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Astronomy

253 articles
  • Planets Are Born from Dust Trap Rings

    All we are is dust in the wind, man. The same goes for the planets and asteroids and comets. Starting from our dusty beginnings, gravity and a mess of other forces conspired to build our solar system. There’s a venerable tradition of trying to figure out what that grand and hectic process must have looked […]

  • We Discovered a Rogues’ Gallery of Monster-Sized Gas Giants

    It doesn’t feel right to see a toddler walking down the street by themselves. Toddlers don’t just go rogue, and if they do they are quickly chased down by a parent or grandparent or teacher and brought back where they belong. Most planets are like toddlers: They follow a well-behaved orbit around a star. It […]

  • A Wrinkle in Nature Could Lead to Alien Life

    There may be more than one way to tune a universe for life.

  • Where Aliens Could Be Watching Us

    More than 1,700 stars could have seen Earth in the past 5,000 years.

  • If Aliens Exist, Here’s How We’ll Find Them

    Two esteemed astrophysicists peer into the future of space exploration.

  • NASA Is on the Cusp of a New Era

    A planetary scientist explains why SpaceX’s Starship will transform her field.

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    Ignorance: How It Drives Science, a New Podcast

    In this premier episode, the hosts ask astronomer Jill Tarter who or what’s out there.

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    The Safety Belt of Our Solar System

    Mapping the heliosphere, which shields us from harmful cosmic rays.

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    Looking for Life on Mars

    An astrobiologist and a director on the joys and challenges of filming space science.

  • Looking for Life on Mars

    An astrobiologist and a director on the joys and challenges of filming space science.

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    Where Aliens Could Be Watching Us

    More than 1,700 stars could have seen Earth in the past 5,000 years.

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    The Universe Has Already Made Almost All the Stars It Will Ever Make

    Black holes are cosmic dimmers.

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    My Personal Quest to Study Supernovae on Mars

    Overcoming sexist naysayers and self-doubt in astrophysics.

  • The Forgotten Planets

    Why should Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn get all the attention?

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    The Planets with the Giant Diamonds Inside

    Mining the mysteries of Uranus and Neptune.

  • Astronomers Find Secret Planet-Making Ingredient: Magnetic Fields

    Scientists have long struggled to understand how common planets form. A new supercomputer simulation shows that the missing ingredient may be magnetism.

  • Squishy Neutron Star Setback Dampens Hopes of Exotic Matter

    Groundbreaking results show that neutron stars of different masses may have the same size—upending astrophysical models.

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    A Wrinkle in Nature Could Lead to Alien Life

    There may be more than one way to tune a universe for life.

  • New Kind of Space Explosion Reveals the Birth of a Black Hole

    A supernova-like explosion dubbed the Camel appears to be the result of a newborn black hole eating a star from the inside out.

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    Comets Are More Dangerous Than We Thought

    Could a comet, not an asteroid, have killed the dinosaurs?

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    If Aliens Exist, Here’s How We’ll Find Them

    Two esteemed astrophysicists peer into the future of space exploration.

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    The Alien-Haunted World

    To shield one’s pet hypothesis of an alien object by suggesting that it is not being taken seriously because of a flaw in how we do science is playing a disingenuous game with the facts.Illustration by ktsdesign / Shutterstock Did you know that there are many scientists who devote their working lives to skillfully charting […]

  • ‘Unicorn’ Discovery Points to a New Population of Black Holes

    Small black holes were nowhere to be found, leading astronomers to wonder if they didn’t exist at all. Now a series of findings, including a “unicorn” black hole, has raised hopes of solving the decade-long mystery.

  • Galaxy-Size Bubbles Discovered Towering Over the Milky Way

    For decades, astronomers debated whether a particular smudge was close-by and small, or distant and huge. A new X-ray map supports the massive option.

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    We’re the Cosmic 1 Percent But Our Solar System Isn’t a Complete Weirdo

    About half of all stars seem to have “super-Earth” planets on orbits closer to their stars than Mercury is to the Sun, but we don’t.Illustration by Vadim Sadovski / Shutterstock Is Earth unique? Once a grand philosophical question, it has, over the past two decades, become, with the discovery of thousands of planets around other […]

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    The Sight of Jupiter and Saturn Together Is a Beautiful Thing

    A conjunction is a good time to reflect on our cosmic heritage, and on the long shadows cast by the gas giants.Illustration by SN VFX / Shutterstock Today, December 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear extremely close to each other in the sky, less than a tenth of a degree apart, about one fifth the […]

  • Astronomers Get Their Wish, and a Cosmic Crisis Gets Worse

    We don’t know why the universe appears to be expanding faster than it should. New ultra-precise distance measurements have only intensified the problem.

