Photograph by Vladimir Simicek, AFP via Getty Images
Photograph by Vladimir Simicek, AFP via Getty Images
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Can we scrub our way to safety?

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By Victoria Jaggard, SCIENCE Executive Editor

As a lifelong neat freak, I actually enjoy cleaning. Normally for me, it’s like doing a soothing set of yoga poses surrounded by my favorite music and lemon-scented air. Cleaning has taken on a whole new urgency, though, as the coronavirus pandemic grips the world (above, disinfecting in Slovakia).

According to reporting by Nat Geo’s Sarah Gibbens, one study found the virus that causes COVID-19 can linger on cardboard for 24 hours and on stainless steel for two whole days. The work was primarily concerned with how long the virus might last on surfaces common in hospitals, so no word yet on how long it lingers on granite countertops or wooden tables, but it definitely makes me all the more motivated to keep things tidy.

Luckily, experts say the best solution is easy to come by: soapy water. As Brian Resnick reports for Vox, soap is the perfect chemical weapon to annihilate viruses, which is why the phase “wash your hands” has basically become our national motto in this time of crisis. Of course, soap can only help tamp down the virus before it gets in your system, but it’s an ideal deterrent when used on body parts, countertops, and any other potentially contaminated surfaces.

So, while many of us remain indoors and do our part to flatten the curve, let’s use the opportunity to clean the house as well.

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Your Instagram photo of the day

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A single, glorious exposure: Here’s a view of the spectacular southern sky over the large telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile. Photographer Babak Tafreshi, after two decades of work, still embraces single-exposure images like this one. They “represent the joy of photography and the value of the moment,” he says. And they’re not faked. “Most nightscape images are documentary—we do not add, multiply, or relocate natural elements, unless it’s for a creative illustration that is made evident to the audience. You would not add a moon or the Milky Way where it didn't exist in the frame.” The debate over single exposures is timely, Tafreshi says, ”as photo montages, double exposures, and fantasy edits become more popular ... and are often posted without acknowledging the altered reality.”

Read: Tips for photographing the night skies

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Today in a minute

Which professions are most vulnerable to coronavirus? Experts warn of extreme precautions needed for those working in health care, of course. But the warnings extend to police officers, firefighters, and transportation security screeners; personal care workers like nannies and aides; and laundry and dry cleaning workers, wastewater treatment operators, and dental technicians. Aviva Hope Rutkin reports for Nat Geo that a greater percentage of African Americans and Hispanics depend on public transportation, raising possibilities of infection.

Did that last story make you anxious? There’s a good reason humans are hard-wired for anxiety. It has helped to keep us safe from prehistoric encounters as well as fueled us to sprint through supermarkets for toilet paper, Nat Geo’s Amy McKeever writes.

Solar solar solar: Last year was a record-breaker for solar power, which made up 40 percent of all new U.S. energy-generating capacity, E&E News reports. The solar growth, 23 percent greater than in 2018, was led by California, Texas, Florida, and the Northeast.

Will our coronavirus reaction affect climate change? Shifts in human behavior to reduce exposure to COVID-19 may have a big impact on greenhouse gases, particularly with reduced transportation and a move to online shopping, the New York Times reports. Question marks include home energy use (depending on where you live) and food use (depending on how much you waste).

This week in the night sky

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Jupiter drops: Early risers looking toward the east at dawn Thursday can catch sight of the waning crescent moon pairing with Saturn. This is a great opportunity to check out the gas giant’s famous rings with a small telescope. At dawn on Friday, look for faint Mars to join super-bright Jupiter. The apparent space between the two worlds will be a bit wider than the disk of the full moon, and the ruddy color of Mars will contrast with Jupiter’s creamy color. All week long, sky-watchers in the dark countryside across the Northern Hemisphere can look for zodiacal light. This pyramid-shaped beam of light is visible about an hour after sunset above the western horizon. It is caused by sunlight reflecting off cosmic dust. —Andrew Fazekas

In a few words

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On Thursday, Rachael Bale covers the latest in animal news. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Whitney Johnson on photography, Debra Adams Simmons on history, and George Stone on travel.

The last glimpse

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Water for cattle, not people? The limited water in America’s West finds its way to cattle herds to satisfy a nation’s hunger for beef and dairy. But do burger and yogurt eaters recognize the cost? Nat Geo’s Alejandra Borunda finds a third of all consumed water in the West goes to irrigate crops used to feed beef and dairy cattle. In the Colorado River basin, it’s over 50 percent.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Eslah Attar. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and have a safe and sane week ahead.