First giant planet discovered orbiting the remains of a dead star – CNET

Hubble Space Telescope photo of dozens of stars, including white dwarfs.

Hidden within this Hubble Space Telescope images are the burnt-out husks of dead stars known as white dwarfs (they aren't the shiny ones)

NASA/H. Richter

Around 80 light-years from Earth lies the white dwarf WD 1856, a dead star that entered the final stages of its life around 6 billion years ago. This slow death is typically quite lonely. In the process of dying, some stars will drastically expand, becoming a huge "red giant," like Betelgeuse, and engulfing any of the planets orbiting close by. Eventually, they use up all their fuel and collapse back into white dwarfs, having destroyed everything in their wake.

Not so for WD 1856. For the first time, astronomers have detected a giant planet, about the size of Jupiter, orbiting the dead star. They've dubbed it WD 1856 b and it's a surprising find -- it avoided destruction and demonstrates dead stars could still host planets with the right conditions for life.

The study, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, used data obtained by NASA's planet-hunting TESS satellite and a suite of ground-based telescopes to examine WD 1856 for potential exoplanets. TESS, which examines stars for small dips in brightness signifying potential planets, first looked at the star across July and August 2019. A huge reduction in brightness was seen when the team looked at WD 1856.

Astronomers have recently begun to grapple with the idea these dead stars may still host a number of planets. In December, researchers detected a planet that was slowly being devoured by a white dwarf about 1,500 light-years away. However, that detection was based on light being emitted by a disk of debris and gas surrounding the star, which the researchers suggest must have been stripped from a Neptune-like planet. 

The discovery published in Nature today is different because it records a direct detection of the planet orbiting in front of its host star, which has not previously been achieved for a white dwarf.

Every time the Jupiter-size planet transits in front of WD 1856, as seen from Earth, the light from the star drops away by almost half. The process is incredibly brief, however, because the planet completes one full orbit every 1.4 days. The dip in brightness lasts for just eight minutes and the planet is about 20 times closer to its star than Mercury is to our sun. 

By using data collected by ground-based telescopes, the team was also able to get an estimate for how massive the planet is. Infrared data from the dearly departed Spitzer Space Telescope suggests it's probably 14 times more massive as Jupiter. 

But if it's so close to its star, how did WD 1856 b survive the expansion phase? The team gave two possible explanations.

When its host star became a red giant, it may have disturbed the planets in its system, causing their orbits to go askew. The disordered cosmic dance may have helped fling a planetary body like WD 1856 b in toward the star, where it has been circling ever since. Because it's such an elderly white dwarf, that also gives planets plenty of time to sidle up close. Potentially, it could mean there are other planets orbiting the white dwarf, too. 

Less likely, the researchers say, is the idea the star was able to strip away some outer layers and survive during the expansion phase. However, they conclude our current theories on this process most likely suggest it was not formed in such a manner.

See also: These telescopes work with your phone to show exactly what's in the sky

Future observations, the team writes, should be able to confirm whether or not WD 1856 b really is a planet or if it's a failed star known as a "brown dwarf." They point to the upcoming, but long-delayed, James Webb Telescope and the Gemini Observatory as keys to understanding WD 1856 b better. And, of course, if there are planets, then they may be able to host life.

"There are people who now are looking for transiting planets around white dwarfs that could be potentially habitable," said Ian Crossfield, in a press release. "It'd be a pretty weird system, and you'd have to think about how the planets actually survived all that time."

Of course, if we can wait a few billion years, our own solar system's fate will give us front-row seats to the white dwarf afterparty. When our sun begins to die, it will swell to a size that extends beyond the orbit of Mars. It will be truly massive. All four of the solar system's inner planets will be incinerated in the expansion until, like WD 1856, it runs out of fuel and collapses back to a cool, white dwarf. Will the outer planets, like Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune be flung closer in the carnage? I'm certain we won't be around to find out.

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars review: classic Mario, but not like you remember – CNET

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Super Mario Galaxy, but not as you remember. 

Nintendo

I have never lived on a planet without Mario.

The star of the Super Mario series turns 35 this year. I am 31. 

That makes him -- and the dozens of Super Mario games he stars in -- convenient checkpoints for my life. When I was 5 years old, I pissed my pants playing Super Mario World. Super Mario 64 was shared between my brother and an unexpected new challenger vying for valuable play time: a step-brother. Super Mario Sunshine, on the GameCube, was something I played when my friends couldn't come over after school for rounds of Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Mario is so persistent across my 31 years that I have, worryingly, dreamed of his moustache on other people's faces.

