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24 planets that are warmer, wetter, and better for life than Earth

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An artist’s concept of the first terrestrial planet found by the Kepler observatory orbiting in the habitable zone around its star, where temperatures are “just right” for liquid water — and perhaps, life — to form. Image credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Researchers examined data from terrestrial exoplanets orbiting in the habitable zone around their stars, where temperatures allow liquid water to pool on their surface. Just a small percentage of the 4,500 exoplanets now known to orbit other stars are known to have conditions relatively friendly to life.

“Most important from the perspective of an observer searching for extrasolar life is that such a search might be executed most effectively with a focus on superhabitable planets instead of Earth-like planets. We argue that there could be regions of astrophysical parameter space of star-planet systems that could allow for planets to be even better for life than our Earth,” researchers describe in an article published in the journal Astrobiology.

Each of the planetary systems examined in this new study sit more than 100 light years from our family of planets.

It took nearly four billion years for complex lifeforms to develop, suggesting that longer-lived stars may be more likely to host planets awash in life. The Sun, and other G-type stars like it, live for about 10 billion years. This study also examined planets abound cooler, less-massive K-type stars, which exist for between 20 and 70 billion years, allowing plenty of time to life to develop.

However, extremely old planets cool all the way through to their core, reducing or eliminating the planetary magnetic field protecting those worlds from harmful radiation. This study suggests planets between five and eight billion years old may be likely worlds to target in the search for life.

Other characteristics of exoplanets affecting the possible development of life include the mass and size of a chosen world. This new study suggests exoplanets 10 percent larger than the Earth would develop more land area than our own world. A planet 50 percent more massive would hold onto its inner heat longer than Earth, retaining its magnetic field and atmosphere for significantly more time than our home world. The video below shows an interview with Dr. Natalie Hinkel of the Southwest Research Institute, discussing how phosphorous can be used to find exoplanets likely to have developed life.

Temperatures are also a critical factor when looking for life where life may have developed. Exoplanets averaging 20 Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) — slightly warmer than Earth — were found to be wetter, more humid, and even friendlier to life than the world we call home.

Over billions of years, the habitability of Earth has fluctuated over time. Mass extinction events were triggered, from time to time, by asteroid impacts, and the (possibly) even nearby supernova explosions.

An ideal world, researchers speculate, will balance conditions toward great biodiversity, with occasional struggles for survival to drive natural selection.

“However, not every superhabitable planet may produce intelligent life because these variations might have either been too small for life to advance toward higher complexity or too large for life to keep up and instead become extinct,” researchers speculate.

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Call of Duty’s Halloween event has a Zombie royale and horror crossovers

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Activision today dropped the trailer for its Call of Duty Halloween event: The Haunting of Verdansk. We’re getting a few new game modes, a bunch of horror themed packs, and rewards, both in Modern Warfare and Warzone.

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Warzone players will get to experience Verdansk at night, and it’ll come withmore than a few Halloween-themed frights” — and I’d be content with that, to be honest. But Modern Warfare‘s also getting a fright-themed coat of paint. My favorite new addition is that, if you get three kills in a single life, your operator’s head will turn into a jack-o-lantern. Get ten kills, and it’ll light on fire. MW also gets two new modes: Snipers Only, which is just what it sounds like, and Onslaught-er, which involves finding and seizing a Juggernaut suit that spawns on the map and doing something with it — I imagine I’ll find out if/when I ever get that far.

CoD appears to be taking a leaf from Mortal Kombat‘s book, including some classic horror movie villains to spice up the roster: namely, Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Billy the Puppet from the Saw series. Both will get appropriate skins and content packs, as will a character called Dr. Karlov. I won’t pretend it’s not darned spooky to see some familiar faces in the trailer, and it appears Billy and Leatherface will both pop in Haunted Verdansk, if the above trailer is anything to go by.

And of course, there are zombies — it wouldn’t be a Call of Duty spook-fest without zombies. In this case, we’ll have Zombie BR, a limited-time mode in which dead players are resurrected as zombies, with potential to turn human if they slay enough of their fellow players. You can’t wield weapons as a zombie, but you can run, punch, and generally overwhelm with numbers, as zombies are wont to do.

The Haunting of Verdansk starts on October 20 and runs through November 3. Activision will also apparently drop some more themed bundles during the event, including one inspired by Dia de los Muertos.

