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Volume 565 Issue 7738, 10 January 2019

Evolution of a black hole

The cover image shows an artist’s impression of a black hole that has started to accrete material from a nearby star. The properties of accretion flow for a stellar-mass black hole can change on a timescale of days to months. When the black hole ‘turns on’ after accreting material it has a hard (high-energy) X-ray spectrum that is produced by the hot corona (shown in blue) above its accretion disk (yellow). It then changes to a soft (lower-energy) spectrum that is dominated by emissions from the accretion disk. But whether it is a change in disk’s radius or a reduction in the corona that drives this transition has been an open question. In this week’s issue, Erin Kara and her colleagues provide results that may help to settle the debate. The researchers studied a newly identified black hole transient and followed its evolution using instruments on the International Space Station. They found over the course of the hole’s evolution from hard to soft emissions, the corona contracts but the inner edge of the accretion disk stays in the same place.

Cover image: Aurore Simonnet

This Week

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  • News & Views

    • A technique called reverberation mapping has previously been used to probe the structure of matter around supermassive black holes. Observations suggest that this technique can also be applied to much smaller black holes.

      • Daryl Haggard
      News & Views
    • A computational strategy has delivered a redesigned, more stable version of a cytokine protein that mimics the natural protein’s interactions with receptors, opening the way for designer cytokine-based therapeutics.

      • E. Yvonne Jones
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    • Scenarios have been discovered in which it is impossible to prove whether or not a machine-learning algorithm could solve a particular problem. This finding might have implications for both established and future learning algorithms.

      • Lev Reyzin
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    • Some fat cells convert energy into heat, so targeting them to induce weight loss is appealing. The discovery that a subset of the cells burns glucose, rather than both glucose and lipids, could improve our ability to do just that.

      • Wenfei Sun
      • Christian Wolfrum
      News & Views
    • A technically challenging analysis has revealed the physical properties of a mineral at pressures and temperatures as high as those in Earth’s mantle. The findings have implications for our understanding of Earth’s deep interior.

      • Johannes Buchen
      News & Views
    • How Nature reported psychometric testing in 1919, and its own hundredth anniversary in 1969.

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    • Clinical trials reveal that personalized vaccines can boost immune-cell responses to brain tumours that don’t usually respond to immunotherapy. The findings also point to how to improve such treatments.

      • Neeha Zaidi
      • Elizabeth M. Jaffee
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