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A high-resolution image of Mars captured by the China's Tianwen-1 probe

The surface of Mars, photographed by China’s Tianwen-1 probe after it arrived in orbit in February.Credit: CNSA/Xinhua/Alamy

China prepares to land first rover on Mars

China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, currently in orbit around the red planet, is preparing to drop a lander and rover — completing the most perilous stage of its ten-month mission. It is China’s first mission to reach Mars, and if all goes well it will make the nation only the third — after Russia and the United States — to have successfully landed a spacecraft on the planet. The mission “is a big leap for China because they are doing in a single go what NASA took decades to do”, says planetary scientist Roberto Orosei. The China National Space Administration is remaining tight-lipped about exactly when its rover, named Zhurong — after a god of fire — will touch down.

Nature | 6 min read

LANDING SITE. Map showing the landing site of the Chinese rover Zhurong as well as previous missions that have landed on Mars.

PLOS pushes beyond biomedicine

Open-access publisher PLOS is gunning for a bigger share of science beyond the biomedical realm, with the launch of five new journals. They will focus on water, climate, sustainability, global public health and digital health — fields in which open science is less widely adopted. PLOS is also piloting an open-access business model that gives an institution’s researchers unlimited publishing in PLOS Medicine or PLOS Biology for a fixed fee. The idea is that the cost of publishing a paper will be spread more equally across all of the authors’ institutions, although some say it could be complicated to manage.

Nature | 5 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus update

India’s neighbours race to sequence

As India struggles under the weight of a massive surge of COVID-19, many of its neighbours in south and southeast Asia are experiencing some of their largest outbreaks yet. There are even surges in Bhutan, where 62% of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and Laos, which has previously had very few cases — although these outbreaks are small compared with those in nearby nations. Researchers region-wide are embarking on a remarkable effort to quickly scale up their very limited sequencing capacities to identify whether India’s epidemic — fuelled by variants such as B.1.617 — is spilling over into their communities, or if their outbreaks have origins elsewhere.

Nature | 6 min read

Delayed dose boosts immune response

Delaying the second dose of the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could boost antibody responses in people older than 80. Researchers looked at 175 over-80s, some of whom were subject to the United Kingdom’s controversial late-2020 decision to increase the gap between doses to 11–12 weeks to give more people partial protection from one jab. Peak antibody levels were 3.5 times higher in those who waited 12 weeks for their booster shot than in people who waited only 3 weeks. The results are reassuring, but are specific to the Pfizer vaccine, and the wisdom of delaying second doses depends on what variants might be circulating.

Nature | 4 min read

Question of the week

Did you leave university science? Nature wants to highlight the experiences of researchers from groups under-represented in science who worked at a US university but have since left — for other careers, to hit pause or perhaps to pursue other life paths. If this describes you, please click here to tell us more.

Features & opinion

Podcast: we are what we make

Materials scientist Anna Ploszajski joins the Nature Podcast to talk about her new book Handmade, which details how her journey into craft helped shape her materials research. Plus, light-sensitive cells that help headless worms to ‘see’ with their bodies, and a wearable device that monitors itchiness.

Nature Podcast | 26 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Five best science books this week

Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes elegant chemistry, a humane view of robots, and refugee economics.

Nature | 3 min read

We are nature, too

The idea of ‘nature’ or ‘wilderness’ is surprisingly slippery, writes science writer Michelle Nijhuis — especially since we started seeing humans as separate from the rest of the web of life. “The word ‘nature’ is more than just inaccurate,” she writes. “The vagueness of the concept allows us to believe that humans exist outside it. And if we can imagine that nature is over there, far away, we can also imagine that the damage we are doing to it is sad but not dangerous.”

Yale Environment 360 | 6 min read

Futures: Wrong number

An intergalactic misprint leads to sleepless nights and plenty of first contact in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series.

Nature | 4 min read

Image of the week

Mountain hares fight at night in Norway

Credit: Erlend Haarberg/naturepl

For 25 years, wildlife photographer Erlend Haarberg has been capturing the hidden night life of mountain hares (Lepus timidus) in the forests of central Norway. During the mating season in April and May, rival males engage in boxing matches under the cover of darkness to fight for food or females. Haarberg says the first to land a direct hit on the head or body of his opponent is usually the winner.

See more of the month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team. (Erlend Haarberg/NPL)