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    The Young Milky Way Collided With a Dwarf Galaxy

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta’s Abstractions blog. As the Milky Way was growing, taking shape, and minding its own business around 10 billion years ago, it suffered a massive head-on collision with another, smaller galaxy. That cosmic cataclysm changed the Milky Way’s structure forever, shaping the thick spirals that spin out from the supermassive black hole […]

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    Why Enceladus’ Ice Is Part of the Climate Change Conversation

    To imagine the absence of the Arctic and Antarctica produces something like the opposite of sublime, a pang of emptiness and a longing to appreciate that terrain in person before it passes.Image by NASA / Wikicommons Beneath the icy surface of Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus, an ocean dwells. Traces of it get expelled skyward through […]

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    How Nuclear Explosions Were Used to Save the Environment

    In the 70s and 80s, nuclear power made a dramatic flip in the public mind, changing from a futuristic miracle to an environmental disaster.Photograph by U.S. DOD / Wikipedia In the late spring of 2010, the world watched, often in real time, a new kind of environmental disaster unfold: An oil rig operating deep under the […]

  • Coordinates

    The more we learn about coordinates, the more we understand their tendency to melt into each other. Far-flung bits of space can get entangled. At the tiniest scales, space and time dissolve into a complex foam. In the brain, grid cells that mark our location in space also help us demarcate time.

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    Taking Another Person’s Perspective Doesn’t Help You Understand Them

    No moral advice is perfectly sound. The Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is only as wise as the person following it. A more modern-sounding tip—take the perspective of others—can seem like an improvement. It was Dale Carnegie’s eighth principle in How to Win Friends and Influence People (it is […]

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    The Rhythm of Sculpture

    How science has informed one sculptor’s view of time.

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    Should You Tell Everyone They’re Honest?

    People try to live up to their labels.

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    When It’s Good to Be Antisocial

    It turns out that, even in a highly coordinated hive, antisocial individuals persist.“Wanderer above the sea of fog,” by Caspar David Friedrich (1817) Bees are emblems of social complexity. Their honeycombs—intricate lattices dripping with food—house bustling hive members carrying out carefully orchestrated duties like defending against predators and coordinating resource collection. Much of our own […]

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    Scavenging Russia’s Rocket Graveyard Is Dangerous and Profitable

    This might be one of the most remote places on earth, little accessible by road, but its peace is routinely broken by the oldest, largest and busiest spaceport in the world: the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Photograph by Alex Zelenko / Wikicommons The Altai mountain region of Central Asia is a rugged and remote place. Right in […]

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    The Spacetime of Fine Art

    For the painter Matthew Phillips, past, present, and future meet at the tip of a brush.