On Friday, Nintendo is releasing a new Super Mario game that's not really a new Super Mario game at all: Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The collection, for the Nintendo Switch, features three of the most lauded 3D Mario titles of all time. Our sister site, GameSpot, reviewed them all favorably when they were first released. Super Mario 64 got a 9.4 in 1996, Super Mario Sunshine, the black sheep of 3D Mario games, got an 8 in 2002. Super Mario Galaxy, for the Nintendo Wii, received a 9.5 in 2007.

Those kinds of scores are why there's so much hype around the collection. And I get why people are excited to play All-Stars, even if it doesn't include Galaxy 2. Alone, they are a trio of great video games. Impeccably designed. Highlights of their generations. They mark important milestones in Mario's 3D life. And my life.

But here, in the cold light of 2020, they are simply an exercise in memory. 

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These are good games from a long time ago. 

Nintendo

Memories are fickle things. They flicker to life, then disappear before you can fully grasp them. There's a tendency for the best parts of video games like Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Sunshine to ossify in your mind and the worst parts to melt away. Sometimes you forget about a thing. Eventually, you forget that you forgot about the thing.

All-Stars is a nostalgia box you rummage around in for a few hours, trying to pull out the ephemeral feelings locked deep within your lizard brain. During a pandemic, it seems like this is "the game we need right now." But when you put the controller down, you're confronted with a harsh reality: your memory of these games is the best thing about them.

Perfect for the Switch

Galaxy is nowhere near as good as I remember. In fact, in 2020, I would argue it's not a very good game. Before 3D All-Stars was released, I read up on some of the discourse around Galaxy from 2007. In my head, it's an absolute masterclass. Did my memory play tricks on me here? Or have I changed?

And then there's the awkward and clumsy Sunshine, which has none of the traits that made Super Mario 64 great and is far too absorbed in being different that it loses sight of what really makes Mario… Mario. That sliding long jump in Super Mario 64? Fun. Sticky. Neat. It isn't even in Sunshine, but your brain sure as hell will try it anyway.

I'm not going to relitigate all the arguments for and against each title here. I do, however, want to make some technical notes. 

When you get through the loading screen, the game drops you in a simple menu where the three titles are displayed alongside the three soundtracks. The presentation is drab. It gives a short overview of the title, the year it was released and… that's it. Click A to start.

All three games provide slight graphical enhancements over their originals. If you can recall playing those games, All-Stars will feel like putting on a pair of prescription glasses. Everything seems a little sharper, a little less blurry, a little more magnified. Colours pop a little more. 

But the oldest of the lot, SM64, comes from the Age of CRT TVs. It's played in a box with nice thick bezels around each edge. It's aged poorly. 

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Are you really excited to play Super Mario 64 again?

Nintendo

And there are control-related hiccups, too. Movements and button presses lost in translation. As beautiful as Sunshine is to look at (Delfino Plaza is so bright and sunny in All-Stars), the camera and the hovering just do not serve you well with Joy Con, no matter how much they've been "optimized." 

The motion controls of the Wii were a core element of the gameplay in Galaxy. You used the Wiimote to perform a spin or grab "Pull stars" or jump between planets. It feels like a drag here. Adding in touchscreen functionality in handheld mode is super unwieldy. And I know it's probably not fair, but it just feels wrong to touch the screen with your bare hands in 2020 (before adjusting your face mask and rubbing hand sanitizer across the webbing between each digit).

It's these little issues that really get at the core of what this collection is about. Whether you enjoyed the originals or not, the collection torches the Perfect for the Switch meme. These Mario games aren't perfect for the Switch. They are products of their time, ripped from the past and dropped into the present with little thought. 

The perfect Mario game for the Switch already exists. It's called Super Mario Odyssey and it's a freakin' masterpiece

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Super Mario Odyssey is the best one.

GameSpot

Money printer

Nintendo is going to make a lot of money from Super Mario 3D All-Stars. It's already the second most popular game on Amazon for 2020, trailing only Animal Crossing. It's a guaranteed success. And Nintendo have upped the ante a little by making this collection a limited release. You can't buy it after March 2021. Why? Well, there's no real explanation. With the revelations prior to release these games are all being emulated, it's almost certain Nintendo has other plans to distribute these games to the Switch in the future.

What's fascinating about this collection is just how obvious Nintendo's play is here. The marketing materials are a laundry list of empty platitudes. Nintendo, the Japanese gaming giant renowned for being fiercely protective of its IP, is happy to just push out a Mario collection with slightly smoother polygons and call it a day. It's happy to make the package feel like a commodity you won't be able to get in the future. These games are supposed to be a portal you take to The Good Old Days.

But the act of actually playing these games feels like a chore. The high comes when you first boot them up. I remember this. A dorky smile, a few "wahoos" and then… nothing. The high is gone. 

Am I just getting old? Maybe. Are these games really not for me anymore? That's a possibility, too. Has 2020 ground my capacity for joy down to a fine dust and scattered it into the wind? Well, yes, but I am not sure how relevant that is here. I'll have to get back to you in 2021.

