The Webb Telescope’s dazzling nebula image supports a long-held theory

The image of the Serpens Nebula you see above, taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), not only looks mesmerizing but also captures a never-before-seen phenomenon. The aligned, elongated “protostellar outflows” visible in the top left support a longstanding theory. As suspected, the jets shoot out in alignment from the swirling disks of surrounding material, showing evidence that clusters of forming stars spin in the same direction.

NASA says the bright and clumpy streaks in the image’s upper-left area, which somewhat resemble JJ Abrams-style lens flare, represent shockwaves caused by outward-shooting jets that emerge when the interstellar gas cloud collapses inwards. As forming stars condense and twirl more rapidly, some material shoots out perpendicular to the disk.

“Astronomers have long assumed that as clouds collapse to form stars, the stars will tend to spin in the same direction,” Klaus Pontoppidan of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote in a blog post. “However, this has not been seen so directly before. These aligned, elongated structures are a historical record of the fundamental way that stars are born.”

Perpendicular jets (seen as thin beams of light, similar to lens flare) beaming out from a reddish forming cluster of stars.
The aligned jets (which look a bit like JJ Abrams-style lens flare) indicate the forming stars spin in the same direction.

The Serpens Nebula is only one or two million years old and sits around 1,300 light years from Earth. NASA says the dense cluster of protostars at the image’s center includes stars less than 100,000 years old. Serpens is a reflection nebula, meaning the gas and dust cloud shines by reflecting light from stars inside or nearby.

The JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) captured the image, which covers about 16 trillion miles by 11 trillion miles. The black rectangles you see at the full image’s lower left and upper left represent missing data. NASA says its next step is to use the telescope’s Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) to study the Serpens Nebula’s chemical breakdown.

You can check out NASA’s instructional video below for a closer look at specific details from the glorious image.

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One of our favorite webcams is on sale for only $48

If you’re in the market for a new webcam, you can save 20 percent on one of Engadget’s top picks for video calls. The Anker PowerConf C200, our top budget pick even at its standard price, is on sale for only $48.

Anker PowerConf C200 Webcam captures video in up to 2K resolution. Although 1080p will suit most people just fine (and you can lower it to that, 720p or 360p if you want), we appreciated the extra sharpness and clarity the 2K feed brought to our calls. The plug-and-play webcam has a fast autofocus and an ƒ/2.0 aperture to let in more light and help brighten up darker scenes.

It has dual stereo microphones built in, and you can use its companion software (AnkerWork) to change its pickup sensitivity from the default directional to omnidirectional (the latter for when more than one person is in your room). The webcam has a 95-degree field of view, but you can adjust it to 78 degrees if you prefer a tighter shot.

As far as tradeoffs, it’s a surprisingly short list for this price point. The Anker C200 lacks the fancy AI framing in some of the latest flagship models, and its cube-like shape makes it a bit more challenging than some competitors to adjust while on top of your screen. Its bundled USB-C to USB-A cable is also annoyingly short — not a big deal for laptops, but folks with standing desks or more sprawling desktop setups may need to swap it out for a longer one.

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Anthropic’s newest Claude chatbot beats OpenAI’s GPT-4o in some benchmarks

Anthropic rolled out its newest AI language model on Thursday, Claude 3.5 Sonnet. The updated chatbot outperforms the company’s previous top-tier model, Claude 3 Opus, while working at twice the speed. Claude users (including those on free accounts) can check it out beginning today.

Sonnet, which tends to be Anthropic’s most balanced model, is the first release in the Claude 3.5 family. The company says Claude 3.5 Haiku (the fastest in each generation) and Claude 3.5 Opus (the most powerful) will arrive later this year. (Those models will stay on version 3 in the meantime.) The Sonnet update comes only a few months after the arrival of the Claude 3 family, showcasing the breakneck speed AI companies are working to spit out their latest and greatest.

Chart showing benchmarks comparisons between recent AI chatbot models: Claude 3.5 Sonnet, Claude 3 Opus, GPT-4o, Gemini 1.5 Pro and Llama-400b.

Anthropic claims Claude 3.5 Sonnet marks a step forward in understanding nuance, humor and complicated prompts, and it can write in a more natural tone. Benchmarks (above) show the new model breaking industry records for graduate-level reasoning, undergraduate-level knowledge and coding proficiency. It beats OpenAI’s GPT-4o on many of the benchmarks Anthropic published. However, the latest Claude, ChatGPT, Gemini and Llama models tend to score within a few percentage points of each other on most tests, underscoring the tight competition.

The company claims Claude 3.5 Sonnet is also better at interpreting visual input than Claude 3.0 Opus. Anthropic says the new model can “accurately transcribe text from imperfect images,” a skill it hopes will attract customers in retail, logistics and financial services who need to grok data from charts, graphs and other visual cues. 