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    We Never Know Exactly Where We’re Going in Outer Space

    Adventures in space travel remind us how imprecisely we measure reality.

  • Move Over, Mars: The Search for Life on Saturn’s Largest Moon

    Alien microbes could be flourishing in the underground seas of Titan and the solar system’s other ocean worlds.

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    Take Our Virtual Trip to Mars

    See where NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will go and what it may find.

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    These Images Expose the Dark Side of the Solar System

    Explore the hidden drama of planets, comets, and space geysers.

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    The Universe Has Made Almost All the Stars It Will Ever Make

    Black holes are cosmic dimmers.

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    How Life Could Continue to Evolve

    On the origin of an interstellar species.

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    Mars Is a Second-Rate Backup Plan

    On the red planet, existential threats abound.

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    The Black Sheep of Black Holes

    Primordial black holes could have formed in the absence of any matter, from quantum fluctuations that would go on to form, after billions of years, the filament-like scaffolding around which all galaxy clusters now coalesce. NASA The Indian-American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar once remarked that black holes, regions of spacetime whose gravitational field is so strong […]

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    The Mystery of the Dark Asteroid That Scorched Russia

    A new theory emerges to explain the enigmatic Tunguska Event.

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    The Trouble with Counting Alien Civilizations

    Life on Earth is a sketchy guide to intelligent life in the cosmos.

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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 […]

  • How the Cosmic Dark Ages Snuffed Out All Light

    The recent discovery of some of the first galaxies in the universe illuminates the darkest era in cosmic history.

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    An Open Letter to Telescope Protesters in Hawaii

    Why astronomy on Mauna Kea is not a desecration but a duty.

  • Our Prodigal Sun

    Searching the heavens for our sun’s family.

  • New Wrinkle Added to Cosmology’s Hubble Crisis

    Two independent measurements of the universe’s expansion give incompatible answers. Now a third method, advanced by an astronomy pioneer, appears to bridge the divide.

  • ‘Radical Change’ Needed After Latest Neutron Star Collision

    A recent neutron star merger has defied astronomers’ expectations, leading them to question longstanding ideas about neutron stars and the supernovas that create them. “We have to go back to the drawing board.”

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    Why Astrology Matters

    Seeing meaning in the stars is a vital part of the scientific story.

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    How Ancient Light Reveals the Universe’s Contents

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. In early 2003, Chuck Bennett learned the precise contents of the cosmos. By then, most cosmologists had concluded that the universe contains much more than meets the eye. Observations of pinwheeling galaxies suggested that scaffolds of invisible matter held their stars together, while a repulsive form of energy drove […]

  • How Ancient Light Reveals the Universe’s Contents

    A photograph of the infant cosmos reveals the precise amounts of dark matter and dark energy in the universe, leaving precious little room for argument.

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    Red Planet Ride-Along

    Hit the trail with the Mars rovers, on the hunt for water and life.

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    Galactic Settlement and the Fermi Paradox

    The results of galactic colonization models are a mixed bag for SETI optimists.

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    What Are the Odds of Alien Contact?

    Bringing the Drake Equation up to date.

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    Do We Share DNA with ET?

    If there’s life beyond Earth, the genetic code might be our common bond.

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    The Joy of Cosmic Mediocrity

    It’s lonely to be an exceptional planet.

  • Top Dark Matter Candidate Loses Ground to Tiniest Competitor

    Physicists have long searched for hypothesized dark matter particles called WIMPs. Now, focus may be shifting to the axion — an ultra-lightweight particle whose existence would solve two mysteries at once.

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    If We Believe in Dark Matter, Why Not Extraterrestrial Life?

    Avi Loeb has a lot of thoughts about aliens and scientific prejudice.

  • Beyond Voyager

    Scientist Fran Bagenal on what’s next for space exploration.

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    Rock Solid Evidence for Other Earths

    A breakthrough in understanding exoplanets.

