The 850-year-old Supernova Remnant, the Five Good Books of the Week, and the Issue of Vaccining against COVID-19
The remains of this supernova are stunning and were recorded 850 years ago. Also, the five best books of the week, as well as the issue of whether or not to give COVID-19 vaccines yearly.
“I have worked on supernova remnants for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says astronomer Robert Fesen about the cosmic fireworks display that his team has imaged. The remnant is similar to the chaotic web of gas and dust left over from a standard supernova. It was probably produced by two white-dwarf stars slamming together, creating an explosion that was documented by Chinese and Japanese astronomers nearly 850 years ago.
US scientists are split about a proposal to vaccinate people against COVID-19 annually, similar to the protocol for flu jabs. The simplification of the COVID-19 vaccine schedule might boost take up in the country. Others aren’t convinced about the timeline, because COVID-19 surges aren’t as seasonal as influenza and SARS-CoV-2 spawns new variants at a much faster rate. It’s also unclear whether future jabs should be targeted to a single variant or contain a ‘bivalent’ formulation against more than one strain.
How to speak without speaking: an implanted motor cortex device that can tell you how to move your mouth, tongue, tongue and vocal cords
A woman who cannot speak because of the paralysing effects of motor neuron disease was able to communicate at a rate of 62 words per minute — three times the previous best — thanks to a brain implant. The device, implanted into her motor cortex, detected how the woman was trying to move her mouth, tongue and vocal cords, and conveyed that information to a computer that displayed the words she was trying to say. “The performance in this paper is already at a level which many people who cannot speak would want, if the device were ready,” says Philip Sabes, a neuroscientist who was not involved in the study. “People are going to want this.”
Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes the trans-Atlantic correspondence between James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis — the inventors of the Gaia hypothesis, in which all organisms on Earth and their non-living surroundings are viewed as a complex, interacting system — and an illustrated study of parasitic worms.
The amino acid serine slows diabetes-induced nerve damage in mice. Diabetes causes nerve damage in humans which results in numbness and pain. Researchers found that diabetic mice have an imbalanced serine metabolism, which generates compounds that are toxic to neurons. “If we fed a serine-enriched diet to the diabetic mice as they were getting older, we could mitigate the onset of sensory neuropathy,” bioengineer Christian Metallo tells the Nature Podcast.
The rumours of the demise of red hair in the human gene pool have been greatly exaggerated, says geneticist Katerina Zorina-Lichtenwalter. (National Geographic | 6 min read)
Pots from a 2,500-year-old embalming workshop reveal mummification ingredients. Plus, learn how to write a novel and put a solar power station in space.
Why does the COVID-19 pandemic get worse? What do scientists think about the EU, especially in light of its 2022 European exit from coal
The WHO predicts that the COVID-19 will probably stop being a public health emergency of international concern soon due to high levels of immunity. Many researchers agree with the WHO’s assessment to keep the emergency status in place for now, because it stops governments from moving on to other things. Others think that because SARS-CoV-2 has already spread to every corner of the globe, the pandemic has moved well beyond the original definition of an emergency. The WHO merely said in March 2020 that the term “pandemic” was used, as opposed to officially declaring COVID-19 a pandemic.
The European Union’s electricity was supplied from wind and solar for the first time in 2022, according to a think tank. The sources of low-carbon energy took a hit from historic fires, as well as an unexpected amount of French nuclear reactor offline for maintenance. Mild weather and public efforts to reduce energy use kept demand low. The end result: Europe did not return to coal in a big way to replace gas supplies withheld by Russia. “Any fears of a coal rebound are now dead,” says Dave Jones, Ember’s head of data insights.
Over the past 50 years, disruptive science has plummeted, but Nature asked whether it matters.
Many respondents highlighted how funding systems favor scientists who are likely to produce publishable results, rather than projects with uncertain outcomes. The administrative burdens leaves little time to think.
Accessibility, kindness, and humility at eye level: a request from Anna-Lena Bercht, an expert on the solar power station project
The first solar power station is likely to be up and running by the year 2040. Until then, huge technical hurdles remain. It would have to be more than a square kilometer in size and assembled in space to complete the challenge. Sending the power generated in space back to Earth is arguably the biggest problem. The most promising way to convert the energy into microwaves is to set up stations that are larger than the solar panels.
Anna-Lena Bercht says two things are required for research participants to be close to one another:physical access and mental access. She used public transport to connect with people in China and Norway. She offers other tips, including using small talk to counteract the asymmetrical power relationship between the researcher and the researched. Bercht says to show respect and be humble. “Having a modest view of yourself is essential to communicate at eye level with people.”
The Neuroscience of You Giveaway: A Prize for a Celestron telescope to discover a Neural Network at the Grand Unified Observatory
I was not prepared. I thought I had time in my schedule, but I still had to do my academic work,” says psychologist Chantel Prat about writing The Neuroscience of You. She attributes her book’s success to expert guidance from her agent and other scientists who wrote books. It is important to not compare your book to others. If you have found your lane, occupy it and enjoy it.
It won’t get to you in time to spot the green comet, but we are giving away a lovely Celestron telescope. You can enter your email address for a chance to win. Both new and existing Briefing readers are welcome to enter. DarkSky® Alqueva is owned byMiguel Claro.
Conservation biologist Carlos Ruiz-Miranda supports a controversial last-ditch plan to vaccinate golden lion tamarins (Leontopithecus rosalia) against yellow fever spread by people. (Associated Press | 11 min read — well worth visiting for the stunning photos)