Claude’s update also brings a new workspace the company calls Artifacts (above). When you prompt the chatbot to generate content like code, text documents or web designs, a dedicated window appears to the right of the chat. From there, you can prompt Claude to make changes, and it will keep the Artifacts window updated with its latest output.

The company sees Artifacts as a first step towards making Claude a space for broader team collaboration. “In the near future, teams — and eventually entire organizations — will be able to securely centralize their knowledge, documents, and ongoing work in one shared space, with Claude serving as an on-demand teammate,” the company wrote in a press release.

Claude 3.5 Sonnet is available now for anyone with an account to try on its website, as well as in the Claude iOS app. (On both of those platforms, Claude Pro and Team subscribers get higher token counts.) You can also access it through the Anthropic API, Amazon Bedrock and Google Cloud’s Vertex AI. It costs $3 per million input tokens and $15 per million output tokens — the same as the previous model.

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Quicken Simplifi subscriptions are half off right now

Quicken Simplifi, one of Engadget’s favorite budgeting apps, is on sale for half off right now. The user-friendly money management service is on sale for $2 per month, billed annually at $24.

The financial planning and tracking service is one of our top picks for replacing Mint. Its clean and simple interface recalls memories of its now-defunct competitor. Simplifi has a scrolling landing page with a detailed overview, including balances, net worth, spending, upcoming payments and other financial stats.

The service makes it easy to connect with your financial institution (optionally) for easier tracking. You can also invite a partner or financial advisor to co-manage the account.

It has a few limitations. Unlike some of its competitors, it doesn’t offer Zillow integration for home value tracking. (You can still do that manually.) In addition, it doesn’t offer free trials, and we ran into a few minor errors in miscategorizing expenses, although they were in line with the small flubs the competition also makes. It also doesn’t allow Apple or Google sign-ins, so you’ll have to create or log into a Quicken account to get started.

We already consider Simplifi’s standard $48 annual pricing to be a solid deal that aligns with market expectations. But for $24 for the whole year, you can try it for much less. Just remember to cancel before it renews if you aren’t enjoying it enough to renew for a second year at full price.

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Stray is coming to Switch this holiday season

Stray, one of Engadget’s favorite games of 2022, is coming to Switch. The title, which lets you play as an orange tabby cat exploring a dystopian cyberpunk setting, arrives on Nintendo’s console this holiday season.

The trailer shows familiar action in the two-year-old game from BlueTwelve Studio. You’ll see the feline protagonist rolling in a barrel, facing a robotic enemy and knocking objects off ledges (as cats tend to do).

Still from the Stray trailer for Switch. Foreground: kitty cat. Background: robotic warrior with a spear. Grungy cyberpunk alleyway, dimly lit.
BlueTwelve Studios / Nintendo

Unfortunately, its graphical fidelity appears noticeably downgraded compared to its console brethren, but that’s to be expected. Switch developers can do a lot with the seven-year-old system, but they aren’t miracle workers.

Stray arrived on PS5/PS4 and PC (Steam) in 2022, followed by an Xbox port last year. The Switch version will round things out sometime around the holidays. You can check out the announcement trailer below.

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The Dragon Quest 3 HD-2D Remake arrives on November 14

Square-Enix’s old-meets-new reworking of Dragon Quest III arrives on November 14 on Switch. In addition, the HD-2D remake will be joined next year by reissues of its two predecessors in the trilogy, Dragon Quest I and Dragon Quest II, using the same innovative engine. The announcements came in Tuesday’s Nintendo Direct, which also brought news of The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom, Metroid Prime 4 and Donkey Kong Country Returns.

The Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake trailer and screenshots showcase the game engine’s marvels, combining 16-bit-style sprites and textures with modern environmental effects. The engine stays true to vintage games’ original look and feel but uses modern touches to make them prettier. Square-Enix has already used the tech in Octopath Traveller and its sequel, along with Triangle Strategy, the Live a Live remake and the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster.

Battle screen from the Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake. Three hero characters (foreground) line up to battle four enemies (background). 16-bit graphical style with modern touches.

Launching the third game in the trilogy first sounds odd, but the prequel, originally released in 1988, was the first chronologically within the game’s universe. The HD-2D remakes of the first two entries, initially available in 1986 and 1987, will arrive as one game sometime in 2025.

You can check out the nostalgic-meets-modern Dragon Quest III HD-2D Remake trailer below. It launches on November 14 and will be available on Switch, PS5/PS4, Xbox Series X/S and PC (Steam).

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Watch the next Nintendo Direct here at 10AM ET

It’s time for another Nintendo Direct, where the company teases, hypes and previews its upcoming slate of games. You can watch the June Nintendo Direct right here today at 10AM ET.

