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China’s spacecraft is on its way to Mars after launching successfully from Hainan Island in southern China. The mission — named Tianwen-1, which means ‘questions to heaven’ — is the country’s first attempt to land on the red planet. The launch seals a global era in deep-space exploration: the United Arab Emirates launched its Hope orbiter earlier this week, and the United States’ Perseverance rover is likely to launch next week. Chinese officials have been tight-lipped about many details of Tianwen-1, but we know that if all goes well the mission will land a six-wheel, solar-powered rover in April.
Read more: Countdown to Mars: three daring missions take aim at the red planet (Nature | 11 min read)
A massive haul of stone tools discovered in a cave in Mexico is evidence that people occupied the area more than 30,000 years ago. The finding suggests that humans arrived in North America at least 15,000 years earlier than had been thought. The discovery is backed up by a separate statistical analysis incorporating data from sites in North America and Siberia. But some researchers are unconvinced. They question the age of the tools, and whether the artefacts are tools at all, rather than objects created by natural processes. Data from caves are “notoriously troublesome” to interpret, says archaeologist François Lanoë.
A diminutive bird-like skull, exquisitely preserved in amber for almost 100 million years, did not belong to the smallest dinosaur ever discovered. It was probably a lizard. In March, I told you the skull might offer a whole new lineage of birds, but yesterday the paper was retracted. “I agree we were wrong and an unpublished specimen will eventually prove it,” palaeontologist and study author Jingmai O’Connor told Retraction Watch, though she disagreed with the choice to retract the paper.
Features & opinion
Advances in technology are accelerating the search for drugs to arm the immune system against SARS-CoV-2. Researchers are using informatics to design more effective vaccines, and are speeding up development with plug-and-play platform technologies. They’re also studying pathogen protein structures in the hope of creating a more powerful vaccine.
“I have wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember, yet during my undergraduate and graduate years, several incidents of bias and powerful isolation led me to seriously question whether I belong in physics,” writes physicist Charles D. Brown II. He shares some of his harrowing personal experiences and offers ways that the physics community can start addressing the underrepresentation of Black people.