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NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down safely in Jezero Crater on Mars yesterday. The jaw-dropping manoeuvre included deploying a parachute while travelling nearly twice the speed of sound, autonomously navigating to a safe landing spot, and finally being gently lowered by a rocket-powered ‘sky crane’. The accomplishment kicks off a new era of exploration on the red planet, in which rocks will be collected and returned to Earth for the first time. The rover is accompanied by a tiny 1.8-kilogram helicopter named Ingenuity, which will test the first powered flight on another world.
China has doubled the number of endangered species on its List of Wild Animals Under State Priority Conservation. It is the first time any animals have been added to the list in 32 years. Many of the new protected species are birds. Wolves were also added to the list. Harming one of the 980 species on the updated list attracts hefty fines of up to 100,000 yuan (US$15,500). “The new list will be instrumental in guiding future research funding, much of which comes from the government,” says Zhang Jinshuo, vice director of the National Zoological Museum of China. The list is now due to be updated every five years.
Scientists have shown for the first time that lucid dreamers — people who are aware that they are asleep and dreaming — can interact with the waking world. Dreamers were able to follow instructions, do simple math and answer yes-or-no questions by moving their faces or eyes. Four independent labs in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States showed that lucid dreamers could correctly answer questions 18.6% of the time, without waking up. “This work challenges the foundational definitions of sleep,” says cognitive neuroscientist Benjamin Baird.
Features & opinion
A device that offers a glimpse of two years hence features in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series. But what would be the benefit of seeing into a future that you can’t change? Author Dan Koboldt offers a sympathetic tale of getting what you want, but not what you need.
In the United States, the social cost of carbon (SCC) is about to get an update. The SCC puts a monetary value on the harms of climate change, accounting for mounting losses from storms, wildfires and other impacts. Climate economist Gernot Wagner and eight colleagues set out eight steps so that the US SCC can pass muster legally, guide climate policy and win trust at home and abroad.
Chemists are working hard to come up with solutions to our plastic problem, including research into recycling polyethylene into high-quality material. But chemistry alone can take us only so far, argues a Nature editorial. “If [companies] were required to take responsibility for the whole life cycle of their plastic products, they would be less inclined to use materials that are difficult to reuse or recycle,” says the editorial. “To that end, a proposed global treaty, which is being described as the equivalent of the Paris climate agreement for plastics pollution, needs to succeed.”
Mammoth teeth preserved in eastern Siberian permafrost have produced the oldest DNA on record. The DNA was extracted from tooth specimens that are up to 1.6 million years old. The DNA identifies a new kind of mammoth that gave rise to a later North American species. And mammoths might be just the beginning. “We are kind of opening the door to a future research discipline,” palaeogeneticist Love Dalén tells the Nature Podcast. “We can go deep into time and study macroevolutionary changes, such as speciation events, on many other species that also went through these big evolutionary changes around a million years ago.”
Read more: Million-year-old mammoth genomes shatter record for oldest ancient DNA (Nature | 6 min read)
Image of the week
The South African springhare (Pedetes capensis) fluoresces hot pink under ultraviolet light. The animals join wombats and platypuses in an expanding glow-in-the-dark gang. But the springhare’s striking patterning and intense colour is unique among known biofluorescent mammals, say researchers — and its function remains a mystery. (The New York Times | 5 min read
Today, Leif Penguinson is continuing his tour of South America to check out the Araucaria Forest in Parque Nacional Huerquehue, Chile. Can you find the penguin?
The answer will be in Monday’s e-mail, all thanks to Briefing photo editor and penguin wrangler Tom Houghton.
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With contributions by Nicky Phillips and Ariana Remmel