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Squishy pillows of moss appear to slowly move across glaciers in a coordinated fashion, researchers have found. In a long-term study in Alaska, researchers tagged the rolling ‘glacier mice’ to monitor their motion. The herd seems to move in unison, at a speed of about 2.5 centimetres per day. Their motion didn’t align with the prevailing winds, and they weren’t rolling down a slope — so what propels them is still a mystery. “It's very hard not to think of tribbles from Star Trek,” says climate scientist Ruth Mottram. The team hopes to track glacier mice that were tagged a decade ago to see how they have moved over a longer period.
Female university staff in Australia have lost more jobs, paid hours and career opportunities than their male colleagues have since the pandemic hit. And there could be worse to come, because women are 50% more likely to hold at-risk casual and short-term contract positions — which are often the first to go. A report by a forum that represents the country’s scientists found that funding cuts could see gender-equity gains lost as institutions pull back on permanent contracts.
Read more: Are women publishing less during the pandemic? Here’s what the data say (Nature, 6 min read)
Physicists have made a molecular-scale movie that shows how electrons rearrange their positions in a light-driven chemical reaction long before the atoms themselves have begun to move. To initiate the reaction, the team shot light pulses at a molecule of 1,3-cyclohexadiene. These were followed by powerful ultra-short pulses of X-rays, which blew the molecule apart. By looking at the subatomic shrapnel, the scientists could reconstruct its shape at the time it exploded.
Features & opinion
Last October, Germany’s biggest research vessel, Polarstern, got frozen in the Arctic ice — on purpose. The ambitious one-year mission would give a rotating crew of some 300 scientists from 17 countries an unprecedented view of the polar climate and its fragile ecosystems. The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with travel to and from the ship, forcing it to break out of the ice for an unforeseen three-week break to transfer scientists. But the rewards have been rich — researchers are bringing back daring tales, troves of data and stunning photographs.
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With contributions by Nicky Phillips, Smriti Mallapaty and Davide Castelvecchi