NATURE BRIEFING

Daily briefing: Astrophysicists recoil from hints that the universe is lopsided

A map of 850 distant galaxy clusters suggests “astonishing and depressing” news that the Universe might not be uniform. Plus: what we do and don’t know about antibody tests for coronavirus, and a space tow truck has rescued a commercial satellite for the first time.

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A view of the IS-901 satellite from MEV-1 during approach from approximately 20 metres, with Earth in the background.Northrop Grumman

First ever satellite-on-satellite rescue

For the first time ever, a space ‘tow truck’ has rescued a commercial satellite. US aerospace-technology company Northrup Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle-1, or MEV-1, docked with Intelsat 901, an ageing communications satellite, in late February. Last Friday, MEV-1 adjusted the satellite’s inclination and orbit to give it a new lease on life. MEV-1 itself has a lifespan of 15 years, and can dock to and undock from multiple satellites.

Ars Technica | 3 min read

Astrophysicists recoil from lopsided cosmos

A map of 850 distant galaxy clusters hints that the Universe might not be uniform. Combining data from US, European and Japanese X-ray space telescopes, researchers have revealed galaxy clusters that were around 30% brighter or fainter than expected, suggesting that their distances had been poorly estimated. Taking these clusters as beacons of the rate of cosmic expansion, the findings would mean that one region is expanding slower than the rest of the Universe, and another is expanding faster. Astrophysicist Megan Donahue comments that a lopsided expansion “would be astonishing and depressing” because it suggests that our understanding of the Universe could be permanently incomplete.

Scientific American | 6 min read

Reference: Astronomy & Astrophysics paper

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Roughly circular yellow blobs with dark patches scattered over pink and white background.

Limited global testing for coronavirus (yellow) has led researchers to try to estimate the prevalence of infection within specific communities.Credit: CDC/Science Photo Library

Antibody tests get mixed reviews

Dozens of biotech companies have scrambled to distribute antibody tests that tell whether someone has been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. These tests are being hailed as a game changer that could help to decide when to end controversial lockdown measures. But many tests developed so far have not been reliable. “No test is better than a bad test,” says infectious-disease researcher Michael Busch. (Nature | 8 min read)

Infections might vastly exceed official counts

Widespread antibody testing in a Californian county has revealed that the prevalence of coronavirus infections might be more than 50 times higher than official figures suggest. The results — which have not yet been peer reviewed — are some of the first of more than a dozen ‘seroprevalence surveys’ being carried out in cities worldwide to estimate true infection rates. But questions about the reliability of testing kits mean that the survey results might not be accurate. (Nature | 7 min read)

How research funders are trying to help

Researchers confined to their homes and unable to carry on with grant-funded work are becoming increasingly concerned about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect their funding. Nature spoke to the world’s major research funders to find out how they are adapting their funding policies. (Nature | 8 min read)

Coronavirus chemicals by ear

Do you know your lopinavir from your remdesivir and your chloroquine from your hydroxychloroquine? Catch up with a series of short podcasts about the chemical compounds being tested in the World Health Organization’s global SOLIDARITY drug trials (ritonavir is coming next week). (Chemistry World | Several sub-10 min listens) .

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

Read Nature’s continuously updated selection of the must-read papers and preprints on COVID-19.

Notable quotable

Features & opinion

COVERING CLIMATE NOW

This week, Nature joins more than 400 of the world’s media organizations in a week of intensive reporting called Covering Climate Now. For the second year running, we aim to focus attention on the need for urgent climate action. So in the Briefing this week, you’ll see more than the usual number of climate-change stories, although not exclusively.

This year, the focus is on climate solutions.

Listen to Nature’s chief magazine editor Helen Pearson tell the Nature Backchat podcast last year about why we are uniting with colleagues and competitors around the world to highlight the issue of climate change.

Time to stand together

Cutting personal carbon emissions might slash 10 tonnes per person each year — and contributing to a successful campaign to shutter a coal-powered plant could eliminate one million times that, notes science writer Emma Marris. She argues that scientists are perfectly placed to help to hold governments and companies accountable on the climate — and that such activities need not conflict with our scientific objectivity and rigour. (Nature | 5 min read)

Nature | 5 min read

How climate scientists can help lawyers

In 2019, the Urgenda Foundation, a Dutch non-profit group, successfully sued the government of the Netherlands for doing too little to reduce emissions. Dennis van Berkel, who was Urgenda’s legal counsel, argues that scientific evidence has a crucial role in arguing the case in climate lawsuits.

Nature | 5 min read

Quote of the day

“Taking a break to program with pictures or revel in an interesting discovery about barnacle sex can make the self-isolation of working from home more bearable.”

Computational biologist Atma Ivancevic recommends her favourite light-hearted science podcasts, videos and other treats to help remind you why you like the job in the first place. (Nature | 4 min read)

Last week, we remembered that time when Leif Penguinson went to the Moon with Apollo 15. Did you spot the penguin? When you’re ready — here’s the answer!

Please let me know how you think Leif fared in lunar gravity (or any other feedback on this newsletter) at briefing@nature.com.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Davide Castelvecchi, Emma Stoye and David Cyranoski.

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