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Astronomers say they have solved the mystery of why Betelgeuse, one of the sky’s brightest stars, started getting dimmer in 2019. By mid-February this year, Betelgeuse had lost more than two-thirds of its brilliance — a difference noticeable to the naked eye. Some people speculated that this was a sign that the star was approaching the end of its life, but researchers working with the Hubble telescope now say it was probably caused by hot material that the star ejected into space, which then cooled and turned into dust. “The resulting cloud blocked light from about a quarter of the star’s surface,” the European Space Agency said in a statement.
Scientists who get too many references to their own work inserted in others’ papers — whether by previous arrangement or by asking for extra references during peer review — might leave telltale fingerprints in the citation record, say two researchers who have developed a way to detect what they call citation hacking. A statistical analysis of more than 20,000 authors’ citation patterns found at least 80 scientists whose citations indicate “chronic, repeated” reference-list manipulation, the researchers say. The patterns also suggest that around 16% of authors in their sample “may have engaged in reference list manipulation to some degree”.
Reference: bioRxiv preprint
Features & opinion
Arctic scientist Konrad Steffen, whose work showed how Greenland’s ice sheet is melting as a result of climate change, has died in a tragic accident near the research station that he set up 30 years ago, called Swiss Camp. Steffen went missing while installing new equipment at the site, and it was later discovered that he had fallen into a crevasse in the ice. He was a “larger than life explorer-scientist that you typically only get the chance to read about”, says climate scientist Ryan Neely, who studied with Steffen. “In the end, it looks like climate change actually claimed him as a victim.”
Many scientists start hobbies to take their minds off research and to connect with people outside academia. Some make these pastimes their careers. Nature spoke to four researchers who turned their brewing and fermentation hobbies into business ventures. One started making kombucha after finishing an internship at NASA. Another champions diversity in the craft-brewing community. “If you are scientifically minded, home-brewing gives you a chance to practically apply knowledge about biology, chemistry and physics, and at the end of the process, you end up with beer,” says yeast supplier Richard Preiss.
Swarms of migratory locusts regularly devastate crops across the world, but why these swarms form has been a mystery. Now, a team of researchers has identified a compound that causes solitary locusts to come together in their billions. On this week’s Nature Podcast, we discuss how the discovery could have practical applications for preventing future swarms. Plus, get the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic in our weekly Coronapod segment.
Where I work
Marine biologist Greg Rouse (pictured with colleagues Nerida Wilson and Kaycee Handley) spotted a creature that ‘nobody could have imagined’ one day during an expedition through the Ningaloo Canyons off the northwest coast of Australia, aboard the research ship RV Falkor. A massive siphonophore, a colonial organism related to corals, sea anemones and jellyfish, was discovered by the Falkor’s remote submersible. Well over 100 metres in length, the creature is much longer than any animal previously recorded. “The Falkor is an amazing ship with an amazing crew,” Rouse says. “It offers a wonderful combination of science and outreach. I felt privileged to be on board.” (Nature | 3 min read)
This is your last Briefing before we take a short break for the summer. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be sending you one e-mail a week featuring a hand-picked round-up of the best science books of the season (exclusively for Briefing readers), a selection of award-winning science writing from the year so far and some of Briefing readers’ own favourites.
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With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty