Science X Newsletter Thursday, Oct 1

Dear ymilog,

Here is your customized Science X Newsletter for October 1, 2020:

Spotlight Stories Headlines

Einstein's description of gravity just got much harder to beat

Amazon study shows big conservation gains possible for imperilled freshwater ecosystems

Key control mechanism allows cells to form tissues and anatomical structures in the developing embryo

Ice discharge in the North Pacific set off series of climate events during last ice age

'Echo mapping' in faraway galaxies could measure vast cosmic distances

Nights warming faster than days across much of the planet

From San Diego to Italy, study suggests wisdom can protect against loneliness

Metal-ion breakthrough leads to new biomaterials

Very Large Telescope spots galaxies trapped in the web of a supermassive black hole

Ecological power storage battery made of vanillin

Timing the life of antimatter particles may lead to better cancer treatment

Climate: Iodic acid influences cloud formation at the North Pole

How harmful algae respond to rising water temperatures

New neuron type discovered only in primate brains

Earthquake forecasting clues unearthed in strange precariously balanced rocks

Physics news

Einstein's description of gravity just got much harder to beat

Einstein's theory of general relativity—the idea that gravity is matter warping spacetime—has withstood over 100 years of scrutiny and testing, including the newest test from the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, published today in the latest issue of Physical Review Letters.

Timing the life of antimatter particles may lead to better cancer treatment

Experts in Japan have devised a simple way to glean more detailed information out of standard medical imaging scans. A research team made up of atomic physicists and nuclear medicine experts at the University of Tokyo and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS) has designed a timer that can enable positron emission tomography (PET) scanners to detect the oxygen concentration of tissues throughout patients' bodies. This upgrade to PET scanners may lead to a future of better cancer treatment by quickly identifying parts of tumors with more aggressive cell growth.

What tiny surfing robots teach us about surface tension

Propelled by chemical changes in surface tension, microrobots surfing across fluid interfaces lead researchers to new ideas.

Detection of gravitational wave 'lensing' could be some way off

Gravitational wave scientists looking for evidence of "lensing," in which the faintest gravitational wave signals become amplified, are unlikely to make these detections in the near future according to new analysis by scientists at the University of Birmingham.

Record-breaking, floating laser resonator

Physical Review X recently reported on a new optical resonator from the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology that is unprecedented in resonance enhancement. Developed by graduate student Jacob Kher-Alden under the supervision of Professor Tal Carmon, the Technion-born resonator has record-breaking capabilities in resonance enhancement.

Tunable free-electron X-ray radiation from van der Waals materials

Technion researchers have developed accurate radiation sources that are expected to lead to breakthroughs in medical imaging and other areas. They have developed precise radiation sources that may replace the expensive and cumbersome facilities currently used for such tasks. The suggested apparatus produces controlled radiation with a narrow spectrum that can be tuned with high resolution, at a relatively low energy investment. The findings are likely to lead to breakthroughs in a variety of fields, including the analysis of chemicals and biological materials, medical imaging, X-ray equipment for security screening, and other uses of accurate X-ray sources.

Radar developed for rapid rescue of buried people

When someone is buried by an avalanche, earthquake or other disaster, a rapid rescue can make the difference between life and death. The Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR has developed a new kind of mobile radar device that can search hectare-sized areas quickly and thoroughly. The new technology combines greater mobility with accurate detection of vital signs.

Detector array demonstrates novel microwave readout

Over the years, SRON has developed increasingly sensitive Transition Edge Sensors (TES) for space missions such as SPICA and Athena. One of those TES detector arrays, developed as backup X-ray microcalorimeters for Athena, has now played a vital role to demonstrate a new readout technology developed at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) in Japan. This technology is called low-noise microwave SQUIDs multiplexed readout. The research results are published in Applied Physics Letters.

Astronomy and Space news

'Echo mapping' in faraway galaxies could measure vast cosmic distances

When you look up at the night sky, how do you know whether the specks of light that you see are bright and far away, or relatively faint and close by? One way to find out is to compare how much light the object actually emits with how bright it appears. The difference between its true luminosity and its apparent brightness reveals an object's distance from the observer.

Very Large Telescope spots galaxies trapped in the web of a supermassive black hole

With the help of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), astronomers have found six galaxies lying around a supermassive black hole when the Universe was less than a billion years old. This is the first time such a close grouping has been seen so soon after the Big Bang and the finding helps us better understand how supermassive black holes, one of which exists at the centre of our Milky Way, formed and grew to their enormous sizes so quickly. It supports the theory that black holes can grow rapidly within large, web-like structures which contain plenty of gas to fuel them.