What frustrates me even more is Me. The human being that loves these video games and grew up with these video games. When I think back, I can't recall the frustration of Galaxy's spin attack or its nonsensical hub world. Super Mario Sunshine didn't feel so unwieldy or decidedly anti-Mario. Super Mario 64? In my head, it's pure joy. I can't help but chase these memories. I'll probably even buy Super Mario 64 on my Neuralink Augmented Reality Brain Chip in 2034 for the low, low price of $69.99. 

Because I haven't lived on a planet without Mario. And as slipshod as Super Mario 3D All-Stars is, I'm not sure I want to. 

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Wildfires in Western US show we can’t continue to ignore climate change – CNET

G'day, America.

I know this isn't a great time. The pandemic has been devastating, to say the least, and now huge blazes are tearing across the West, with thousands of homes destroyed and dozens of lives lost. This torrid year marches on, as horrifying as it is tragic.

For Australians, like myself, the scenes from California, Oregon and Washington are eerily familiar. There's a numbing sameness to it all. As images of Blade Runner San Francisco trickle across our social media feeds, it seems eerily familiar. We've been there, we say.

In December last year, Australia was on fire. Our bushfire season was in full swing and catastrophic blazes were burning across the country. Scientists had predicted the knock-on effects of climate change would result in unprecedented fires. We knew it was coming and yet, as blazes whipped over mountainsides, bore down on townships and left charred carcasses of livestock piled along the side of country roads, there was little we could do but adapt.

The dangers of bushfire season exist perpetually in Australian minds; memories of devastation in years gone by are tucked away in the dark corners of our consciousness. But during the 2019-2020 bushfire season in Australia, they violently stirred.

Our daily lives were changing. The climate emergency was writ large overhead. The sky became hazy, then sepia, then blood red. Smoke became our new normal. We added a new routine, thrice daily: Check the Air Quality Index to see how bad the particle pollution was for the day. Moving between home and the office, your lungs filled with smoke. Across the ditch, in New Zealand, smoke from the fires turned glaciers brown. Wildlife was decimated -- likely more than a billion animals perished, according to some estimates.

It was the first time in my life that I could really see and feel the effects of climate change. I'm sure that many of those on the West Coast right now feel the same way.

We've been there, we say, as we tighten our N95 masks around our ears.

I don't need a crystal ball to tell you what happens next: Blame is shifted, facts are obscured, doubt is merchandised. A parallel universe is created where climate change plays no role in the havoc caused by wildfires, a universe where politicians can bury their head in the sand and ignore the reality of the situation. I don't need a crystal ball, because this is exactly how it played out in Australia.

In Australia, our leaders refused to discuss climate change. When quizzed about the issue at a briefing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison waved the question away. "There is a time and a place to debate controversial issues and important issues, right now it's important to focus on the needs of Australians who need our help," he said. His former deputy claimed the sun's magnetic field was responsible for the blazes. His current deputy said only "raving inner-city lunatics" were concerned with climate change.

Science was constantly undermined by misinformation, disinformation or outright apathy. The prime minister claimed there was no scientific evidence linking the bushfires with carbon emissions and climate change. There is bountiful evidence. In the US, President Donald Trump -- who has been criticized for being too silent on the western wildfires -- hasn't directly dismissed climate change, but has blamed poor forest management as a reason for the conflagrations.

We've been there.

Down here, we spent an inordinate amount of time debating who started the fires and why they burnt out of control. Left-wing activists and "greenies" were erroneously accused of deliberately lighting the blazes and preventing hazard reduction burns that would have stopped them from growing to such an immense scale. As the inferno continued to torch entire towns, media organizations, like Richard Murdoch's NewsCorp, played down the role of climate change and ramped up the arson talk.

There is no evidence any of this was true, but the rumors persisted, touted by some of the country's leading politicians and coordinated by bots on social media.

We're already seeing similar campaigns against political groups in the US. On Friday, the FBI in Portland issued a statement it had received reports that "extremists" were responsible for setting wildfires in Oregon. Its investigation showed the reports to be untrue.

We've been there, too.

No one claimed climate change started the fires Australia experienced in January. They didn't start the Amazon fires of 2019 or the zombie fires of the Arctic's recently completed fire season. They didn't start the US wildfires, either. But climate scientists have demonstrated, time and again, how a warming planet contributes to worsening weather conditions, increasing the likelihood of more devastating fire seasons. In places like Oregon, fires are burning where they don't usually burn.

Yes, we've been there.

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The harbour bridge, shrouded in haze.

Getty/Bloomberg

I'm encouraged by some of the discussion across the Pacific. In California, where the fires have burned more land than ever before, Governor Gavin Newsom has not minced words.

