter every day. But there's no way to see it and there's definitely no love the help smooth over the rough communications patches. The kid metaphor also isn't really a great idea, either: these are AIs built but the most powerful corporations on the planet right now, not recalcitrant toddlers.

Digital assistant speakers are the smartest dummies in our homes. When they aren't making us feel like kids ourselves, they amaze us with their flashes of knowledge — but at the end of the day we're unsure about whether they can really be trusted to know what the heck we're talking about. Or, you know, trusted with all our data in the first place.

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