  • Physics Nobel Honors Early Universe and Exoplanet Discoveries

    The astronomers Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz won half of the prize for their 1995 discovery of a Jupiter-like planet orbiting a nearby star. The cosmologist James Peebles won the other half for work exploring the structure of the universe.

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    Is the Search for Dark Matter an Act of Faith?

    In an underground laboratory, the talk turns to religion.

  • The Gravity Wave Hunter

    An astrophysicist sits down with Nautilus to discuss cosmology and culture.

  • The 315-Year-Old Science Experiment

    How counting sunspots unites the past and future of science.

  • Possible Detection of a Black Hole So Big It ‘Should Not Exist’

    At stake are fundamental ideas about how black holes form—and a six-way bet.

  • Buried in the Sky

    Looking up to the sky, a young astronomer finds truths at her feet.

  • The Beckoning of the Ice Worlds

    We’ve been looking for life on Earth-like planets. Will Europa teach us better?

  • When the Earth Had Two Moons

    A new model—“The Big Splat”—explains the strange asymmetry of the moon.

  • Big Black Holes Found in the Smallest Galaxies

    Tiny, dim “dwarf” galaxies have been found to hide gas-spewing black holes.

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    She Rewrote the Moon’s Origin Story

    The Apollo missions were a giant leap for science.

  • Beyond the Horizon of the Universe

    Want to see evidence of other universes? Just look up.

  • Does Dark Matter Harbor Life?

    An invisible civilization could be living right under your nose.

  • Spark of Science

    What inspired the director of the National Science Foundation to go into science?

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    When We Were the Cosmos

    The director of the Griffith Observatory revisits the dawn of astronomy.

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    A Close Look at Newborn Planets Reveals Hints of Infant Moons

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Astronomers have spent decades, if not centuries, hoping to see embryonic planets. As of a year ago, the closest they had come was the discovery of gaps, thought to be caused by budding planets, in the spinning disks of gas and dust that surround young stars. But they […]

  • As Planet Discoveries Pile Up, a Gap Appears in the Pattern

    Astronomers are puzzling over a paucity of planets in the galaxy measuring between 1.5 and two times Earth’s size.

  • A Close Look at Newborn Planets Reveals Hints of Infant Moons

    Astronomers have discovered a complex planetary system still swirling into existence.

  • Juno Unveils Jupiter’s Secrets

    The NASA mission has turned our knowledge of Jupiter “upside down.”

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    Dark Matter Gets a Reprieve in New Analysis

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. The galactic center shines too brightly, like the glow of a metropolis at night where maps show only a town. To mend their cosmic cartography, astrophysicists have spent years debating what could be powering this excess of energetic light. In 2015 the arguments appeared to swing decisively […]

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    An Astrophysicist on What the Black-Hole Image Reveals

    The great irony of black holes is that, in all the decades that we astrophysicists have talked about them, we never had any direct observational evidence for them. When astronomers said they had “found black holes” in this or that location in a faraway location in the universe, what this really meant was a very […]

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    First Black-Hole Image: It’s Not Looks That Count

    FIRST LOOK: The Event Horizon Telescope measures wavelength in the millimeter regime, too long to be seen by eye, but ideally suited to the task of imaging a black hole: The gas surrounding the black hole is almost transparent at this wavelength and the light travels to Earth almost undisturbed. Since we cannot see light […]

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    A Precursor Piece to DNA Was Found in Star Material

    April—National Poetry Month—prompted me to reread some of the work of English-American poet W.H. Auden. In “Funeral Blues,” famously recited in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Auden pairs musings on the cosmos with those on the human condition. The last four lines of “Funeral Blues” evoke grief over the loss of a loved friend: The […]

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    How Supermassive Black Holes Were Discovered

    Astronomers turned a fantastic concept into reality.

  • How Nearby Stellar Explosions Could Have Killed Off Large Animals

    A new study suggests that subatomic particles called muons streamed through the atmosphere and fatally irradiated megafauna like the monster shark megalodon.

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    The Woman Who Reinvented the Moon

    A MacArthur “genius grant” winner writes a new lunar origin story.

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    So Can We Terraform Mars or Not?

    Elon Musk wants to engineer Mars’ atmosphere. Can he?

