Researched by: Anannya Parekh, Aarthi Ramnath & Rhea Saincher
The end of affirmative action
The US Supreme Court ruled that considering race as a factor in college admissions is illegal. Issuing its ruling in two separate cases involving Harvard University and University of North Carolina, the majority opinion declared the criteria was too fuzzy:
Both programs lack sufficiently focused and measurable objectives warranting the use of race, unavoidably employ race in a negative manner, involve racial stereotyping and lack meaningful endpoints.
But also that taking a person’s race into consideration was just plain wrong: "Many universities have for too long wrongly concluded that the touchstone of an individual's identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned, but the color of their skin." The voting margin was 6-2 and 6-3 in the two cases. BBC News and New York Times have more. Vox maps out the effects of this landmark ruling.
Confirmed: Chinese balloons are sneaky spies
The context: On February 4, the US military took down a Chinese balloon that came floating into the country over the Canadian border. Beijing insisted it was just collecting weather data, but the US claimed it's a military surveillance device. For more details, see our Big Story.
What has happened now: US officials have confirmed that it was indeed spy craft:
That analysis found the balloon was crammed with commercially available U.S. gear, some of it for sale online, and interspersed with more specialized Chinese sensors and other equipment to collect photos, video and other information to transmit to China, the officials said.
In any case, while this balloon recorded data, it did not send any back to China. What’s notable: This leaked exclusive in the Wall Street Journal comes in the midst of strong efforts to repair US-Chinese ties—and on the heels of Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken’s high-profile visit to Beijing. (Wall Street Journal, paywall, Reuters)
Not-so-sweet news about aspartame
The WHO will soon declare the widely used artificial sweetener as “possibly carcinogenic.” To be clear, here’s what that rating means:
It has four different levels of classification — carcinogenic, probably carcinogenic, possibly carcinogenic and not classifiable. The levels are based on the strength of the evidence, rather than how dangerous a substance is.
But it is still bad news for a lot of brands—from Diet Coke to many juices and chewing gums. Why this matters: Similar rulings in the past have raised worries among consumers, led to lawsuits, and pressured companies to swap their ingredients. (Reuters)
Can you hear that black hole humming?
The context: Albert Einstein theorised that when really heavy objects move through the universe, they make ripples: “Imagine the universe as a trampoline rippling as a bowling ball rolls around on the surface.” The bowling balls in this case are black holes:
Galaxies across the universe are constantly colliding and merging together. As this happens, scientists believe the enormous black holes at the centers of these galaxies also come together and get locked into a dance before they finally collapse into each other.
In 2015, we were finally able to detect gravitational waves made by these orbiting black holes—but only those in high frequency. And they sounded like ‘chirps.’
What happened now: Scientists have finally been able to hear low frequency waves made by black holes—and this is what they sound like:
Instead, it’s revealing the constant hum that is all around us — like when you’re standing in the middle of a party, “you’ll hear all of these people talking, but you won’t hear anything in particular.”
But here’s what caught our attention: Our Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy, and they will merge in about 4.5 billion years—no doubt triggering a lot of chirping and humming. You can check out the new research here. (Wall Street Journal, paywall, Associated Press)
Two food stories of note
Au revoir red wine? Sales of red wine in France have plummeted—and are now half of what they were in the 1990s. It has been toppled by the rosé—whose sales jumped by 93% in the same period. The key reason: the French are just drinking less wine:
The country is one of the fastest growing markets for alcohol-free drinks, which are gaining popularity among a younger and a more health-conscious demographic. The number of French wine-drinking adults aged 18 to 35 dropped by 7% between 2011 and 2021. And red wines tend to have higher alcohol content than rosé and white wines: Red wine averages 13.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), while rosé averages 12% ABV, and white wine averages 10% ABV.
Quartz has more stats and background.
The big Q about ketchup: There has long been a passionate battle over the storage of this everyday condiment—cupboard or fridge? Even Cardi B had opinions—claiming, "People who put their ketchup in the fridge are not to be trusted." Sadly for her, Heinz has finally settled the debate, tweeting: “FYI: Ketchup. goes. in. the. Fridge!!!" Of course, that didn’t stop the Twitterati from schooling the brand on its own product lol! In any case, now every Indian mummy feels vindicated. (CBS News)
Orangutans can beatbox too!
That’s the cool discovery made by scientists who studied the apes in Indonesia. They can basically make two sounds—a vowel and a consonant—at the same time:
The researchers found that female orangutans in Sumatra simultaneously make consonant-like kissing sounds and vowel-like hu-hooing sounds to warn their group if predators are around. Similarly, males in Borneo have a call that uses both mouth chomping and guttural grumbles that come from the larynx at the same time.
We don’t know if this is part of their language system or learned behaviour. But everything we learn about how great apes communicate teaches us about the evolution of human speech. You can hear them making the sounds below. (New Scientist)
Two things to see
One: Gustav Klimt’s last painting ‘Lady with a Fan’ sold for a record breaking $108.4 million—making it the most expensive artwork ever sold in Europe. It sold after an intense 10-minute bidding war between Asian buyers—who perhaps appreciated the backdrop of “opulent Oriental textiles.” Well, it’s undeniably gorgeous! New York Times has more on the history of the painting. (Quartz)
Two: Nike rolled out a football boot line for women called Phantom Luna—and calls it “most innovative and researched women’s-led boot” in the company’s history. Why this shoe is notable: women players have been playing in shoes designed for men—which often led to injuries. See the promo ad below. (The Guardian)