"The debate is over around climate change," he said during a press conference on Sept. 11., backed by charred trees and a ground covered in gray ash. And he's right. There's no longer time to debate. You debate which Netflix show you should watch tonight or what you should cook for dinner or which school you should pick for your kids. You don't debate whether climate change is real. You can't debate something when all of the evidence points in one direction.

You simply can't debate something when an international committee synthesizes all of the scientific evidence from across the globe over decades and concludes "warming of the climate system is unequivocal." Not heeding these words, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is partly why Australia was caught on the backfoot when the infernos hit.

In January, the Australian public rallied. There was outrage. Protests around the country called for the prime minister to resign. They demanded immediate changes to climate policies and extra funding for firefighters. But change hasn't come. The political pressure dissipated.

Australia bounced from one crisis to the other, from fires to viruses, and entered an economic recession, the first in nearly 30 years. It was hard to keep the pressure up by marching in the streets. It still is. But as a "green recovery" from COVID-19 has been pushed across the world, by a diverse range of governments, Australia has taken a different tact. It wants to use natural gas, a fossil fuel, to regrow its economy. Scientists aren't convinced this will be at all good for the environment, noting gas is the fastest-growing source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

When conflagrations bore down on rural communities we saw the consequences of ignorance, the devastation of doing nothing. Towns levelled. Lives lost. We had a chance to align climate and energy policy and reduce carbon emissions going forward, to alleviate some of the ruin we are set to face in the coming decades. Australia's 2020 fire season has just begun. Despite all the evidence, despite the countryside turning black, Australia continues to move slowly in combating climate change.

After the fires are extinguished across the western US, attention will shift to the future. Climate change can't be waved away. It can't become a political football. It can't be ignored. There is a small window of opportunity to get aggressive, set carbon reduction targets, enact legislation that addresses the crisis and safeguards against ever more destructive infernos and extreme weather events.

We've been there and we didn't. You must.

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Astronomers find no signs of alien tech after scanning over 10 million stars – CNET

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Vela C, a massive part of the Vela complex, where the new study was searching for extraterrestrial life.

ESA/PACS & SPIRE Consortia/T. Hill/F. Motte/Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay/CEA/IRFU/CNRS/INSU/Uni. Paris Diderot/HOBYS Key Programme Consortium

If you have "discover an alien civilization" on your 2020 bingo card, you're going to have to wait a little longer to cross it off. A new large-scale survey of the sky looked into the dark forest of the cosmos, examining over 10 million stars, but failed to turn up any evidence of alien technologies. 

The study, published in Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia on Monday, details a search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) using the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), a collection of 4096 antennas planted in the red soil of Western Australia that detects radio signals from space. "They are little spider-like antennas that sit on the ground," explains Chenoa Tremblay, co-author on the study and astrophysicist with CSIRO, an Australian government scientific research organization. 

Tremblay and co-author Stephen Tingay used the MWA to listen out for "technosignatures," or evidence of alien technology, in a portion of the sky around the Vela constellation. Tremblay explains this region is scientifically interesting because a large number of stars have exploded and died, creating ideal conditions for new stars to form. The search for extraterrestrial life "piggy-backs" on other work studying this region to understand the life cycle of stars.

But how can you tell a radio signal from space is coming from an alien civilization? "Think of a car alarm when you leave your lights on, where there are a series of equally spaced 'ping' sounds," Tremblay says. The survey looks for a repeating ping that may be escaping noise from a planet or "a purpose built signal."

After listening to the Vela region for 17 hours, no unknown signals were detected. While the survey was able to capture over 10.3 million stellar sources and contained six known exoplanets (likely many more exist in the region), the team notes it was like trying to find something in an ocean, but only studying "a volume of water equivalent to a large backyard swimming pool."

And there's another big caveat.

"Looking for technosignatures is assuming that the civilisation have technology similar to our own," says Tremblay.  

Intelligent life may not have developed the ability to communicate via radio signals, she notes. Part of her work also examines where simple molecules required for life come from and how we might be able to detect them. If we can find signals of these molecules, it may signal alien life -- just not the kind we're used to in Hollywood blockbusters.

A deeper look at the Galactic Center may be on the cards, a region of space the team has examined before. Because the search for life is performed in conjunction with other science experiments, Tremblay says "where we go next will depend on the other science."

And that's an encouraging sign for SETI. It may be like looking for a single leaf in a dark forest, but by doing this work in conjunction with other science and and astrophysical investigations, the cosmos is slowly revealed to us. 

On Sept. 2, researchers published a "breakthrough" which could help narrow the search for intelligent life in our home galaxy, the Milky Way. Astronomers, from the University of Manchestor and the Breakthrough Listen collaboration, reanalyzed data and placed new constraints on radio transmissions coming from within the Milky Way. The new constraints helps us to more clearly pinpoint where we should be listening: The new data shows less than 0.04% of star systems would be able to host an alien civilization with technology we could detect.