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    7 Awesome Solar System Destinations That Will Kill You

    Even if you make it past the interplanetary radiation, you’re still confronted with any number of hazards, and they don’t stop once you land.Image by SyFy / YouTube In the why-aren’t-you-watching-this television show The Expanse, humanity has spread out into the solar system. Mars and Earth stand as bitter rivals, with Ceres settlers somewhere in between. […]

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    This Will Help You Grasp the Sizes of Things in the Universe

    In The Zoomable Universe, Scharf puts the notion of scale—in biology and physics—center-stage. “The start of your journey through this book and through all known scales of reality is at that edge between known and unknown,” he writes.Illustration by Ron Miller Caleb Scharf wants to take you on an epic tour. His latest book, The […]

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    Our Attitude Toward Aliens Proves We Still Think We’re Special

    Why we downplay Fermi’s paradox.

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    Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space

    My conclusion is that in a colonized universe the probability of the annihilation of the human race could actually rise rather than fall.Illustration by David Revoy / Blender Foundation / Wikicommons There are lots of reasons why colonizing space seems compelling. The popular astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson argues that it would stimulate the economy and […]

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    Why It’s Hard to Recognize a Black Hole

    Despite having a standard model of an AGN—a supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disk with jets streaming out in opposite directions, all encompassed by a dusty torus—making sense of our observations is still a challenge.NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al.; MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al.; ESO/WFI. Astronomers can sometimes be literal to a fault. We like to call […]

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    What Is the Sun Made Of and When Will It Die?

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Like any star in its prime, the sun consists mainly of hydrogen atoms fusing two by two into helium, unleashing immense energy in the process. But it’s the sun’s tiny concentration of heavier elements, which astronomers call metals, that controls its fate. “Even a very small fraction […]

  • What Is the Sun Made Of and When Will It Die?

    If and when physicists are able to pin down the metal content of the sun, that number could upend much of what we thought we knew about the evolution and life span of stars.

  • Why Can’t We Find Planet Nine?

    Astronomers suspect that there’s a large planet hiding out in the distant fringes of the solar system. At a recent workshop, they brainstormed ways to coax it into view.

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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 […]

  • The Young Milky Way Collided With a Dwarf Galaxy

    Astronomers have found stars dating from a long-ago collision between the Milky Way and another galaxy. The crash helps to explain why the Milky Way looks the way it does.

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    Forget “Earth-Like”—We’ll First Find Aliens on Eyeball Planets

    Artist’s conception of a hot Eyeball planet. The permanent day side is sun-baked and dry. The permanent night side is covered with ice. In between lies a thin habitat: the ring of life.Illustration by Beau.TheConsortium Imagine a habitable planet orbiting a distant star. You’re probably picturing a variation of Earth. Maybe it’s a little cloudier, […]

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    The Popular Creation Story of Astronomy Is Wrong

    The old tale about science versus the church is wide of the mark.

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    How NASA’s Mission to Pluto Was Nearly Lost

    The inside story of the New Horizons probe.

  • What Astronomers Are Learning From Gaia’s New Milky Way Map

    A roundup of some of the most important discoveries gleaned so far from the Gaia space observatory’s new map of the galaxy.

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    Here’s What We’ll Do in Space by 2118

    In a mere 60 years, we of Earth have gone from launching our first spacecraft, to exploring every planet and major moon in our solar system, to establishing an international, long-lived fleet of robotic spacecraft at the Moon and Mars. What will we do in the next 100 years? With such rapid expansion of capability, […]

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    Dolphins Are Helping Us Hunt for Aliens

    SETI Institute astronomer Laurance Doyle proposed using information theory to analyze animal communication systems, particularly the whistle repertoire of bottlenose dolphins.Illustration by Victor Habbick Visions When 12 men gathered at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia to discuss the art and science of alien hunting in 1961, the Order of the Dolphin was born. […]

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    Mining in Space Could Lead to Conflicts on Earth

    Platinum-group metals in space may serve the same role as oil has on Earth, threatening to extend geopolitical struggles into astropolitical ones, something Trump is keen on preparing for. Yesterday he said he’s seriously weighing the idea of a “Space Force” military branch.Illustration by Maciej Frolow / Getty Images Space mining is no longer science […]

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    How ‘Oumuamua Got Shredded

    ‘Oumuamua may be a piece of a torn-apart comet, gravitationally launched into interstellar space, that roamed the galaxy before dropping on our doorstep.ESO / M. Kornmesser / Wikicommons Our solar system’s first houseguest—at least, the first one we have seen in our midst—is a strange one. Scientists have taken to calling it ‘Oumuamua (pronounced “Oh-MOO-ah-MOO-ah”), […]

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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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    Life on Mars, from Viking to Curiosity

    A brief history of the scientific debate swirling around the Red Planet.

