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Daily briefing: Voyager 1 detects ‘eerie’ hum of interstellar space

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Passengers wearing face masks at the main departure hall in the terminal of Athens International Airport

A SARS-CoV-2 variant spreading across Europe probably caught a ride to the region with travellers arriving from central Africa.Credit: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty

How a worrisome variant spread unnoticed

Multiple travellers carried a new coronavirus variant from central Africa to Europe, where it has now spread to at least a dozen countries, according to genomic data. The variant, named B.1.620, hosts a suite of mutations that have been linked to increased transmissibility and the ability to escape the immune response. The findings suggest that the variant is circulating widely in central Africa but has been undetected because of limited sequencing, highlighting the risk posed by regional inequities in genomic surveillance.

Nature | 1 min read

Read more: Alarming COVID variants show vital role of genomic surveillance (Nature | 6 min read, from January)

Reference: bioRxiv preprint

Brain implant turns thoughts into text

A brain–computer interface for typing could eventually let people with paralysis communicate at the speed of their thoughts. The device was able to decode, in real time, signals from electrodes implanted in the brain of a 65-year-old man with full-body paralysis as he imagined writing. He was able to mentally type 90 characters per minute — not far from the speed at which the average person that age can type on a smartphone.

Scientific American | 5 min read

Go deeper with an analysis by bioengineers Pavithra Rajeswaran and Amy L. Orsborn in the Nature News & Views article.

Reference: Nature paper

Voyager 1 captures hum between the stars

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has detected persistent ripples in interstellar plasma, through which it has been travelling since it left the Solar System in 2012. By measuring these waves, astrophysicists have made the first continuous measurements of the density of interstellar plasma, the rarefied medium between the stars. "When the plasma oscillations are converted to an audio signal, it sounds like a tone that varies. It's a bit eerie," says astronomer James Cordes

Reuters | 4 min read

Reference: Nature Astronomy paper

US authorizes Pfizer vaccines for youths

US regulators have given the go-ahead for 12- to 15-year-olds to get the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer jab was already being administered to people as young as 16 in the United States. The news follows an as-yet-unpublished clinical trial that found, among 2,260 children 12 to 15 years old, no symptomatic infections and no serious side effects in those who got the jab. There were 18 cases of COVID-19 in the placebo group.

CNN | 5 min read

Read more: COVID vaccines and kids: five questions as trials begin (Nature | 7 min read, from April)

Features & opinion

Nature-based ways to cool the planet

Analyses of nature-based solutions often focus on how much carbon they can remove from the atmosphere. A new analysis explores how these solutions will affect global temperatures — a crucial metric as humanity attempts to limit global warming. It suggests that a nature-based strategy could reduce peak warming by an additional 0.3 °C under a scenario consistent with a 2 °C overall temperature rise by 2085. Climate-change policy analyst Cécile Girardin and seven colleagues explain how projects that manage, protect and restore ecosystems could offer climate, biodiversity and socio-economic benefits — if done properly, and soon.

Nature | 12 min read

Three steps to natural cooling. Illustration flow chart showing nature-based solutions to save carbon.

Source: S. Jenkins et al. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 2795–2804 (2018).

My PhD defence in 100 memes

Sea-ice scientist Sophie Dufour-Beauséjour chose an unusual way to capture an academic rite of passage, with a little help from her friends. The 60 people who attended her 3-hour virtual PhD defence shared visual inside jokes known as memes, such as the one below capturing fleeting exasperation at a jury member’s question.

Nature | 5 min read

Meme from Sophie's Dufour-Beauséjour phd defence, this reaction image meme is often used to joke about conspiracy theories.

Sophie Dufour-Beauséjour asked friends in the audience of her PhD defence to create memes relating to the event.Credit: Elena Sophie Drouin

Quote of the day

“Tired though everyone is, we need to put in the work now so that we can deliver better, quicker evidence next time around.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest tests yet of evidence-based medicine — and has shown that the current system falls short in a fast-moving global emergency, argues a Nature editorial.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-01304-4

Need a break? Enjoy 58 soothing seconds of time-lapsed testing and assembly of the James Webb Space Telescope’s lovely big shiny golden mirror. The mirror has been folded for the last time on Earth as it readies for launch, hopefully on 31 October.

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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