And life may have even existed closer to home. NASA's Perseverance rover and China's Tianwen-1 mission are both currently en route to Mars with the capability of searching for life on the red planet. They are expected to reach Mars by February 2021.

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China’s secretive ‘space plane’ makes successful return to Earth – CNET

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China's reusable experimental spacecraft, rumored to be a space plane like the above, spent two days in orbit, according to Chinese state-run media outlets.

ChinaScience/Twitter

China's "reusable experimental spacecraft" has successfully returned to Earth after spending two days in low-Earth orbit. The secretive mission released an unknown object during its time in space and marks an "important breakthrough" in the country's reusable spacecraft research program, according to Chinese state-run Xinhua media outlet.

The spacecraft launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Friday, atop a Long March 2F rocket. It is believed to be a space plane similar to the US Air Force X-37B but no images of the launch or return have been released. The veil of secrecy have led some space-watchers to suggest it could be a military space plane.

On Monday, the People's Daily Science account on Twitter posted a brusque update, echoing the sentiments published by Xinhua. No details of the landing time or site have been released.

According to Andrew Jones, a journalist covering China's space program, suggest further flights are expected to follow the initial test launch and, quoting Chen Hongbo, an official with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, suggests the new vehicle may be able to fly "more than 20 times."   

The reusable space plane is believed to be more Space Shuttle than SpaceX. It launches vertically but lands horizontally, coasting onto a runway during its return to Earth. Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and other internet sleuths suggest the experimental spacecraft may have landed at an airbase in the Taklamakan desert in northwest China.

Monday also saw China launch a Long March 4B rocket from the Taiyun Satellite Launch Center in northern China. The rocket's first stage booster came crashing back to Earth shortly after launch, with harrowing footage uploaded to Chinese social media site Weibo of the booster exploding near a school. 

Launches you may be familiar with in the US, such as those conducted by SpaceX and NASA, take place close to the coast, but China often launches from inland sites, resulting in debris falling back to Earth over populated areas which sometimes have to be evacuated prior to launch.

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Into The Breach, one of 2018’s best games, is free on the Epic Store – CNET

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Into The Breach is free until Sept. 10 on the Epic Games Store.

Subset Games

Remember 2018? Good year for games. Great year, even. 

God of War, Celeste, Red Dead Redemption 2, Super Smash Bros., Return of the Obra Dinn. Good times.

But the best game of 2018* was Into the Breach, a turn-based strategy title from Subset Games about taking control of a trio of mechs to repel an alien race known as the Vek. You can now get the game for free from the Epic Games Store. The promotion lasts until Sept. 10. 

Into the Breach feels very much like a board game and it plays so well. I'd argue it's best played on the Switch, but look -- it's free. Zero dollars. And if you haven't played it, you absolutely should. 

Every level of Into The Breach features an eight-by-eight grid. Each run you take control of three mechs, each with different abilities in an attempt to quash all the enemies (or simply survive until you ward them off). Each playthrough requires you to formulate strategies based on your team and, when it's all said and done, you do it again. While each run can be completed in short time, it's the variability of the mechs and the ability to travel back in time when you make a mistake that really sells it.

I don't know why you're still reading. It's free. It's great. You should grab it.

*wait, it didn't even make our list of Best Video Games of 2018? This is criminal. Who do I have to talk to about this?

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No, Microsoft has not made 825,000 carbon-neutral Xbox Series X consoles – CNET

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In September last year, as part of the United Nations' Playing for the Planet Initiative, Microsoft committed to producing 825,000 Xbox carbon-neutral Xbox consoles. An admirable goal and a good first step for the company's gaming arm, with a new, more powerful console on the horizon

Microsoft has been particularly proactive in the climate change space with extensive sustainability reports detailing its commitment to reducing carbon emissions. Its Xbox console commitment would see carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates used to save about 616,000 tons of carbon dioxide. A huge amount, equivalent to around 130,000 cars on the road for a year. 

But on Monday, a user started a thread on the ResetEra forums linking to a Microsoft Story Lab project about the company's sustainability initiatives. The thread, which began to pick up steam on Monday, suggested Xbox had produced 825,000 carbon-neutral Series X consoles. This is not true and it comes back to Microsoft's Story Lab project.

The project includes a slide featuring an image of the Xbox Series X, next to a claim "Xbox has created the world's first carbon-neutral gaming console -- actually, 825,000 of them." 

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The page describing "the world's first carbon-neutral gaming console" is misleading.

Microsoft

But the statement, and the image used to represent it, are misleading. 