  • Taking to the Stars

    A look back at the Sloan Foundation’s successful 25-year partnership with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

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    This Will Help You Grasp the Sizes of Things in the Universe

      Caleb Scharf wants to take you on an epic tour. His latest book, The Zoomable Universe, starts from the ends of the observable universe, exploring its biggest structures, like groups of galaxies, and goes all the way down to the Planck length—less than a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a meter. […]

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    Is There Beer in Space?

    How the emptiness of the void got filled.

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    Astronomy Has Just Gained a New Sense

      There are many stories to tell about GW170817. There are stories of a binary neutron star inspiral, two dead stars locked in a deadly dance that culminated in a collision. There are accounts of a worldwide collaboration of scientists, all working to discover what happened 130 million light-years away in NGC 4993. There are […]

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    Why We’ll Have Evidence of Aliens—If They Exist—By 2035

    The search for alien technology is about to get much more efficient. I’ve bet a cup of coffee to any and all that by 2035 we’ll have evidence of E.T. To many of my colleagues, that sounds like a losing proposition. For more than a half-century, a small coterie of scientists has been pursuing the […]

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    Why Cassini Is Ending Its Life with a Kamikaze Plunge

    This Friday, NASA’s Cassini probe will run out of fuel and take pictures as it plummets at 75,000 miles per hour through Saturn’s atmosphere. It won’t be crashing—the heat from friction will make Cassini immolate in the sky. Cassini has had a good run. Since arriving at Saturn in 2004, the probe has transmitted stunning […]

  • For Astronomers, Neutron Star Merger Could Eclipse Eclipse

    Even as the solar eclipse was mesmerizing millions, astronomers were training their space- and land-based telescopes on a far more violent astrophysical event.

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    Beyond Voyager

    Scientist Fran Bagenal on what’s next for space exploration.

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    What the Rumored Neutron Star Merger Might Teach Us

    In a sense, neutron star mergers are the largest hadron colliders ever conceived.Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr This month, before LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, and its European counterpart Virgo, were going to close down for a year to undergo upgrades, they jointly surveyed the skies. It was a […]

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    Eclipses Make Great Yardsticks

    How to measure the Earth with shadows.

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    Dark Matter May Be Trapped in All the Black Holes

    When, on February the 11th, 2016, the spokesperson for the Advanced Laser Interferometric Gravitational Wave Observer, or aLIGO, for short, announced the discovery of gravitational waves, I was stunned. For sure, we expected aLIGO to, at some point, give us something interesting, but we thought it would be tentative. We expected that the project would, […]

  • Cookie-Cutter Supernovas Might Come in Different Flavors

    Astronomers thought that all Type Ia supernovas shine with the same brightness, making them incredibly useful cosmic yardsticks. But uncertainty over what causes these explosions has led researchers to reconsider their assumptions.

  • The Mystery of Dark Matter

    The vastness of the universe is mostly full of dark matter and dark energy, which we can’t see and don’t yet understand.

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    Why Jupiter’s Great Red Spot Refuses to Die

    If you want to investigate what could attack the Red Spot and make it disappear, you not only have to worry about what’s attacking the kinetic energy, like friction; you also have to worry about something that turns out to be more important—what’s attacking the potential energy. There’s a well-known reason why the potential energy […]

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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 […]

  • Planet Nine Is Put on Trial in Absentia

    Breathless media coverage notwithstanding, the cases for and against a hypothetical Planet Nine in the outskirts of the solar system remain inconclusive.

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    If ET Calls, Think Twice About Answering

    Why some say searching for ET is best done quietly.