A roadmap for science on the moon

Scientists at CU Boulder have laid out a roadmap for a decade of scientific research at the moon.

Hubble watches exploding star fade into oblivion

When a star unleashes as much energy in a matter of days as our Sun does in several billion years, you know it's not going to remain visible for long.

Potty training: NASA tests new $23M titanium space toilet

NASA's first new space potty in decades—a $23 million titanium toilet better suited for women—is getting a not-so-dry run at the International Space Station before eventually flying to the moon.

Recipe is different but Saturn's moon Titan has ingredients for life

Catherine Neish is counting the days until her space launch. While the Western planetary geologist isn't space-suiting up for her own interstellar voyage, she is playing a key role in an international mission—dispatching a robotic drone to Saturn's moon Titan—set to blast-off in 2027.

AI is helping scientists discover fresh craters on Mars

Sometime between March 2010 and May 2012, a meteor streaked across the Martian sky and broke into pieces, slamming into the planet's surface. The resulting craters were relatively small—just 13 feet (4 meters) in diameter. The smaller the features, the more difficult they are to spot using Mars orbiters. But in this case—and for the first time—scientists spotted them with a little extra help: artificial intelligence (AI).

Search for new worlds at home with NASA's Planet Patrol project

Help NASA find exoplanets, worlds beyond our solar system, through a newly launched website called Planet Patrol. This citizen science platform allows members of the public to collaborate with professional astronomers as they sort through a stockpile of star-studded images collected by NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

First tests for land­ing the Mar­tian Moons eX­plo­ration rover

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Martian Moons eXploration (MMX) mission will have a German-French rover on board when it is launched in 2024. The rover will land on the Martian moon Phobos and explore its surface for approximately three months. Initial landing tests are currently underway at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Landing and Mobility Test Facility (Lande- und Mobilitätstest Anlage; LAMA) in Bremen. Using a first preliminary development model, the engineers are determining how robust the design of the approximately 25-kilogram rover must be to withstand an impact on the moon's surface after a freefall of about 40 to 100 meters.

Image: Simulated satellite rendezvous

A camera closes in on a detailed model satellite, to simulate the extreme "guidance navigation and control" (GNC) challenge of rendezvousing with an uncooperative target, such as a derelict satellite or distant asteroid.

Technology news

Insects found to use natural wing oscillations to stabilize flight

A team of researchers from the University of California, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has found that insects use natural oscillations to stabilize their flight. In their study, published in the journal Science Robotics, the researchers used what they describe as "a type of calculus" (chronological calculus) to better understand the factors that are involved in keeping flapping winged insects aloft. Matěj Karásek, with Delft University of Technology has published a Focus piece in the same journal issue describing the work done by the team on this new effort.

New technique could lead to rewritable memory devices and low-power electronics

A research team led by Alex Zettl, senior faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division and professor of physics at UC Berkeley, has developed a new technique for fabricating tiny circuits from ultrathin materials for next-generation electronics, such as rewritable, low-power memory circuits. Their findings were reported in the journal Nature Electronics.

Hackers targeting companies that fake corporate responsibility

A new study suggests some hackers aren't just in it for the money but instead are motivated by their disappointment in a company's attempts to fake social responsibility.

Could an autonomous vehicle harm you?

Would you trust your life to an autonomous vehicle? Do you understand how it will respond in dangerous situations? Are you willing to get in without knowing the risks?

How machine learning helps scientists hunt for particles, wrangle floppy proteins and speed discovery

Machine learning is ubiquitous in science and technology these days. It outperforms traditional computational methods in many areas, for instance by vastly speeding up tedious processes and handling huge batches of data. At the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, machine learning is already opening new avenues to advance the lab's unique scientific facilities and research.

Google to pay $1 billion over 3 years for news content

Google will pay publishers $1 billion over the next three years for their content, the company's latest effort to defuse tensions over its dominance of the news industry.

Boeing to consolidate US 787 production in cost-saving move

Boeing will consolidate manufacturing of the 787 Dreamliner plane to one plant in the US, ending production of the wide-body jet in Washington state, the company announced Thursday.

Why Chromecast is the most interesting of Google's new products

For the past several years, two of the hottest products during the holidays have been low-cost streaming devices from Amazon and Roku, often discounted down to around $25 for end of the year sales.

