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Disney debuts Zenimation, which mixes soothing sounds with familiar art

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Disney today launched its latest series, called Zenimation, a collection of shorts that combine the company’s animation with some soothing sound effects. I don’t know about y’all, but something like this was exactly what I needed to help cure my quarantine fatigue.

Indulge your senses. All episodes of @DisneyAnimation’s #Zenimation, an Original Series, now streaming on #DisneyPlus. pic.twitter.com/1NSkirtNvI

— Disney+ (@disneyplus) May 22, 2020

Each Zenimation short loops together art from some of Disney’s animated films with sound effects such as wind, rain, animal noises, and other soothing sounds. The animation is pulled from classics like AladdinBeauty and the Beast, and Lion King with more recent fare like MoanaZootopia, and Frozen 2. It’s a good mix if you want to pull in the older kids (like me) who want to sleepily ogle Disney’s 2D animation while simultaneously lulling the kiddies there for a glimpse of Elsa into a doze.

Read: The Snyder Cut of Justice League exists and it will release on HBO Max

The videos come in various categories, such as “Water,” “Nature,” and “Cityscapes.” You can usually judge from the name of the episode and its thumbnail what you’re likely to get. The final one, “Levity” is not necessarily relaxing — mostly because it includes the moment when Baymax in Big Hero 6 rapidly deflates and the squealing sound kind of killed my vibe — but it still put a smile on my face.

Start streaming all episodes of @DisneyAnimation‘s #Zenimation, an Original Series, now on #DisneyPlus. pic.twitter.com/zLkL8Authw

— Disney+ (@disneyplus) May 22, 2020

I’ve seen multiple people call the series ASMR, though I not a fan of the term, personally. Maybe this is just jealousy on my part, because I’ve never had the brain fuzzies you’re supposed to get when listening to ASMR, but it’s sort of become a catch-all term for anything relaxing even if it doesn’t stimulate the actual, physical reaction. I sometimes watch horror YouTubers like Mr Nightmare, Lazy Masquerade, or Nuke’s Top 5 because I find their sedate voices and the “spooky” background music relaxing, but I don’t think anyone would call their content “ASMR.”

So take my word: even if ASMR isn’t your thing, don’t be put off. This is the sort of soothing soundtrack you could use to put yourself (or your Disney-loving children) to sleep. It’s kind of wonderful, and I’m glad Disney made this. With quarantine making us all anxious and cabin-feverish, we kind of needed something like this.

You can watch Zenimation on Disney+ here.

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How cosmic rays may have sparked life on Earth — and what this could mean for life on other planets

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Long before animals roamed the Earth, before the first bacteria, and even before the development of DNA, tiny molecules found they could make simple copies of themselves.

Cosmic rays pouring down from space constantly bombarded those molecules as they replicated, and developed over time. These particles, raining down from distant stars and galaxies, could have played a significant role in the what would become the chemistry of life.

Energetic reactions in molecules at the dawn of life could have altered the laws of biology forever. Image credit: Original video by Motionstock/Pixabay, .gif creation by The Cosmic Companion.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

Molecules can take on various shapes as they form during reactions. Some of these molecules can be mirror images of molecules having the same number and types of molecules, but bound together in different shapes.

Some of these shapes can be mirror images of each other, similar to the way hands are opposite images of each other. They line up if faced palm-to-palm or back-to-back, but they cannot be placed evenly upon one another with both hands up or down.

When chemicals take on similar mirror shapes, they are known as chiral molecules. This chirality of molecules is sometimes known as handedness, due to its relation to human hands. This property of chiral molecules can have significant effects on reactions within living structures.

Chiral molecules are mirror images of each other, similar to human hands. Image credit: NASA

Inorganic reactions are oblivious to the handedness of chemicals. However, reactions involving every single important biomolecule — DNA, RNA, and amino acids — life uses just one form of molecules. Attempting to use the mirror twin can often result in unexpected — often tragic — results. A single wrong-handed molecule in DNA can destroy its spiral structure.

“The ribonucleic and deoxyribonucleic acids (RNA and DNA), responsible for the replication and storage of genetic information, are made up of linear sequences of building blocks with the same handedness, called nucleotides, whose arrangement is neither periodic nor random and contains the genetic information needed to sustain life,” researchers explain in an article detailing their findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

You can call me ‘ray’

The chiral nature of some chemicals was first discovered in 1848, by famed chemist Louis Pasteur. This led to wild speculations, attempting to understand why biological reactions are so uniquely fussy about the handedness of chemicals. Pasteur’s early guess, more than a century-and-a-half ago, was that a basic, underlying asymmetry in nature was responsible for differences in left- and right-handed molecules in biological systems.

This new study suggests the biased way nature handles chemicals for life may be the result of cosmic rays coming from space long ago.

“We propose that the biological handedness we witness now on Earth is due to evolution amidst magnetically polarized radiation, where a tiny difference in the mutation rate may have promoted the evolution of DNA-based life, rather than its mirror image,” said Noémie Globus of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC).

Cosmic rays are high-energy radiation, created by energetic processes around the Cosmos, bombarding Earth from all directions at enormous speeds.

“About 90 percent of them are protons, with the remainder consisting of electrons and atomic nuclei. In their journey across the galaxy, the electrically charged particles are deflected by magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and makes it impossible to trace their origins directly,” NASA describes.

This energy strikes the atmosphere of Earth, where it breaks apart into fundamental sub-atomic particles. By the time they reach the ground, most of this energy is in the form of muons, a type of particle unlike normal matter.

