Closest Sun shot, methane rising and a Plan S development

The Sun’s corona, as seen by the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter probe.Credit: ESA

This photo of the Sun is the closest ever taken

This image — the closest ever taken of the Sun — shows thousands of miniature solar flares, which scientists have dubbed campfires. The picture is among the first images released from the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter mission, which launched in February.

“When the first images came in, my first thought was this is not possible, it can’t be that good,” said David Berghmans, the principal investigator for the orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager, at a press briefing on 16 July. “The Sun might look quiet at the first glance, but when we look in detail, we can see those miniature flares everywhere we look.”

The fires are millionths or billionths the size of the solar flares visible from Earth, which are eruptions thought to be caused by the Sun’s magnetic fields. The researchers have yet to work out whether the same process drives the two phenomena, but they speculate that the campfires could contribute to the heat of the corona, the Sun’s outer atmosphere.

The pictures, taken by the ultraviolet imager in May, were captured 77 million kilometres from the Sun’s surface (Earth is about 150 million kilometres from the Sun). The Solar Orbiter, which carries ten instruments, will eventually switch orbits to study the Sun’s polar regions for the first time.

Global methane levels soar to record high

Global methane emissions have risen by nearly 10% over the past two decades, resulting in record-high atmospheric concentrations of the powerful greenhouse gas.

In 2017, the latest year for which comprehensive data are available, global yearly emissions of the gas reached a record 596 million tonnes, according to scientists with the Global Carbon Project, which tracks greenhouse gases.

Annual emissions have increased by about 50 million tonnes from the 2000–06 average, mainly driven by agriculture and the natural-gas industry, the scientists report in two papers published on 15 July (M. Saunois et al. Earth. Syst. Sci. Data 12, 1561–1623; 2020; R. B. Jackson et al. Environ. Res. Lett. 15, 071002; 2020). Atmospheric concentrations of the gas, which stood at 1,875 parts per billion last year, are now more than 2.5 times higher than pre-industrial levels (see ‘Record high’). Methane contributes to global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Plan S to allow publishing in any journal

Funding agencies behind the open-access (OA) initiative Plan S have announced a policy that could make it possible for researchers to bypass journals’ restrictions on open publishing. The change could allow scientists affected by Plan S to publish in any journal — even in subscription titles that haven’t yet complied with the scheme.

Plan S, which kicks in from 2021, aims to make scholarly works free to read as soon as they are published. Research funders including Wellcome in London and 17 national funding bodies have signed up.

Under the plan, scientists funded by these agencies must publish their work OA. If a journal doesn’t allow that, researchers can instead post an accepted version of their article — an author accepted manuscript (AAM) — in an online repository once the paper appears. This comes with a condition that has been anathema to many subscription journals: the AAM must be shared under a liberal ‘CC-BY’ licence that lets others republish and translate the work.

But on 15 July, Coalition S, the group representing the plan’s members, said that funders will simply override publishers’ restrictions. Funders will make it a condition of grants that authors apply CC-BY licences to AAMs, meaning that they retain the right to share manuscripts in this way, whatever a journal’s publishing agreement says.

That means researchers can publish in any journal, even those behind a paywall, and still comply with Plan S. The grant condition “has legal precedence over any later publishing agreement”, says Robert Kiley, head of open research at Wellcome.

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