Virus-hit Rolls-Royce boosts finances with £5.0bn plan

British aerospace giant Rolls-Royce, facing plunging demand as the coronavirus pandemic sparks an air transport crisis, launched plans Thursday to shore up its finances by up to £5.0 billion ($6.4 billion, 5.5 billion euros).

AFP launches fact-checking programme with TikTok

AFP announced Thursday the launch of a new fact-checking initiative with TikTok to combat the spread of misinformation over the short-form viral video app.

Layoffs loom for beleaguered US airline industry

Workers from the beleaguered US airline industry were making a last-ditch public appeal this week to coax more money from Capitol Hill power brokers to save their jobs.

'Hardware failure' halts trade all day for Tokyo stock markets

Trade on Tokyo's stock markets, which are among the world's biggest, was halted for the entire day Thursday after the system was hit by one of the worst glitches in its history.

Turkey begins life under strict social media rules

Turkey on Thursday entered a new era of tight social media restrictions which threaten to erase the local presence of Facebook and Twitter should they fail to take down contentious posts.

German privacy watchdog fines H&M $41M for spying on workers

A German privacy watchdog said Thursday that it is fining clothing retailer H&M 35.3 million euros ($41 million) after the company was found to have spied on some of its employees in Germany.

New Ford CEO replaces CFO, pledges stronger profit margins

On his first day in Ford's top job, CEO Jim Farley is replacing the company's chief financial officer and announcing other structural and management changes.

Flexible power consumption for production facilities

The volatile output of electricity from wind farms and photovoltaic plants can pose a real headache for energy companies. This is because of the need to maintain a stable supply of power at all times, even when such facilities are generating little or no electricity. Part of the solution to this problem is to adapt the power consumption of production plants to the fluctuating output from wind and solar generation. Researchers from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft have now piloted this innovative concept in the Augsburg region. The results have been encouraging so far: the team has been able to show that energy-adaptive production—adapting industry's consumption of power to the actual generating capacity—not only works in practice but also reduces CO2 emissions.

Detecting disruptions in manufacturing operations early

Automated assembly operations are a key to success. They enable stable manufacturing, high precision manufacturing and greater responsiveness to market demands. The Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF's innovative digital instrumentation and information networks are increasing the transparency of aircraft manufacturer Airbus's manufacturing operations and optimizing collaboration between humans and machines.

Facebook bans ads that seek to delegitimize the election or make false claims about voting

Facebook will ban any ads that seek to delegitimize the outcome of the election, the company said Wednesday.

Facebook, Twitter flounder in QAnon crackdown

Facebook and Twitter promised to stop encouraging the growth of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon, which fashions President Donald Trump as a secret warrior against a supposed child-trafficking ring run by celebrities and government officials, after it reached an audience of millions on their platforms this year.

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▼ The Pixel 5 and 4A 5G play it safe

Google's fall hardware presentation was a slickly-produced 30-minute affair with four products, as expected. You can experience it with our liveblog here or catch up on the biggest announcements here. Outside of some very neat software tricks, there were no big surprises.

But it turns out that we didn't know every single detail there was to know about the Pixel 5 and the Pixel 4A 5G. And with every new small detail it became clear that Google has decided to play it extremely safe with these phones. Every decision it made was about bringing costs down without compromising the fundamentals.

More after the links

- Dieter

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Get caught up

┏ The 7 biggest announcements from Google's Pixel 5 event.

┏ Live blog: Google's Pixel 5, 4A 5G, Chromecast, and Nest speaker event.

┏ Google's Pixel 5 and Chromecast event: all of the latest news.

Pixel 5 and 4A 5G

┏ Google announces the Pixel 5 for $699.

┏ Google announces Pixel 4A 5G with larger 6.2-inch display for $499.

┏ Google says the Pixel's Soli radar and Motion Sense will return.

┏ Verizon has an exclusive Pixel 4A 5G that's $100 more expensive.

┏ Here's how the new Pixel 5 compares with the Pixel 4A 5G and Pixel 4A.

Chromecast with Google TV

┏ Google Chromecast (2020) review: reinvented — and now with a remote.

┏ Google announces new Chromecast with the new Google TV interface.

┏ Google Play Movies & TV is now Google TV but it's not the same Google TV that runs on Android TV on the new Chromecast, it's an app.

┏ The new Chromecast with Google TV won't officially support Stadia at launch.

┏ Chromecast Ultra is dead, long live Chromecast Ultra (and this new Ethernet dongle).

Nest Audio, plus new software

┏ Google's new Nest Audio smart speaker is official, costs $99.99.

┏ Improved Google Photos editor is rolling out now on Android.