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ShopUp raises $22.5 million to digitize millions of mom-and-pop shops in Bangladesh

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A startup that is aiming to digitize millions of neighborhood stores in Bangladesh just raised the country’s largest Series A financing round.

Dhaka-headquartered ShopUp said on Tuesday it has raised $22.5 million in a round co-led by Sequoia Capital India and Flourish Ventures. For both the venture firms, this is the first time they are backing a Bangladeshi startup. Veon Ventures, Speedinvest, and Lonsdale Capital also participated in the four-year-old ShopUp’s Series A financing round. ShopUp has raised about $28 million to date.

Like its neighboring nation, India, more than 95% of all retail in Bangladesh goes through neighborhood stores in the country. There are about 4.5 million such mom-and-pop stores in the country and the vast majority of them have no digital presence.

ShopUp is attempting to change that. It has built what it calls a full-stack business-to-business commerce platform. It provides three core services to neighborhood stores: a wholesale marketplace to secure inventory, logistics (including last mile delivery to customers), and working capital, explained Afeef Zaman, co-founder and chief executive of ShopUp​, in an interview with TechCrunch.

Image Credits: ShopUp

These small shops are facing a number of challenges. They are not getting inventory on time or enough inventory and they are paying more than what they should, said Zaman. And for these businesses, more than 73% (PDF) of all their sales rely on credit instead of cash or digital payments, creating a massive liquidity crunch. So most of these businesses are in dire need of working capital.

Zaman declined to reveal how many mom-and-pop shops today use ShopUp, but claimed that the platform assumes a clear lead in its category in the country. That lead has widened amid the global pandemic as more physical shops explore digital offerings to stay afloat, he said.

The number of neighborhood shops transacting weekly on the ShopUp platform grew by 8.5 times between April and August this year, he said. The pandemic also helped ShopUp engage with e-commerce players to deliver items for them.

“Sequoia India has been a strong supporter of the company since it was part of the first Surge cohort in early 2019 and it’s been exciting to see the company become a trailblazer facilitating digital transformation in Bangladesh,” said ​Klaus Wang, VP, Sequoia Capital, in a statement.

The startup has no intention to become an e-commerce platform like Amazon that directly engages with consumers, Zaman said. E-commerce is still in its nascent stage in Bangladesh. Amazon has yet to enter the country and increasingly Facebook is filling that role.

ShopUp sees immense opportunity in serving neighborhood stores, he said. The startup plans to deploy the fresh capital to deepen its partnerships with manufacturers and expand its tech infrastructure.

It opened an office in Bengaluru earlier this year to hire local tech talent in the nation. Indian e-commerce platform Voonik merged with ShopUp this year and both of its co-founders have joined the Bangladeshi startup. Zaman said the startup will hire more engineering talent in India.

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After outcry, Microsoft presses pause on unsolicited Windows 10 web app installs

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On Saturday, I pointed out how Microsoft force-restarting Windows 10 computers to install unwanted web apps was the latest proof you don’t own your own Windows PC. Today, the company says it was at least partly a mistake — and will be pausing the “migration” that brought web apps to your Start Menu this way.

Originally, Microsoft tells The Verge, the idea was that any website you pinned to the Start Menu would launch in Microsoft Edge. If your website of choice had a PWA web app version, the Edge browser could automatically launch that as well. But — in what Microsoft seems to be calling a bug, though we’re trying to get clarity as to which part was the bug — the change also made it look like existing web shortcuts to its own Microsoft Office products had installed a web app on your PC as well.

A screenshot of the web apps that Microsoft force-installed on my PC.
Web versions of Microsoft Office appeared in my list of programs.
Screenshot: Sean Hollister/The Verge

Giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt for a moment, I can see how that chain of events could have unfolded, and why that might have been an unintended consequence.

But that doesn’t actually address any of my previous concerns:

  • Why was Microsoft using my Start Menu as free advertising for its Office products to begin with, web shortcut or no?
  • Why do these PWAs fire up Microsoft Edge, instead of respecting my own default choice of browser? Chrome handles PWAs just fine, for example.
  • Why does Microsoft believe it has the right to force-restart my PC at all? What was so critical about this update to make that worthwhile?

Microsoft has clearly heard some displeasure, and it’s reacting to that today. But it’s not clear whether anything will change as a result. I wouldn’t be surprised if the only difference is that PWAs won’t appear in your list of programs from here on out.

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