Xbox has created 825,000 "carbon-neutral" Xbox consoles, but this has nothing to do with the Xbox Series X. A Microsoft spokesperson told CNET the pilot program "was conducted with Xbox One X consoles." 

So why promote this initiative with the Series X? Was it just a marketing faux pas? Was it deliberate? We can't say. I asked Microsoft for an explanation but did not receive a response. Now, after CNET and other raised concerns, Microsoft has removed the Xbox Series X from the image on its website.

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Screencap by CNET

But why does it even matter? We are currently in the dark about the carbon emissions generated by the Xbox Series X. Microsoft does release "Eco Profiles" for its consumer devices, including the Xbox, providing a figure for the estimated emissions from manufacturing, energy usage, recycling and more. A spokesperson for Microsoft told CNET in March the Eco Profile assessment for the Series X has not been performed, because the system's final hardware and software were "still in development." We have no information about the Series X footprint.

And that's a concern. For the climate-conscious consumer, it becomes impossible to discern how consoles are contributing (or not) to the climate crisis. Microsoft has committed to some ambitious climate goals as a company -- like reversing their entire carbon emissions output by 2050 -- but on the gaming side of the coin, it has been particularly quiet. With only two months until release, it would be good to know how the next generation fairs, without all the smoke and mirrors.

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SpaceX Starlink mega-constellation grows again with latest Falcon 9 launch – CNET

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A Falcon 9 blasts off on Aug. 30.

SpaceX

Elon Musk's brain-computer company has been getting a lot of attention, but his spaceflight company also pulled off two launches this week, including another SpaceX Starlink launch Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida. 

Before some pesky weather hit Sunday, SpaceX had planned to attempt this launch within nine hours of another SpaceX mission to send an Argentinean Saocom satellite to orbit. The latter made it off the pad and returned in spectacular fashion, but the Starlink launch was postponed. 

It finally blasted off at 5:46 a.m. PT (8:46 a.m. ET) from Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center, sending 60 more Starlink broadband satellites to space.

The link to the video feed is embedded below. 

The Falcon 9 rocket booster being used for the launch previously flew on June 30, delivering a US Space Force satellite to orbit. It landed for a second time on a SpaceX droneship in the Atlantic about nine minutes after liftoff Thursday.

This is the 11th operational flight for the Starlink satellite megaconstellation, which is designed to provide internet across the planet. Each Starlink launch features a batch of around 60 satellites and there are over 600 in orbit.  

Starlink has caused significant pain for astronomers, who say the satellites are bright enough to disturb their imaging of the cosmos. SpaceX is working with the astronomical community to minimize interference, but there's a long way to go. The satellites are now being launched with "sunvisors" which make them less reflective, but at a recent satellite conference in the US, there was only one suggestion to eliminate the impact entirely: launch fewer or no LEO satellites. 

SpaceX is planning two more Starlink missions for the month of September.

Now playing: Watch this: Starlink 11 Launches + (Falcon 9 droneship landing)

9:59

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Space calendar 2020: Rocket launches, meteor showers, SpaceX and more – CNET

We're well past the halfway mark of 2020 and, though its easy to look outside and immediately want to draw the blinds, there are plenty of reasons to be positive. Especially if you turn your eyes to the sky. There have been a ton of achievements in space science, including the launch of three Mars missions from across the globe and the very first hop of the SpaceX Starship SN5 prototype.

The SpaceX and NASA crewed demo mission took astronauts to the International Space Station, the first time a commercial company has done so. Astronomers solved the universe's missing matter problem with strange signals from the other side of the cosmos. NASA's Parker Solar Probe smashed another two records while flying around the sun. The second interstellar comet to visit our solar system started breaking apart. A rare ring of fire eclipse hypnotized watchers across the globe. And we may have even seen the invisible for the first time: A black hole collision in deep space.

It can be hard to keep up and we know that -- and we want to help.

CNET has launched its very own space calendar covering all the big rocket launches, mesmerizing meteor showers, epic eclipses and even an assortment of scientific milestones to keep our readers in the know. You'll be able to sync our always-updating calendar with your own Google calendar (or another provider with this link) so you never miss a thing. Each calendar event will link you directly to a story or a stream and all you have to do is add it to your cal now.

And this month is epic: July heralds the beginning of an incredibly busy time for space science and exploring the universe. A slew of new missions will take advantage of the orbits of both Earth and Mars to send probes and rovers to the red planet. Plus, there are major meteor showers still to come and a total eclipse in December. 

We want to hear from you, too. If there's anything you think warrants a mention, let us know. You can email or tweet me with any glaring omissions.

Below are the major milestones we expect to see over the last six months of 2020 -- but you can find all the launches in our Google Calendar. Follow along for more updates! 