┏ Google's Recorder app is getting an audio editing feature.

┏ Google's new 'Hold for Me' feature saves you from elevator music.

The Pixel 5 and 4A 5G play it safe

"What the world doesn't seem like it needs right now is another $1,000 phone," hardware boss Rick Osterloh told a small group of reporters after the event. I asked him directly if these phones were designed to be low cost specifically with the pandemic in mind, and he said that they were of course planned out before this year but that Google had been anticipating an economic downturn this year.

(Interestingly, Samsung told me that its Galaxy S20 FE was developed this year as the pandemic began. And the Galaxy S20 FE has better specs than the Pixel 5 almost across the board while costing the same amount. Of course, both need full reviews before we really make comparisons. I'm working on the S20 FE now; let me know if you have questions.)

Many of the decisions Google made were in service of keeping the cost down. It excised the Pixel Neural Core processor used for photo processing. It went back to a fingerprint sensor instead of face unlock. It chose to avoid the flashiest phone features like ultra-high resolution displays, three camera arrays, curved screens, and even the most powerful processor available.

The new Pixels aren't just playing it safe in terms of pricing for a bad economy; Google is also being quite conservative in their design. Perhaps the most wow-inducing design feature we heard about is that the Pixel 5 can do wireless charging despite having an all-aluminum body. The trick is that there's a hole milled out in the back and then painted over with plastic. On the Pixel 5 especially, there are innumerable examples of Google sticking to the tried and true.

It kept the same camera sensor Google has been using for years. Google contends that's because it's still the most ideal sensor for its algorithms. I'll admit one surprise for me today is that Google announced several new camera software features that take advantage of those algorithms. I'll be especially curious to see if Google can live up to its own video claims.

Bottom line, though, is that Google is sticking to what it knows with the camera. While other manufacturers are experimenting with higher megapixels and larger sensors, Google's decision to use the same one year over year is risk-averse in the extreme.

There is a new camera, though, an ultrawide sensor replacing the Pixel 4's telephoto. That's the right choice, in my opinion — Google can get something good enough for telephoto in software with its super res zoom capability, but as a PM told me yesterday you can't use pixels that aren't captured by a sensor in the first place. It's still a conservative move, though! Every other phone out there has seen fit to include one, and instead of swimming against that tide Google is going with the flow.

Going back to a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is a different kind of conservatism. In addition to being cheaper, it's also simply more reliable and faster. I have been using in-screen fingerprint sensors for some time now, but I have to admit they're still not as quick and predictable as a simple capacitive sensor.

All these ways that Google chose to play it safe aren't just justifiable, they may end up being smart. That doesn't mean that these Pixels won't face a rough road trying to compete with Samsung and OnePlus — they will. And there again, I think Google knows it. Nikkei Asia is reporting that Google may only produce 800,000 units of the Pixel 5.

Finally, there's 5G. Google's line was that it would "put the G in 5G" and after I recovered from my full-body cringe, I realized it was yet another example of playing it safe. And not in a good way, this time.

Follow me through some observations and then see if you make the same leap I do. It's obvious that US carriers aren't going to give any help to a non-5G phone. It's also obvious that the only US carrier that has really given the Pixel the time of day is Verizon. And Verizon's 5G network is still overly dependent on the mmWave flavor of 5G that only works in a few spots in big cities. And supporting mmWave in a phone is more expensive than simply doing sub-6.

The Pixel 5 costs $699 and there's one model of it for all carriers. The Pixel 4A is $499, but the Verizon version of it with mmWave costs $100 more. So it stands to reason that the Pixel 5 is more expensive than it could have been without mmWave.

But including it was the safe bet — even if it looks like a mistake. It simplifies the product line, for one thing, and it likely serves as a concession to Verizon. And even though the Pixel is more broadly available these days, Verizon really is the carrier Google can't afford to offend.

As with unit sales, these carrier politics shouldn't bother you except insofar as they affect the quality or price of the product — and we'll get there when we review it. Right now, though, I'm just looking at all the ways that Google chose to play it safe with these new Pixel phones and trying to think through what it could mean.

As I speculated yesterday, it could mean that these Pixels have been tasked with holding down the fort while next year's Pixels go far afield into new technologies.

Here's another thing it could mean: good phones! A lot of people — maybe even most people — don't want their phones to be showcases for bleeding-edge technology. They want something reliable and trustworthy at a reasonable price. It may be that by sticking with so many safe components, the new Pixels could be more popular than even Google seems to expect.

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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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