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A softly glowing side of Saturn and rings imaged by Cassini

NASA's Cassini spacecraft spent its final five months diving between Saturn and its rings.Credit: NASA/JPL

Cassini’s final discoveries before its fiery end

Astronomers have published a raft of surprises from the final months of NASA’s Cassini mission, when the spacecraft dove between the planet and its rings. Among the discoveries is a previously unknown inner radiation belt teeming with energetic particles. The belt is similar to one reported by NASA’s Juno mission last year around Jupiter. “Now we can really start to do comparative planetology,” says planetary scientist Fran Bagenal.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: Six Science papers & five Geophysical Research Letters papers

Mr Smits goes to Washington

Robert-Jan Smits, the architect of a bold European open-access bid called Plan S, is in the United States this week to talk to research funders, scientific societies and representatives of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. Smits has also named the leaders of a task force that will flesh out the details of the plan by the end of the year. Plan S involves a growing coalition of European national research funders who will require their grantees to make papers free to read immediately on publication — which would bar researchers from publishing in 85% of journals, including Nature and Science.

Nature | 5 min read

Brazil’s election could savage its science

A populist surge in Brazil’s presidential race could have huge impacts on science in the country. Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial former military officer dubbed the ‘Tropical Trump’, has proposed plans that would weaken environmental protections and eliminate the science ministry. He currently holds a slim lead in the polls for the first round of voting, scheduled for 7 October.

Nature | 5 min read

Extraordinary crystals from Earth’s infancy

Scientists have found a rare trove of minerals that could be as many as 4.1 billion years old in the mountains in South Africa’s Barberton region. The crystals might reveal some of the planet’s early secrets, such as clues to the chemistry of its primordial crust.

Nature Research Highlights | 1 min read

Reference: Geology paper

Get more of Nature’s Research Highlights: short picks from the latest papers.


Craft metrics to value co-production

Advocates of co-production encourage collaboration between professional researchers and those affected by that research, to ensure that the resulting science is relevant and useful. A key way of supporting this approach is reconfiguring that much-derided feature of academic careers: metrics. Three researchers describe how to make it happen.

Nature | 9 min read

Did Chinese spies hack Amazon and Apple?

Nearly invisible microchips were piggybacked onto computer motherboards that made their way into US-military data centres, a major bank, Amazon and Apple, reports Bloomerg Businessweek. The chips allowed attackers to create a backdoor into any network that used the machines. The magazine reports that the chips were inserted at Chinese factories that supplied Supermicro, a California-based company, during the manufacturing process by operatives from a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. Amazon, Apple and Supermicro have denied the report.

Bloomerg Businessweek | 22 min read

A double hit against dormant HIV

Antiviral drugs prevent HIV from replicating, but the virus can hide in the cells of infected individuals in a non-replicating, latent form. A two-pronged “shock and kill” approach that targets this latent version of the virus shows promise in monkeys. “The concept is that if you use one compound that might be able to stimulate or wake up the latent viral reservoir, then you might be able to deliver another hit that will be able to see those cells and eliminate them,” immunologist Dan Barouch tells the Nature podcast. Also in the podcast this week, Briefing editor Flora Graham (that’s me!) tells you everything you need to know about the science Nobel winners.

Nature Podcast | 30 min listen

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Black and white photo of Bethlehem Steel Mill in Johnstown, PA, from a hill. Smoke rises from the stacks

Bethlehem Steel Mill in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1937. The company used iron from Cuba.Credit: Bettmann/Getty

The global reach of the US Department of the Interior

A new book tracks the scope of the US Department of the Interior’s minerals legacy from the arid US West to Alaska and island territories, South America, the Middle East and, eventually, to the ocean floor and outer space. The book’s view of history through the lens of expansionism and imperial tendencies belies the complexities of the world we all live in, says reviewer K. John Holmes, director of the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems at the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Nature | 6 min read

The craving and the kick

From sugar to smartphones, the debut exhibition of Science Gallery London explores the bleak territory where want becomes need. The show is strongest when it involves people who have lived with addiction and its consequences, but strangely fails to place this in the context of addiction epidemics such as the opioid crisis, says reviewer Heidi Ledford.

Nature | 5 min read

Five best science books this week

Barbara Kiser’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes an ode to female space trainees, the creeping cost of climate change, and the fabric of history: Books in brief.

Nature | 2 min read


Twist your graph to avoid confusion

Two US biologists have come up with a nifty way of helping researchers to avoid mistaking an association in their observation study for a cause-and-effect: rotate your graph by 45 degrees to make a diamond. In experimental methodology, scientists are taught that the independent variable — the one they control — belongs on the x-axis. But when it comes to observational data, scientists might still apply these rules instinctively, and mistakenly suppose that the variable on the x-axis is influencing the other. But the diamond’s symmetry means that neither axis takes precedence, hopefully reducing the risk of this misattribution.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: arXiv paper

Supercharged data wrangling

Graphics processing units aren’t just of interest to gamers and cryptocurrency miners. Increasingly, they’re being used to turbocharge research that involve lots of things — atoms, for example — that can be modelled simultaneously. The technique has become particularly prevalent in fields such as molecular dynamics, astrophysics and machine learning.

Nature | 8 min read


Researcher repairs GPS module near glacier

Credit: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

The extreme conditions at Helheim Glacier in Greenland can be hazardous to researchers — and to their equipment. Here, climate scientist David Holland of New York University fixes a broken Global Positioning System module at the research site.

See more of the best science photos of the month, chosen by Nature’s picture editors.