Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here

The supernova remnant Pa 30, which looks almost like a firework exploding in space.

Researchers imaged Pa 30’s fireworks display using an optical filter that is sensitive to sulfur.Credit: Robert Fesen (Dartmouth College)

Firework supernova blows scientists’ minds

“I have worked on supernova remnants for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says astronomer Robert Fesen about the cosmic fireworks display that his team has imaged. The remnant contains hundreds of filaments radiating outwards, looking unlike the chaotic web of gas and dust left over from a standard supernova. It was probably produced by two white-dwarf stars slamming together, creating an explosion that was documented by Chinese and Japanese astronomers nearly 850 years ago.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: arXiv preprint (not peer reviewed)

Should COVID vaccines be given yearly?

US scientists are split about a proposal to vaccinate people against COVID-19 annually, similar to the protocol for flu jabs. Some say it would simplify the country’s complex COVID-19 vaccination schedule, which might boost uptake. Others aren’t convinced about the timeline, because COVID-19 surges aren’t as seasonal as influenza and SARS-CoV-2 spawns new variants at a much faster rate. It’s also unclear whether future jabs should be targeted to a single variant or contain a ‘bivalent’ formulation against more than one strain.

Nature | 5 min read

Brain implant breaks speed records

A woman who cannot speak because of the paralysing effects of motor neuron disease was able to communicate at a rate of 62 words per minute — three times the previous best — thanks to a brain implant. The device, implanted into her motor cortex, detected how the woman was trying to move her mouth, tongue and vocal cords, and conveyed that information to a computer that displayed the words she was trying to say. “The performance in this paper is already at a level which many people who cannot speak would want, if the device were ready,” says Philip Sabes, a neuroscientist who was not involved in the study. “People are going to want this.”

MIT Technology Review | 6 min read

Reference: bioRxiv paper (not peer reviewed)

Features & opinion

Five best science books this week

Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes the trans-Atlantic correspondence between James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis — the inventors of the Gaia hypothesis, in which all organisms on Earth and their non-living surroundings are viewed as a complex, interacting system — and an illustrated study of parasitic worms.

Nature | 3 min read

Futures: Connected player

A piano prodigy — who can’t really play — becomes a willing puppet in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series.

Nature | 4 min read

Podcast: supplement slows nerve damage

The amino acid serine slows diabetes-induced nerve damage in mice. In humans, nerve damage from diabetes causes numbness and pain — and there’s no good way to treat it. Researchers found that diabetic mice have an imbalanced serine metabolism, which generates compounds that are toxic to neurons. “If we fed a serine-enriched diet to the diabetic mice as they were getting older, we could mitigate the onset of sensory neuropathy,” bioengineer Christian Metallo tells the Nature Podcast.

Nature Podcast | 20 min listenSubscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Quote of the day

“Redheads are not going extinct.”

The rumours of the demise of red hair in the human gene pool have been greatly exaggerated, says geneticist Katerina Zorina-Lichtenwalter. (National Geographic | 6 min read)