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    Maybe We Haven’t Seen Any Aliens Because They’re All Dead

    If astronomers fail to detect any other civilizations, whether extant or extinct, they may be forced to conclude that we are alone.Photograph by U.S. Department of Energy / Wikicommons The aliens may have found their grave. As we sweep the radio frequencies, we hear only noise; as we slew our telescopes, we see barren pixel […]

  • Exoplanet Puzzle Cracked by Jazz Musicians

    A system of seven Earth-like exoplanets appeared to be unstable. Now their orbits have been rewritten in the music of the spheres.

  • Opening a New Window into the Universe

    New technology could bring new insights into the nature of black holes, dark matter, and extrasolar planets.

  • How to Use a Sphere to Talk to Mars

    To avoid garbled messages, mathematicians might translate them into geometric form.

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    Do Aliens Have Inalienable Rights?

    What ET teaches us about our moral obligations.

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    What Donald Trump Teaches Us About the Fermi Paradox

    The “signal leakage” of our communications is becoming more and more scarce, not more abundant.Illustration by Danielle Futselaar / Flickr Reports of U.F.O. sightings were commonplace in the 1950s. The C.I.A. recently came clean, on Twitter, concerning its role: “Reports of unusual activity in the skies in the ‘50s? It was us.” Though not entirely—some […]

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    There’s Mysteriously Large Amounts of Methane on Mars

    The mystery isn’t just that we see methane when we shouldn’t. It’s also that, in a sense, we see too much of it. If you want to detect life on another planet, look for biomarkers—spectroscopic signatures of chemicals that betray the activity of living things. And in fact we may have already found a biomarker. […]

  • Why These Researchers Are Drawn to the World’s Edge

    The joy and toll of doing remote science.

  • Dark Matter May Be Trapped in All the Black Holes

    The elusive substance may not be a new kind of particle at all.

  • What Dark Matter Needs Are New Kinds of Experiments

    After 30 years and no results, it’s time to support more entrepreneurial physicists.

  • If You Can’t Find Dark Matter, Look First for a Dark Force

    Physicists are rethinking how to use the Large Hadron Collider to search for dark matter.

  • The Multiverse As Muse

    The foundational uncertainty of quantum mechanics provided the perfect literary model for Modernist ideas.

  • Dark Matter Is Either Like Neptune or Like Vulcan

    This isn’t the first time that scientists have wrestled with the unseen.

  • There Is Dust in the Universe, But I Have Never Seen It

    A poet finds inspiration in cosmic darkness.

  • Music for the Birth of the Universe

    This composer takes inspiration from scientific cosmology and quantum mechanics.

  • Dr. Chiara M. F. Mingarelli

    Gravitational-wave Astrophysicist, Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

  • My Personal Hero: Michael Storrie-Lombardi

    Being a scientist can be like willingly entering into a Roman gladiatorial contest. The hours are long, there’s a rank smell of indentured servitude, and at any minute your colleagues may attempt to eviscerate you for the pleasure of the crowds. A lot of the time we can look beyond these challenges because we have […]

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    My Personal Hero: Caleb Scharf on Michael Storrie-Lombardi

    Being a scientist can be like willingly entering into a Roman gladiatorial contest. The hours are long, there’s a rank smell of indentured servitude, and at any minute your colleagues may attempt to eviscerate you for the pleasure of the crowds. A lot of the time we can look beyond these challenges because we have […]

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    My Personal Hero: Priyamvada Natarajan on Martin Schwarzchild (and Mr. Carter)

    I was an inquisitive child and my parents encouraged me and actively cultivated my curiosity. My first truly independent adventure, when I was 10, was to secretly take a public bus on my own to the Delhi Public Library. Given how quickly I was wolfing books down, I didn’t want to pester my parents to […]

  • Maybe We Haven’t Seen Any Aliens Because They’re All Dead

    Absent signs of life, astronomers are starting to look for extraterrestrial nuclear wars and pandemics.

  • On the Moon’s Far Side, Clues to a Cataclysm?

    A mission to collect samples from the far side of the moon could answer questions about a barrage of asteroids nearly 4 billion years ago.

  • Of Rings, Geysers, and Plumes

    This woman has the best job in the inner solar system.

  • Will Alien Life Be Recognizable?

    Our recent article “Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?” stirred up quite a response.

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    Make Mars Great Again

    How to terraform a room-temperature Mars in 100 years.

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    Listening for Extraterrestrial Blah Blah

    At the cosmic dinner party, intelligence is the loudest thing in the room.

