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Fire engine surrounded by bushfire smoke, Australia

A fire engine surrounded by bush-fire smoke in February near the town of Bumbalong, south of Canberra, Australia.Credit: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty

Climate change made Australian fires at least 30% more likely

Human-induced climate change increased by at least 30% the risk of the weather conditions that drove extreme fires in Australia last year. An international group of climate scientists made the estimate using models that calculate the chance of fire on the basis of variables such as heat, humidity, wind and rainfall. The World Weather Attribution group emphasized that its assessment was conservative, and the real increase could be much higher.

Nature | 4 min read

Read more about World Weather Attribution in Nature’s in-depth feature (9 min read)

Reference: World Weather Attribution report

Europe champions bold new climate law

The European Commission has proposed a law to make the European Union carbon-neutral by 2050. The law would give the commission power to set binding short-term climate targets that don’t need unanimous approval from all 27 member states. Policy analysts say that some countries could strongly oppose these measures, so the current draft is unlikely to be approved without substantial amendments. But climate campaigners say the new law doesn’t go far enough. “We don’t just need goals for 2030 or 2050. We, above all, need them for 2020 and every following month and year to come,” says an open letter from a group of young activists, including school-climate-strike leader Greta Thunberg.

Nature | 3 min read

Hanging up on Voyager 2

Starting on Monday, part of the Deep Space Network will go offline — the global group of telescopes that allows NASA, the European Space Agency and other space agencies to talk to their far-flung spacecraft. The powerful radio antennas located in California, Australia and Spain need maintenance to prepare for a spate of Mars missions launching this summer. That will leave one spacecraft out in the cold: the 43-year-old Voyager 2, which can hear only from a single antenna in the network because of its trajectory relative to Earth. Data will still be received from Voyager 2, but it will have to survive without instructions from Earth for 11 months.

The New York Times | 5 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus genome tells tale of its spread

• Scientists are tracking mutations to the coronavirus in nearly real time. The virus’s family tree reveals how the infection is hopping between countries and spreading in communities. In detailed interactive visualizations on a website called Nextstrain, branches show how the virus entered Europe multiple times and that it was spreading undetected in Washington state. (Technology Review | 8 min read)

• The World Bank has pledged up to US$12 billion, including $8 billion in new funding, to fight the outbreak. The focus of the money will be on strengthening health systems and improving access to treatment in countries at high risk and with low capacity. (Nature | Continuously updated)

• How do hand sanitizers work against viruses like SARS-CoV-2 anyway? A simple graphic from chemistry educator Andy Brunning spells out the science. (Compound Interest blog | 2 min read)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

Features & opinion

A computer simulation shows electrons and positrons accelerated to high energies in the magnetic and electric fields of a pulsar

Powerful magnetic and electric fields whip charged particles around, in a computer simulation of a spinning neutron star.Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

This is the golden age of neutron-star physics

In the first moments of a neutron star’s birth, just after a massive star explodes, its iron core shrinks to a sphere the size of Manhattan. What happens next is a mystery. The protons and electrons might fuse into the star’s namesake neutrons all the way down to the centre. Or the unimaginable pressure might compact the material into more exotic particles or states that squish and deform in unusual ways. Answers are coming, thanks to gravitational-wave observatories and an instrument on the International Space Station called the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER).

Nature | 10 min read

Describes the interior of a Neutron Star and possible scenarios for composition of its dense inner core.

Extended US travel ban harms global science

From preparing for pandemics to boosting crop yields, Nigerian scientists who work and train abroad are making the world safer. Entry restrictions in the United States are putting that under threat, argues Nnaemeka Ndodo, the chief molecular bioengineer at the National Reference Laboratory for Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control.

Nature | 3 min read

Wageningen and the future of food

Wageningen University in the Netherlands is a hub of global food science. The small European nation is among the world’s leading food exporters, and bears the scars of a famine that killed more than 20,000 people in the final months of the Second World War. In that unique context, among drone-monitored fields and banana-packed greenhouses, researchers are confronting the big questions of how to keep the world fed and healthy.

The Guardian | 12 min read

Quote of the day

“I didn’t sign up for being called an idiot, a whore, an evil, conniving, greedy scientist. That does give people a moment of pause.”

Climate scientists who engage with the public have to weigh their duty with the downsides, says high-profile climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. (Rolling Stone)