July 20-22: The Hope Mars orbiter launches

MBRSC

Hope is the first interplanetary mission led by an Arab, Muslim-majority country. When the United Arab Emirates' satellite reaches Mars in 2021, it'll be the first probe to offer a full picture of the Martian atmosphere, providing a holistic view of how Mars' climate varies throughout the year. And if successful, it could change everything we know about the red planet.

Back here on Earth, it may achieve something even more important: providing hope to a younger generation, bringing more women into STEM and promoting collaboration between nations. 

Hope's launch was postponed on July 14 due to inclement weather at the launch site in Japan but the probe successfully departed Earth on July 20.

July 23: China's Tianwen-1 launches

CNSA

Tianwen-1 means "questions to Heaven" in Chinese and is a three vehicle mission to Mars by the country -- their first attempt at landing a rover on the red planet. The orbiter, lander and rover are designed to probe Mars atmosphere and look for signs of life on the surface. China's recently had great success landing on and exploring the moon in 2019

The nation didn't give us the most comprehensive live launch access but we do know Tianwen-1 is now on its way to the red planet and its daring mission will enter the next, incredibly daring phase, in February 2021.

July 27: Delta Aquariids peak

Getty Images

This meteor shower begins around mid-July and peaks toward the end of the month as the Earth passes through the debris left behind by a couple of sun-grazing comets. The southern hemisphere gets the best view, but those in northern latitudes should be able to see the Delta Aquariids until mid-August. The peak occurs around July 27 and July 28 -- be sure to brush up on how to catch a meteor shower before then.

July 30: NASA's Perseverance rover launches

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Perseverance rover is a science laboratory on wheels and it's headed to Mars to assess whether the red planet once supported life. It will also carry Ingenuity, a helicopter, in its belly -- and if all goes to plan, the chopper will be the first vehicle to fly on another planet.

We put together a huge guide for the mission, so here's everything you need to know about the Perseverance rover and its mission to Mars.

Aug. 2: Crew Dragon gets back to Earth

SpaceX's Crew Dragon is shown here minutes before docking with the International Space Station.

NASA; Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The Demo-2 mission sent astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in May. After spending around two months at the station, it's time to return to Earth. The pair will undock in the Crew Dragon capsule and fall back home, eventually landing in the ocean -- the first time a spacecraft has done so in the US since 1975. The date for undocking is set for Aug. 1 and so the capsule's return will occur on Aug. 2. A successful return will set the stage for the very first, official, crewed mission to the ISS six to eight weeks later. 

We have all the information you need to watch the historic turn right here.

Aug. 11-12: Perseids meteor shower peaks

Another Perseid captured above the Tucson foothills by photographer Eliot Herman

Eliot Herman

One of the more impressive meteor showers of the year, the Perseids, is happening through August. As the Earth passes through the tail of the giant comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, our skies will flash with streaks of blazing light. In 2020, the Perseids are expected to peak on Aug. 11 and 12, when the moon should be a little less than half full. If you want to find out how to watch them, all you've gotta do is click here -- and be sure to brush up on how to catch a meteor shower, too.

Oct. 20: NASA's Osiris-Rex tries to sample asteroid Bennu

This artist's interpretation shows what Osiris-Rex might look like when it reaches Bennu.

NASA

After Hayabusa-2, an intrepid asteroid-chaser operated by Japan's space agency, smashed and grabbed rock from the asteroid Ryugu in 2019, NASA are going to have a go. Osiris-rex (for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer) has been chasing its own asteroid -- Bennu -- and scoped out a spot to steal some asteroid soil. The smash-grab-and-run date is set for Oct. 20, when we could learn more about an asteroid that may hit Earth in the next century.

Oct. 22: Orionids peak

Getty/Vitchien Petchmai

The Orionid meteor shower occurs through October and November, but should peak around October 22. The shooting "stars" are actually debris left over by Halley's comet and zip across the sky as Earth passes through its dust trail. The debris burns up in Earth's atmosphere, leaving a brief trail of gas. (Again, make sure you have the skills to check out these meteor showers.)

Oct. 23: The SpaceX Crew-1 mission

The Crew-1 mission logo pays homage to the NASA programs before it.

NASA/SpaceX

After a successful first demonstration mission to the International Space Station in May, and an equally impressive return in August, SpaceX is ready to send astronauts to the station again in the first operational flight of the Crew Dragon capsule. The mission is currently scheduled for no earlier than Oct. 23 and will double the amount of passengers from the first flight. Four crew members, three NASA astronauts and one astronaut from the Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Falcon 9.

We'll have the livestream link right here so you can follow along as it gets closer to the date. Check out the Space Calendar on Google for more.

Nov. 2: 20 years of ISS occupation

NASA/Joel Kowsky

The International Space Station is turning 20! 

On Nov. 2, 2000, the first long-term residents of the station docked: NASA's William Shepherd and two Russian cosmonauts, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev. The space station has been instrumental for studying the effects of microgravity and how long-duration spaceflight may affect the human body. It also has a great toilet!