  • Take Me To Your Artist

    SETI Institute artists are being inspired by our search for alien life.

  • Why Most Planets Will Either Be Lush or Dead

    The Gaia hypothesis implies that once alien life takes hold, it will flourish.

  • This Woman Knows the Weather Forecast on Other Planets

    Harvard astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger has spent her career looking for life among the stars.

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    The Romantic Venus We Never Knew

    Venus used to be as fit for life as Earth.

  • Top 8 Places to Look for Life in our Solar System

    From the Europan oceans to the Jovian clouds, life has plenty of places to hide.

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    How Will Our Religions Handle the Discovery of Alien Life?

    What would your priest, rabbi, or imam say if we discovered alien life? For the religious, knowing that life on Earth is not unique may demand radical new ways of thinking about ourselves: How special and sacred are we? Is Earth a privileged place? Do we have an obligation to care for beings on other […]

  • There’s Something Funny in the Air on Mars

    Why methane on Mars is a sign of something extraordinary.

  • Is This Planet Occupied?

    Life on other planets will likely have these telltale signatures.

  • Make Mars Great Again

    How to terraform a room-temperature Mars in 100 years.

  • The Stars Are a Comforting Constant

    A poet blends the personal with the cosmic.

  • The Romantic Venus We Never Knew

    Venus used to be as fit for life as Earth.

  • If ET Exists, We’ll Find Him in the Next 20 Years

    Why the search for alien technology is about to get much more efficient.

  • From Gaia, a Twinkling Treasure Trove

    The first star map from the ESA’s Gaia space telescope is poised to revolutionize our understanding of the Milky Way galaxy.

  • Off-the-Shelf Lens Assists Dark Matter Find

    A camera lens often used by wildlife and sports photographers has helped astronomers learn about dark matter and galaxy formation.

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    The Scientist Who Helped Amy Adams Talk to Aliens in “Arrival”

    Earlier this year, when Amy Adams was in Montreal working on the sci-fi movie, Arrival, out today, she hung out with linguist Jessica Coon. In the film, Adams plays a linguist tasked by the United States government with deciphering a visiting aliens’ language. The film’s producers tapped Coon, an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics […]

  • The Lessons of a Ghost Planet

    Vulcan shows us science beyond the scientific method.

  • Will ET Drink Water?

    The intricate compatibility of water and life on Earth may not extend to other planets.

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    There May Be Two Trillion Other Galaxies

    In 1939, the year Edwin Hubble won the Benjamin Franklin award for his studies of “extra-galactic nebulae,” he paid a visit to an ailing friend. Depressed and interred at Las Encinas Hospital, a mental health facility, the friend, an actor and playwright named John Emerson, asked Hubble what—spiritually, cosmically—he believed in. In Edwin Hubble: Mariner […]

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    Today Is “Galactic Tick Day”!

    Nearly a quarter of Americans still believe in Ptolemy’s idea that the sun goes around Earth. Yet, every year, these people presumably cheer on December 31 to mark the New Year, another successful trip of Earth around the sun. It’s likely not hypocrisy, just ignorance. But if much of the general public still doesn’t get […]

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    A Cosmic Crash May Have Made the Moon

    Let There Be Moon: Artist’s rendition of the moon-forming impact between Earth and Theia, a proto-planet.Hagai Perets Some marriages are arranged. Some are for love, others for convenience. Some happen as the result of a sextillion-ton collision in space. The Earth and the moon, for example. Over the past twenty years there has been one […]

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    How the Blind See the Stars

    The new moon night was dark and rich in stars. The line at the bottom of the steps was 200 deep and growing. This was a busy public night at the Martz/Kohl Observatory atop Robin Hill, in Frewsburg, New York, and the rickety old ladder up to the eyepiece of our biggest ‘scope was getting […]

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    Our Nearest Star Has a Planet, and These Are the Ways It Could Be Habitable

    A couple years ago, I was part of the team that discovered the first Earth-sized planet, Kepler-186f, rotating comfortably in its star’s “habitable zone,” where water can be liquid. Its sun, Kepler 186, is faint and far away from us—and a little colder than we’d like if we were to settle there—but it does have […]

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    If the Olympics Were Held in Space

    A dispatch from the future of extreme sports.

