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Daily briefing: Tonga volcano — spectacular images from Tongan geologists 1


On 15 January, a submarine volcano named Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha‘apai erupted in Tonga, sending atmospheric shock waves that travelled several thousand kilometres and were visible from space. Tongan geologists captured images of a spectacular plume of ash rising from the ocean. “It’s a geologist’s dream to see actual geological events in process,” said Taaniela Kula, who led the Tonga Geological Services team.

No deaths have been officially confirmed, but the family of a British woman living in Tonga reports that she was killed by the tsunami caused by the eruption.

The eruption was a one-in-a-thousand-year event, says volcanologist Shane Croninc, but studies of geological deposits from previous eruptions of this scale suggest that more explosions could still occur.

The New Zealand Herald | 5 min read, Matangi Tonga Online | 4 min read & The Conversation | 4 min read

The first person to receive a transplanted heart from a genetically modified pig is doing well after the procedure earlier this month in the United States. Transplant surgeons hope the advance will enable them to give more people animal organs, but many ethical and technical hurdles remain. The impact on the man’s future health is unknown, as is what useful data can be gained outside the rigours of a clinical trial. The researchers had applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do a clinical trial of the pig hearts in people, but were turned down. The procedure was given emergency authorization by the FDA because the recipient was too ill to qualify for a human or artificial heart.

Nature | 7 min read

We live inside a vast, expanding bubble, a hollow in the matter and radiation that exist in the space between the stars. This ‘local bubble’ is driven by the expanding shock waves of 15 supernovas that have occurred over the past 14 million years. And nearly all the new stars and stellar nurseries within 500 light years of Earth lie on its surface. “For the first time, we can explain how nearby star formation began, and it’s because of this 1,000-light-year-wide bubble,” says astronomer and lead author Catherine Zucker. “Imagine it’s like a snowplow. At the edge of the shell there’s a sharp edge of piled-up interstellar material that essentially hosts all of these star-forming regions.” It’s only by chance that our Sun happens to be near the centre of the bubble — we just drifted into it over the past 5 million years, and in another 8 million years, we’ll probably be out of it, says Zucker.

The Wall Street Journal | 5 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Features & opinion

Most cities were founded in places where nature helped people to thrive, notes Akanksha Khatri, who leads efforts at the World Economic Forum to speed up the transition to a “‘nature-positive economy”’. Today many cities are forgetting their roots: they are growing in ways that impair the very conditions that made them good places to live. By one estimate, only 0.3% of spending on urban infrastructure goes towards ‘nature-based solutions’ to help mitigate pollution, reduce risks from floods and storms and provide healthy air, water, food and living conditions. Khatri points to success stories, in which leaders have leveraged ecosystems to help improve city life.

Nature | 5 min read

Techniques that allow researchers to identify the sex of ancient human remains are rewriting what we thought we knew about how our predecessors lived. A grave in Italy dating back 1,500 years contains not a man and a woman holding hands, as was widely reported, but two young men. A Viking warrior found in Sweden was female, not male, as had been assumed by its nineteenth-century discoverers. “There’s a real lack of creativity about how other people lived their lives,” says bioarchaeologist Pamela Geller, “because we are so wedded to the categories that we have in place now.”

The Observer | 9 min read

Quote of the day

Engineer Roger Tipton was 51 years old when he graduated with his PhD and soon he’s starting his dream job as a professor. He shares his advice for those considering a later-in-life career in academia. (Nature | 6 min read)

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