The low Earth orbit laboratory is expected to continue operation for another 10 years, but space agencies like NASA and the European Space Agency are gearing up for a new space laboratory -- the Gateway -- which is designed to help ferry astronauts from the Earth to the surface of the moon. Because it all starts with the moon.

December: Hayabusa2 returns to Earth with asteroid sample

JAXA

After a cosmic pickpocketing in 2019, Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft will zip past the Earth and throw out a canister containing a soil sample that it blasted from asteroid Ryugu. Like a newspaper delivery kid, the sample will be thrown and hopefully land in Australia's backyard -- somewhere in the desert -- in December.

Dec. 14: A total solar eclipse blocks out the Sun in South America

ESA/CESAR

Total solar eclipses are one of the most fascinating and epic cosmic phenomena we get to experience on Earth. The moon passes in front of the sun, obscuring it from view and instantly turning day to night. There is only one total solar eclipse in 2020 and it will mostly be visible in parts of Chile and Argentina. We'll make sure you see all the best image from the day though. And, if somehow travel is allowed again in 2020 and you want to head to South America to see it for yourself -- check out our guide.

Dec. 21: Jupiter and Saturn meet in the sky

NASA, ESA, A. Simon (Goddard Space Flight Center), and M.H. Wong (University of California, Berkeley)

Not literally, of course. The two planets will be in conjunction at the end of 2020, an event that only occurs once every 20 years. When the two most massive planets in our solar system meet like this it is known as a "great conjunction" and the last one occurred in 2000. If you look to the sky between June and August, you should be able to make out the bright planets quite easily. If you need help, we've got you covered with these great stargazing apps for spotting constellations.

This page is constantly updated.

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Scientists build army of 1 million microrobots that can fit inside a hypodermic needle – CNET

image-1

An artist's illustration of the tiny robot.

Criss Hohmann

A four-inch wafer of silicon has been turned into an army of one million microscopic, walking robots, thanks to some clever engineering employed by researchers at Cornell University in New York. 

In a paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, a team of roboticists detail the creation of their invisible army of robots, which are less than 0.1mm in size (about the width of a human hair) and cannot be seen with the naked eye. The robots are rudimentary and are reminiscent of Frogger, the famous 1980s arcade game. But they take advantage of an innovative, new class of actuators, which are the legs of the microrobots, designed by the team. 

Controlling movement in these tiny machines requires the researchers to shine a laser on minuscule light-sensitive circuits on their backs, which propels their four legs forward. They've been designed to operate in all manner of environments such as extreme acidity and temperatures. One of their chief purposes, the researchers say, could be to investigate the human body from the inside

"Controlling a tiny robot is maybe as close as you can come to shrinking yourself down," Marc Miskin, now an engineer at the University of Pennsylvania and the study's lead author, said in a statement.   

This short video (sped up 8x) shows how the microrobot moves.

Marc Miskin

"I think machines like these are going to take us into all kinds of amazing worlds that are too small to see."  

But shrinking down robots to this size and enabling them to move through the microscale world is a challenging technical task. It's much more difficult to move through the world when you're about the size of a Paramecium

The team was able to build incredibly small legs, which are connected to two different patches on the back of the robot -- one for the front pair of legs, one for the back. Alternating light between the patches propels the microrobot forward.

As you can see in the GIF to the right, it's not graceful, but it does the trick.  

These types of devices are known as "marionettes" because their power source is not on board the device and their functions are controlled remotely, note MIT researchers Allan Brooks and Michael Strano in a related article published in Nature.  

Without the external input from researchers, the devices don't have the capability to move around. But Brooks and Strano said the marionettes are important because they provide a stepping stone for future devices that can work autonomously. The microrobots are more tech demo than functional product for now, but they show what is capable in the microscopic world. 

The research team were able to show the microrobots devices could fit within the narrowest hypodermic needle and thus, could be "injected" into the body. That kind of capability isn't worthwhile right now and not possible. The machines aren't intelligent enough to target a diseased cell or respond to stimuli, so there's no application for this invisible army. However, the researchers said that "their capabilities can rapidly evolve" and suggest that future production costs could be "less than a penny per robot," making them a valuable ally in the battle against disease.

The researchers are now trying to program the robots to perform certain tasks, using more complex computation and autonomy. Improvements could pave the way for swarms of robots to head inside the body and repair wounds or go on the attack against diseases like cancer, but that future is years -- or potentially decades -- away. 

Even with the future years away, it should be noted that any potential treatment options using such devices would require stringent safety checks, have to overcome significant regulatory hurdles and would need to be trialled extensively before they were ever used inside human beings. 

Update Aug. 26: Adds note on regulation.

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