An overview of the process by which polarized particles could have help drive the formation of life on Earth. Image credit: Simons Foundation

Muons are exceptionally unstable, existing for just two millionths of a second. However, they travel close to the speed of light, meaning they can cover plenty of distance during that time — being detected as deep as 700 meters (2,300 feet) underground.

These particles are also magnetically polarized — meaning they all share the same magnetic polarization. When they decay, these particles release an electron (the familiar negatively-charged particle found in the outer clouds of atoms). These electrons created each share the same magnetic polarization.

Researchers believe these polarized muons, able to penetrate nearly any barrier, combined with the similarly-polarized electrons, may have worked to together, influencing chiral reactions as life first began to form on Earth.

How polarized electrons could have affected the rise of a chiral bias in life, as the first proto-biological molecules formed. Image credit: Simons Foundation

Over time, the constant bombardment by polarized muons and electrons would have preferentially affected each type of molecule, altering mutation rates between left- and right-handed protobiological molecules.

Just a small advantage of one state over the other would, over time, result in a long-term advantage, similar to a house edge in gambling casinos. Right-handed molecules eventually won the struggle, becoming the basis of all biology. The video below shows a look at how life on Earth may have started.

Such effects may also apply to worlds beyond the Earth, as well, researchers speculate. Conditions like these likely extend far into the Cosmos.

“We are irradiated all the time by cosmic rays. Their effects are small but constant in every place on the planet where life could evolve, and the magnetic polarization of the muons and electrons is always the same. And even on other planets, cosmic rays would have the same effects,” Globus explained.

Bacteria could be at the center of new studies examining how the microbes react to bombardment by radiation over a range of magnetic polarizations. Samples taken from comets and asteroids could also be examined, looking for a chiral bias in their internal structures.

By studying how cosmic rays affected chemistry during the dawn of life, we may learn more about life on worlds surrounding distant stars.

This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by James Maynard, founder and publisher of The Cosmic Companion. He is a New England native turned desert rat in Tucson, where he lives with his lovely wife, Nicole, and Max the Cat. You can read this original piece here.

Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion is also available as a weekly podcast, carried on all major podcast providers. Tune in every Tuesday for updates on the latest astronomy news, and interviews with astronomers and other researchers working to uncover the nature of the Universe.

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Xbox Series X will make old games look prettier

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Microsoft continues its campaign of putting out details on the Xbox Series X, and today revealed that, in addition to having backwards compatibility, the XSX will employ some techno wizardry to make the older games much better looking than they originally were.

Jason Ronald, Director of Program Management for the new console, revealed in an Xbox Wire update that Microsoft’s augmenting the launch line-up of the XSX with older games. We already knew the console would be backwards compatible with games from every previous Xbox generation, but Ronald adds that, through some process that sounds pretty complicated, the company will make the games look better on XSX than they did on the original consoles:

 Xbox Series X delivers a new, innovative HDR reconstruction technique which enables the platform to automatically add HDR support to games. As this technique is handled by the platform itself, it allows us to enable HDR with zero impact to the game’s performance and we can also apply it to Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles developed almost 20 years ago, well before the existence of HDR.

Ronald doesn’t mention how many games will get this next-gen glow-up, just that it can be applied to 360 and OG Xbox titles, which is pretty impressive considering how old those games are now. He also adds that “the compatibility team developed brand new innovations that could be applied to a hand curated list of titles to enhance them even further than what was possible when they were first created,” which includes bumping resolutions up to 4K and framerates up to 120fps.

Read: Sony announces a PlayStation 5 reveal — here’s what to expect

The Xbox One, for all that it touts the feature now, didn’t have backwards compatibility at launch. And when Microsoft did incorporate the feature, it did so gradually, over a long period of time. But it seems the company has fully embraced it and is using it in the marketing push, which means the feature must have gone over well with Xbox One gamers.

Compare and contrast the PlayStation 5, the creators of which have been rather cagey about backwards compatibility. Initial reports seemed to imply the console would be compatible with about 100 PS4 games, but the company quickly reassured users that the majority of PS4 games would work on the new system. Then, around the same time this XSX report was released, a cached page on the official PlayStation site seemed to imply the console would only be able to play those games with a system update (though this doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me).

Either way, PlayStation head honcho Jim Ryan has made it clear he’d prefer if games that were made on the PS5 were exclusive to the console to convince more gamers to jump ship. That attitude is diametrically opposed by Microsoft, which says it’s not going to bother with launch exclusives because gamers will transition when they’re able to.

While Microsoft has tried to say it’s no longer rivals with Sony, it seems the two companies still make for good comparisons to each other.


Xbox Series X: The Most Powerful and Compatible Next-Gen Console with Thousands of Games at Launch
on Xbox Wire

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Google’s Android Studio 4.0 is a major upgrade for the app development tool

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Google has launched Android Studio 4.0, adding a host of new features to the app development environment.

The most eye-catching of the upgrades is a souped-up Motion Editor, Android’s interface for creating MotionLayout animations in apps. In previous versions of Android Studio, developers had to manually create and modify complex XML files to design their animations. The new Motion Editor generates the XML files for you, allowing you to create complex animations through a simply click-and-drag interface.

[Read: Building mobile apps isn’t a mystery when you have these dev courses]

Android has also added new ways to look at your app’s design. They include an enhanced Layout Inspector, which provides a live preview of your app’s design in 3D, and an upgraded Layout Validation, which now gives you a view of the UI across multiple screen dimensions.

Further highlights include a Build Analyzer that helps you address bottlenecks in your build, a redesigned CPU Profiler, and Java 8 language APIs.

Check out Android’s blog post on the release for further details on the update. And if you wanna try it out right now, head over to the official website to download Android Studio 4.0. 

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