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Hubble 30th Anniversary Image of 'Cosmic Reef' (NGC 2014 and NGC 2020)

A colorful image resembling a cosmic version of an undersea world teeming with stars commemorates the Hubble Space Telescope's 30 years of viewing the wonders of space. In the Hubble portrait, the giant red nebula (NGC 2014) and its smaller blue neighbor (NGC 2020) are part of a vast star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located 163,000 light-years away.NASA, ESA and STScI

‘Never bet against Hubble’

The Hubble Space Telescope just turned 30, but some of its biggest discoveries could still lie ahead, says Ken Sembach, the director of the institute that manages the venerable observatory. He shares recollections of some of Hubble’s breakthroughs, including measuring the expansion of the Universe three times more precisely than it was originally designed to do. Scientists are now working on tripling that precision yet again, as well as conducting studies that none of its planned successors could do, because they will lack the capability to sense ultraviolet rays. The institute hopes the telescope might last another five years, possibly more. “I would never bet against Hubble,” Sembach says.

Scientific American | 8 min read

India and Pakistan team up against locusts

Despite having suspended most communications last year as tensions escalated following a terror attack, India and Pakistan are working to find common ground against the huge locust swarms threatening their people. Officials have been meeting at a place on the border known as Zero Point, to discuss pest breeding patterns and control strategies. “Whether we like it or not, we have to cooperate,” says political scientist Ashok Swain.

Undark | 8 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Which COVID-fighting strategies work best

Closing schools? Mass testing? Mandatory face masks? Shutting borders? Working out the effectiveness of various measures is one of scientists’ most pressing questions as we seek an end to lockdowns without a wave of fresh infections. Researchers are gathering data from groups across the globe and exploring which statistical approaches to use to analyse it. So far, Germany and Austria stand out as nations that adopted aggressive strategies early, compared with Italy, France and Spain — and have seen a fraction of the deaths from COVID-19 of these other countries.

Nature | 7 min read

Pandemic Protection: line charts highlighting several countries' severity of response to coronavirus since day of first death.

Source: Oxford Coronavirus Government Response Tracker (data); Nature (charts).

Global death toll might really be 60% higher

A Financial Times analysis indicates that the death toll from coronavirus might be far higher than reported in official counts. The newspaper compared all known deaths during the outbreak in 14 countries with the average deaths in those places over the past four years. Extrapolating to the whole world, there might have been as many as 318,000 deaths in excess of normal levels at the time of writing, compared with the official global COVID-19 death count of 201,000.

Financial Times | 5 min read

Stomp out COVID-19 pseudoscience

The scientific community must take up cudgels in the battle against bunk, argues Timothy Caulfield. First, we must stop legitimizing pseudoscience at reputable institutions — no more reiki at health clinics, or homeopathy offered by public-health providers in Canada and the United Kingdom. Disinformation expert Claire Wardle says that the best way to fight misinformation is to swamp the landscape with accurate information. “So, let’s get swamping,” says Caulfield.

Nature | 5 min read

Notable quotable

Coronavirus research highlights: 1-minute reads

‘Dry swabbing’ offers new way of testing

Wide-scale genetic testing for SARS-CoV-2 has been hampered, in part, by shortages of the solutions used to store sampling swabs and extract viral RNA from them. To overcome this difficulty, researchers have developed a procedure for detecting viral RNA in swabs without the highly sought solutions.

Reference: bioRxiv preprint

Hospital toilets can be a hotspot for airborne viral RNA

Researchers tested the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in aerosols — fine airborne particles — at two hospitals treating people with COVID-19. They detected elevated levels in locations such as a small toilet used by patients, and staff changing rooms. No viral RNA was detected in staff rooms after they had been disinfected. Low to undetectable levels were found in the hospitals’ well-ventilated patient wards. The presence of airborne viral RNA suggests that SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to spread by way of aerosols, the researchers say. They suggest that measures such as routine disinfection and better ventilation could help to control the virus’s spread.

Reference: Nature paper

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

Features & opinion

The silence of the shrimps

Whales are singing lower, King penguins are being muffled by the wind and snapping shrimp — one of the loudest creatures in the ocean — are losing the will to snap. Around the world, ecologists are documenting how climate change is altering the soundscape of the natural world. For example, as seawater soaks in carbon and gets more acidic, snapping shrimp — which produce their ear-popping noises to stun prey — seem to be snapping less. “It’s not that ocean acidification completely takes away their ability to make loud snaps,” says marine biologist Ivan Nagelkerken. “They can still do that but essentially don’t want to do that any more.”

New York Times | 6 min read

Image of the week

View of the glowing young plants.


Researchers inserted four genes from a bioluminescent mushroom called Neonothopanus nambi into the DNA of tobacco plants to make them glow. The greenish glow — which is visible to the naked eye — reveals when the plants are stressed and how they develop. The scientists are also hoping to bring an ornamental version to the market. (The Guardian | 5 min read)

Reference: Nature Biotechnology paper

Quote of the day

“One of my best friends from the astronaut world, Anne McClain, quarantined for a couple weeks so that she could be my support person here…. At least I can get a few hugs.”

After nearly seven months at the International Space Station, astronaut Jessica Meir is back on Earth — but coronavirus means there’s even more to adjust to than usual. (Vanity Fair | 15 min read)