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Image of SN 1987a, with a faint blue spot in the centre surrounded by bright yellow and orange rings of debris.

This image of supernova 1987A was created by combining a photo from the Hubble Space Telescope with data from one of JWST’s instruments, which detected a signature of the neutron star (blue) at its core.Credit: J. Larsson

The remains of a supernova that revolutionized modern astrophysics has been confirmed as a neutron star. The event, spotted in 1987, was the closest and brightest supernova observed since 1604, giving astronomers the unprecedented view of how stars die. Now the James Webb Space Telescope has peered through the veil of dust left by the explosion and detected ionized argon and sulfur gas, the signature of an ultradense neutron star.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: Science paper

The first person to receive a brain-monitoring device from neurotechnology company Neuralink can move a computer cursor with their mind, founder Elon Musk said on the social media platform X. Researchers are concerned about the secrecy around the device’s safety and performance — and underwhelmed by the achievement. “A human controlling a cursor is nothing new,” says brain–computer interface researcher Bolu Ajiboye.

Nature | 4 min read

A figure in a high-profile paper has reignited debate among geneticists about how to best discuss and depict human diversity. The paper is from the All of Us project, which aims to recruit one million people and focus on groups that are underrepresented in genome research, ultimately to improve the accuracy of disease-risk analysis. “The problem is, a lot of people will see figures like this as supporting a viewpoint” that race and ethnicity are closely aligned with genetics, says bioinformaticist Ewan Birney. In reality “genetic variation is a continuum, and thus genetic ancestry cannot be objectively carved out into discrete groups,” says statistical geneticist Roshni Patel. “It’s clear that the figure fell short of our intended goal,” says physician and geneticist Alexander Bick, who co-authored the paper — but he is not planning to submit a correction.

Nature | 5 min read

Read more: Ambitious survey of human diversity yields millions of undiscovered genetic variants (Nature | 6 min read, from last week)

Reference: Nature paper

Scientific figure showing a chart with axes labelled 'UMAP 1' and 'UMAP 2' and coloured areas which correspond to race.

An excerpt from a figure in a Nature paper that some geneticists say could be misinterpreted to reinforce racist beliefs. Source: Ref 1.

To a layperson, the chart shows several distinct colourful blobs that could be misinterpreted as supporting genetic essentialism — the pseudoscientific belief that racial or ethnic groups are distinct genetic categories, and that individuals of the same group are genetically similar, Birney says. That is the opposite of what the data show, Bick says. “Our analysis reaffirms that race and ethnicity are social constructs that do not have a basis in genetics”.

A recent court ruling in the Alabama classifying frozen embryos as “extrauterine children” has sent shockwaves through the US in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and research community, pausing procedures and potentially affecting studies aimed at improving reproductive technologies. The ruling arose in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by people whose frozen embryos were dropped on the floor at a fertility clinic. “There’s research that is being done not just on uterus transplants, but on IVF, on eggs, and on embryos,” says reproductive medicine physician Kate O’Neill. These “are going to advance science, and if this spreads, [they] would be very difficult to do.”

Science | 5 min read

Features & opinion

Nature asked philosophers, social scientists and a Nobel-prizewinning economist how researchers can pursue work that makes a positive difference to the world. Here are their top tips:

Think about how to turn what you love into something that is beneficial to the world (or vice versa)

Choose a pressing problem (here’s a list of five big ones to get you started)

Be ready to work behind the scenes with policymakers — even though you might get no credit

Observe where early-career researchers you admire are putting their energies

Keep sight of the big picture: a dreary lab role might still feel meaningful if you focus on the ultimate goal

Expect to work hard — and appreciate the role of timing and chance

Nature | 13 min read

A NASA Mars mission set on Earth is studying the practicalities — and the psychological torment — of life on the Red Planet. Four people are sealed for just over a year in a 158-square-metre ‘Mars colony’ built inside a warehouse at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. They are eating prepackaged food, perform maintenance duties, and go on virtual-reality spacewalks — as well as experiencing “equipment failure, communication delays and other environmental stressors”. Some critics question what NASA will learn from the mission that decades of isolation research has not already uncovered. “Just because the room is painted to look like Mars doesn’t mean it’s going to change the results,” notes space ethicist J.S. Johnson-Schwartz.

The New York Times | 31 min read

To unravel how living organisms arose from simple chemicals, researchers should start looking beyond isolated steps that might explain a small part of the process, argue biochemist Nick Lane and bioengineer Joana Xavier. For example, two of the leading hypotheses for how life on Earth started require radically different environments. “No one needs to abandon their favoured positions (yet),” say the researchers. “But brash claims for a breakthrough on the origin of life are unhelpful noise if they do not come in the context of a wider framework.”

Nature | 13 min read

At times over the past decade, the University of Melbourne in Australia has asked for only female applicants when advertising faculty vacancies in mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering and information technology. This affirmative-action strategy has attracted outstanding female academics and acted as a catalyst, says Georgina Such, a polymer chemist and leader in diversity and inclusion. Switching to a more inclusive culture resulted in better retention and career progression.

Nature Careers Podcast | 20 min listen

Where I work

Soukaina El Idrissi Faouzi, plant performance engineer at NOOR2 CSP plant.

Soukaina El Idrissi Faouzi is a plant performance engineer at the Noor solar complex near Ouarzazate, Drâa-Tafilalet, Morocco.Credit: Gianmarco Di Costanzo for Nature

“Morocco aims to produce 52% of its energy from renewables by 2030,” says Soukaina El Idrissi Faouzi, performance engineer at the world’s largest solar complex, the Noor plant, near the city of Ouarzazate. The plant uses concentrated solar power technologies: large parabolic mirrors direct sunlight onto tubes filled with oil. As the oil warms, it exchanges energy with water, which is converted to steam and drives a turbine to generate electricity. There are 3,300 collectors at Noor’s two concentrated-solar sites and they need to be inspected daily. She also tracks the plant’s performance data alongside the weather (Nature | 3 min read)

Quote of the day

Snakes experienced a burst of adaptation early in their evolutionary history and appear to have evolved up to about three times faster than lizards, says evolutionary biologist Daniel Rabosky. (Scientific American | 5 min read)

Last week, Leif Penguinson was investigating a cave in the Russell Glacier in central-western Greenland. Did you find the penguin? When you’re ready, here’s the answer.

Thanks for reading,

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Katrina Krämer, Smriti Mallapaty and Sarah Tomlin

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