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An illustration of NASA's InSight spacecraft with its instruments deployed on the Martian surface

The Mars InSight lander is equipped with a domed seismometer (left) and a probe for measuring heat flow (right).Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s InSight mission has finally peered inside Mars, marking the first time scientists have directly probed the inside of a planet other than Earth. Seismologists are using marsquakes to map the red planet’s interior, measuring differences in how seismic waves move through its structure to determine the make-up of the planet’s geological layers. The new data show that Mars’s crust is made up of either two or three layers. In the coming months, scientists will report on measurements taken even deeper, ultimately revealing information about the planet’s core and mantle.

Nature | 3 min read

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) will not benefit from being listed as an endangered species under US law because officials say they lack the money to protect them. Monarch numbers have crashed because of the impact of pesticides and climate change on their food source: milkweed plants. “We have to work within the funding resources that we have,” said Lori Nordstrom, assistant regional director for ecological services for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s midwest region. Conservationists laud the success of grant programmes that pay farmers to maintain pollinator habitat and urge citizens to plant milkweed themselves.

The New York Times | 5 min read

Archaeologists might have found the first hard evidence of a mysterious land called Punt where ancient Egyptians traded for precious metals and exotic animals. A mummified baboon (Papio hamadryas), taken from an ancient Egyptian temple and currently residing in the British Museum, seems to be the first known traveller from this antique land. The distinctive ratio of strontium isotopes in the baboon’s teeth show that it was born in an area that encompasses much of present-day Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, and portions of Somalia and Yemen — just where most archaeologists think Punt was located.

Science | 5 min read

Reference: eLife paper

COVID-19 vaccine update


Researchers are worried that big public holidays such as Christmas and Lunar New Year will set the stage for further spread of COVID-19. For example, Canada saw its highest numbers of infections in the two weeks following Thanksgiving on 12 October. Large gatherings can become superspreader events, and small get-togethers are risky too. A rise in ‘pandemic fatigue’ — people’s sense of being exhausted with changing their behaviour to help curb viral spread — could make things even worse. But shaming and blaming doesn’t help, say behavioural scientists. Instead, we should encourage thinking beyond our short-term desires and focusing on long-term goals, such as protecting our loved ones.

Nature | 6 min read


The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set the stage for imminent approval of the Moderna vaccine for emergency use in the country. The FDA released a positive analysis of the vaccine, which shows that a single dose might be enough to prevent COVID-19. Side effects, such as fevers, aches and pains, appear to be a bit more common than with the first FDA-authorized vaccine, produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. The documents also hint that the vaccine might prevent asymptomatic cases, which could be important in stopping spread of the virus. The penultimate hoop for Moderna to jump through will come tomorrow, when external experts give the FDA their advice.

STAT news | 4 min read


A scientific conference in Boston in February kicked off a superspreader event that ultimately infected an estimated 245,000 people in the United States as of 1 November. Researchers analysed the genomes of 772 strains of SARS-CoV-2 in Boston to uncover how the city’s epidemic had evolved. They found that the conference ultimately led to one strain, C2416T, spreading to 29 states and to countries including Australia, Sweden and Slovakia. “It’s a cautionary tale,” says genomic epidemiologist Bronwyn MacInnis. “When we hear these stories of clusters where 20 or 50 or 100 were affected, that does not account for what happens after.”

The New York Times | 7 min read

Reference: Science paper


Notable quotable

Science journalist Ed Yong offers an in-depth look at how the pandemic has altered the trajectory of science and its practitioners. (Atlantic | 25 min read)

Features & opinion

From mapping a protein’s atoms to charting a source of radio waves in the Milky Way, researchers overcame the pandemic in 2020 to reveal wonders at every scale. Go deep into some of the years’ most notable discoveries in our pick of Nature News & Views articles. Among them: jet-stream changes resulting from a global ban on ozone-depleting pollutants, and tiny alterations in a protein that help to make fruit flies into picky eaters.

Nature | 8 min read

After his laboratory shut down, bioengineer Shubham Tanwar turned to his reading list to banish ‘why doesn’t my experiment work’ frustration. “I started reading the online manuals for various pieces of lab equipment I was planning to use,” says Tanwar, who offers his tips for organizing the information gleaned. It doesn’t make up for being locked out of the lab, he says, but it did help him feel more confident around the equipment and less anxious about breaking it.

Nature | 4 min read

Quote of the day

Observations from the Gaia space observatory have revolutionized our understanding of the Milky Way, says astronomer Michael Petersen. (Quanta | 9 min read)

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