Nintendo says today’s stream will focus on games coming in the second half of 2024. We’ll likely hear about the remastered Luigi’s Mansion 2 HD, which arrives on June 27, and Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition, set for July 18. Of course, we’ll likely see some surprises as well.

One thing we can rule out in advance is news about the Nintendo Switch successor. Last month, the company finally confirmed that it will unveil its next console by March 2025. However, Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa quickly dashed any hopes that we’ll hear about it in today’s Direct. And the stream’s YouTube description box reiterates that as plainly as possible: “There will be no mention of the Nintendo Switch successor during this presentation.”

So, Nintendo clearly wants us to think about one of the last waves of games for the Switch before we start drooling over new hardware. Let’s see what it has in store.

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Apple Pay Later is dead, long live Affirm loans

Apple Pay Later is kaput. The company confirmed to TechCrunch on Monday that it’s killing the service only two years after first announcing it at WWDC 2022 — and only seven months after it became available to everyone in the US.

The company said at its developer conference last week that loans through third-party service Affirm are coming to Apple Pay later this year, so the two would have been redundant. “Users in the U.S. will also be able to apply for loans directly through Affirm when they check out with Apple Pay,” the company wrote in a newsroom post after its WWDC keynote.

According to TechCrunch, Pay Later is already disabled as an option when checking out with Apple Pay, and it won’t accept any new loans moving forward. However, those with current payment plans can still access those through the Wallet app.

“Starting later this year, users across the globe will be able to access installment loans offered through credit and debit cards, as well as lenders, when checking out with Apple Pay,” Apple wrote in a statement to TechCrunch. “With the introduction of this new global installment loan offering, we will no longer offer Apple Pay Later in the U.S.”

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YouTube’s community notes feature rips a page out of X’s playbook

YouTube is borrowing a page from X (Twitter) and adding a community notes feature ahead of the 2024 US election. The company wants the short viewer-created blurbs to add relevant context to videos, such as pointing out misinformation or old footage passed off as new.

Notes will roll out initially as a pilot program for “a limited number of eligible contributors,” who will receive an invitation via email or Creator Studio. The invited participants will need to have an active YouTube account in good standing.

During the pilot phase, “third-party evaluators” will rate notes’ helpfulness to help train the system. YouTube says it wants to launch notes gradually to test and fine-tune the feature before making it more widely available. Look no further than YouTube’s often toxic video comments to see why that’s necessary.

Once the feature is calibrated and widely available, you’ll see them under videos “if they’re found to be broadly helpful.” Viewers will be asked to rate notes as “helpful,” “somewhat helpful” or “unhelpful” — and tell them why (for example, it cites good sources or is written clearly).

Note ratings will be determined by a bridging-based algorithm, which looks for connections among disparate groups. For example, if people who have historically rated things differently agree on a particular note’s helpfulness, that one will more likely appear. It sounds like the system could still be abused, especially considering how many online tribes today share an unflinching belief in the same debunked misinformation. But hey, we’ll reserve judgment until we see it in action.

The feature is awfully similar to one that was rolled out initially under the Jack Dorsey era of Twitter and expanded globally after Elon Musk bought the company in 2022. At the time, Musk described the feature as “a gamechanger for improving accuracy on Twitter.” X, as it’s known today, isn’t exactly known for its accuracy, but YouTube apparently saw something worth copying in the crowd-sourced context.

As for when you will see community notes, YouTube says the pilot will launch on mobile in the US first. The company anticipates mistakes during this test phase as it tweaks its algorithms. Everyone else in the US can expect to see notes appear “in the coming weeks and months.”

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WhatsApp rolls out enhanced video calling

WhatsApp is upgrading its video-calling chops. The Meta-owned platform is enhancing its calls with a new screen-sharing feature, a higher participant count and a speaker spotlight to try to make the platform a more viable competitor to Zoom, FaceTime and Google Meet.

Screen sharing could be handy for watching videos together, sharing content that isn’t easily shareable or troubleshooting your parents’ devices. It also allows for audio sharing, so you can easily chat with others while looking at their screen.

WhatsApp also expanded its participant count to 32 people on video calls. The new cap applies to all platforms. It’s a significant boost from the previous limit of eight people, first rolled out in 2020 as pandemic lockdowns kicked into full gear.

Speaker spotlight is another tweak in WhatsApp’s update (which is already a standard feature on many other calling platforms). In a group call, the person talking appears first in the row of participants, and their picture is highlighted, making it easier to identify who has the proverbial mic.

WhatsApp also highlighted its recent switch to the MLow codec for clearer calls. The new compression should clean up noise and echo cancellation, which is handy for noisy environments. Also, video calls will stream in a higher resolution if your network is fast enough to support it.

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