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    Life on Earth Is a Sketchy Guide to an Alien Civilization

    Any assumptions about properties like intelligence or agency that we make based on what we currently know about life on Earth are on exceedingly shaky ground.Photograph by European Southern Observatory (ESO) / Wikicommons You might imagine that in the midst of a global pandemic and all of its social and economic fallout that our minds […]

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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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    I Built a Stable Planetary System with 416 Planets in the Habitable Zone

    This system is completely stable—I double-checked with computer simulations. But nature would have a tough time forming this system. If it exists, it could only have been built by a super-advanced civilization.Image by Sean Raymond / planetplanet.net When Frank Drake was a boy, growing up in 1930s Chicago, his parents, observant Baptists, enrolled him in […]

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    How to Map a Galaxy When You’re Right in the Middle of It

    The barred spiral galaxy UGC 12158 probably looks similar to how the Milky Way does from the outside. http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1035a/ ESA/Hubble & NASA The T-shirts and posters are common: an image of a galaxy, an arrow pointing to a spot in that galaxy, and a sign reading “You are here.” But it’s all a big lie. […]

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    Seeing the Galactic Forest for the Trees

    To solve a mystery, scientists often zoom in on it as close as they can, break the puzzling system down to its components, and analyze it piece by piece. Sometimes, comprehending a system requires just the opposite: pulling back to see the bigger picture. Sometimes that bigger picture is bigger than our galaxy, in which […]