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This artist’s impression shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819 triple system.

This artist’s impression shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819 triple system. The system is made up of an inner star (orbit in blue) and a newly discovered black hole (orbit in red), as well as a third star in a wider orbit (also in blue).ESO/L. Calçada

The black hole next door

A black hole merely 1,011 light years from our solar system is the closest ever discovered. Astronomers uncovered its presence while studying the binary star system HR 6819 in the constellation Telescopium. The central star orbits a mysterious object every 40 days or so, and the outer star encircles the central star and the object, which has a mass of 4.2 suns. A regular star of that size would shine brightly — so a black hole is the only option. “It seems like it’s been hiding in plain sight,” says astronomer Kareem El-Badry.

National Geographic | 8 min read

Reference: Astronomy & Astrophysics paper

First full-genome lion family tree

Geneticists have reconstructed the relationships of 20 lions, including several extinct ones, by sequencing their genomes. The results support the idea that lions migrated out of Africa, like humans did. Researchers took samples from both living and dead animals, including two 30,000-year-old cave lions (Panthera leo spelaea) preserved in permafrost in Siberia and Canada’s Yukon territory. The findings reveal details about how lions took over the world — they were once the most globally widespread mammal species — and where genetic diversity has been quashed by shrinking populations.

National Geographic | 4 min read

Source: PNAS paper

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

China plugs unproven traditional medicines

The Chinese government is heavily promoting traditional medicines as treatments for COVID-19. The remedies, a major part of China’s health-care system, are even being sent to countries including Iran and Italy as international aid. But scientists outside China say it is dangerous to support therapies that have yet to be proven safe and effective.

Nature | 5 min read

How to boost good science on social media

The conversation about COVID-19 science is happening on social media whether we like it or not — so it’s worthwhile for scientists to counter the trolls and conspiracy theorists, argues neuroscientist and science communicator Samantha Yammine. She recommends avoiding hot takes, amplifying the good stuff and being compassionate rather than dismissive.

Nature | 6 min read

CORONAVIRUS CASH: barchart showing funding spent on coronavirus research since 2000

Source: Research Investments in Global Health study (RESIN), University of Southampton


The number of confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United Kingdom — now surpassing Italy as the most coronavirus deaths in Europe. There are many caveats: the UK population is about 10% larger than Italy’s, and Italy has done more testing. (BBC | 6 min read)

Features & opinion

When conservation goes wrong

In some areas, conservationists have contributed to dislodging people who have lived sustainably for generations. Anthropologist Jerome Lewis saw this happen to the BaYaka Pygmies, who had lived in the forests of Central Africa’s Congo Basin for some 55,000 years. “The formerly active, well-fed and lively BaYaka are now often malnourished, depressed and alcoholic casual laborers dwelling on the edges of their former territories, terrorized by so-called eco-guards and subjected to commercial and sexual exploitation by outsiders.” In various parts of the world, new programmes are now attempting a better approach.

Scientific American | 20 min read

Quote of the day

“The EPA is becoming a shell of its former self. Its leaders have chosen to abdicate leadership, disregard evidence and expose the country’s environment and health to risk of further degradation. “

Nature is rooting for the staff who have chosen to remain at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — and stands with researchers and businesses fighting to maintain the agency’s legacy. (Nature editorial | 5 min read)