What Is Pokémon Go and Why You Should Care

Nintendo has recently-released the Pokémon Go smartphone game has taken the U.S. by storm, ushering in a new age in gaming and augmented reality.

To put it simply, Pokémon Go is a location-based augmented reality game for your smartphone, the first true hit of this genre. It was developed by Niantic, a company under Google's umbrella. Since it was released in the US a week ago, the game has become a cultural and social phenomenon, quickly going viral, rivaling such online stalwarts as Twitter in popularity.

What do you do in this game? You point your smartphone at the world around you and try to catch magical creatures called Pokémon (short for "pocket monster") that seem to appear on the screen. It's an amazing extension of the game space from the screen to the whole of your everyday experience.


The game uses GPS to pinpoint your location and inserts the little monsters into real spaces that you look at through the phone's camera. The game populates the creatures all over your city, with different kinds of Pokémon materializing depending on where you are and the time of the day. This way you have to go to more places to find all the monsters.

The game is actually smart enough to populate your world with the monsters that are location-dependent. For instance, being on a beach would prompt a water-based Pokémon to pop up.

Once you catch them (which requires you to battle them), you can train the Pokémon and make them fight each other. In the game's parlance, this makes you a "trainer". You can also fight other such trainers to give your little monster expanded abilities and to up your ability to find even rarer Pokémon.

Another aspect of the game are PokéStops, which are specific locations in the "real" world that you can see on a map inside the game. Once you go to these places, you can buy (for real money) the game's weapons called Poké Balls and Pokémon-hatching eggs. You can also buy and set up lures that can attract Pokémon to these locations (a technique used by some businesses like cafes to attract hordes of obsessed Pokémon hunters).

To get all the monsters, you need to travel a lot, both day and night.

How popular has the game been? People are looking for Pokémon all over their cities, parks, offices, and even while in Ubers. The game was even used by some enterprising robbers to lure victims.

The Pokémon franchise is owned by Nintendo and already had a viral phase in the late 1990s, when it became wildly popular on the company's handheld consoles, spawning a tv show, movies and trading cards. The tremendous popularity of this new incarnation of the game brought Nintendo's market value up by $9 billion.

The game's amazing spread has caused much attention and scrutiny, including criticism of how it gathers user data, allowing for possible breaches of security. The developers announced that they are working on a patch to fix any such issues.

The game is available for both iOS and Android.

Happy hunting (and watch out for that light pole as you walk glued to your screen)!

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Accretion disk surrounding a neutron star. Credit: NASA
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Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.

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The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.

Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv

Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.

The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.

While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.

One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.

"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"

Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.

The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.

Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.


How a huge, underwater wall could save melting Antarctic glaciers

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Image: NASA
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"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."