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    Our Solar System Would Be Weird Even If It Didn’t Harbor Life

    What would our solar system look like if an alien were to spot it from another planet, orbiting a distant star? How improbable would it appear? For the first time in human history, thanks to advances in exoplanet hunting, we can now answer that question. We can even put numbers on it. If that alien […]

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    How to Survive Doomsday

    The high technology that could help us live through the sun’s inevitable transformation.

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    Where Nature Hides the Darkest Mystery of All

    There’s no boundary quite like a black hole boundary.

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    Spark of Science: Chiara Mingarelli

    How stars and UFOs set one astrophysicist on her path.

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    The Man Who Discovered the Sun’s Puzzling Heat Is Being Forgotten

    When you observe a solar eclipse—with great care, of course—what you see is a thin, red crescent outlining the blocked-out Sun and, extending beyond it, a stark white mane. This is the corona, an aura millions of miles thick of superheated plasma. It’s natural to assume the corona is cooler than the sun’s blazing surface. […]

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    The Gravity Wave Hunter

    An astrophysicist sits down with Nautilus to discuss cosmology and culture.

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    Cosmic Void Dwarfs Are a Thing and There’s a Problem With Them

    Given how absurdly vast the cosmos is, with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, picturing it isn’t easy. You might think it natural, for instance, to see all these galaxies as more or less evenly spread out across the Universe. But you’d be wrong. Following the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, says Robert Kirshner, […]

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    Here’s What We’ll Do in Space by 2116

    In a mere 60 years, we of Earth have gone from launching our first spacecraft, to exploring every planet and major moon in our solar system, to establishing an international, long-lived fleet of robotic spacecraft at the Moon and Mars. What will we do in the next 100 years? With such rapid expansion of capability, […]

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    Why It’s Hard for Black Holes to Get Together

    The universe’s greatest sinkholes have no trouble swallowing anything—except themselves.

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    These Astronomical Glass Plates Made History

    Eight foundational images from the archives of the Carnegie Observatories.

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    How to Discover a Galaxy with a Telephoto Lens

    The Dragonfly telescope is pushing the boundaries of small-scale observational astronomy.

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    How to Discover a Galaxy with a Telephoto Lens

    The Dragonfly telescope is pushing the boundaries of small-scale observational astronomy.

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    2015 Was the Best Year Ever in Space

    The romance is back, argues a NASA adviser and best-selling science-fiction author.

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    The Inside of a Neutron Star Looks Spookily Familiar

    Exotic ultra-compressed matter can look like pasta, among other things.

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    This Is Why It’s Hard to Recognize a Black Hole

    Black Beauty: The supermassive black hole at the center of this galaxy, around 11 million light years away toward the constellation Centaurus, is currently classified as a quasar. It is roughly 55 million times more massive than our Sun. Its collimated jets, in blue, surpass the diameter of the entire galaxy, extending up to 13,000 […]

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    Is Life Special Just Because It’s Rare?

    Vitalism in the age of modern science.

  • Lightman_HERO

    Is Life Special Just Because It’s Rare?

    Vitalism in the age of modern science.

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    The Galaxy That Got Too Big

    From atoms to brains, bigger isn’t always better.

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    This Man Was Accused of Trying to Pull Earth Out of Its Orbit

    Gregory Laughlin has a funny story: While he was working as a planetary scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in the early 2000s, he was accused in the press of trying to shove Earth into a new orbit, farther from the Sun. “I got into major trouble,” Laughlin remembers in a conversation with Nautilus. […]

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    The Search for Eclipses as Perfect as Earth’s

    This classic Facts So Romantic post was originally published in September, 2013. Roughly twice a year, the apparent positions of sun and moon coincide, and a fortunate few observers are treated to a solar eclipse. Watching such an event provides the opportunity to contemplate a strange coincidence: From the surface of Earth, the apparent sizes […]

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    Can “New Horizons” Bring a Crowdsourced Message From Earth to Aliens?

    Now that New Horizons has completed its flyby of Pluto, the spacecraft is on a long journey to become the fifth manmade object to leave the solar system. It does so carrying some curious human artifacts: a Florida state quarter, an American flag, and one ounce of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto […]

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    A Visual History of Humanity’s Exploration of Pluto

    Before I could string full sentences together, I used to wander outside past my bedtime. I would push open the sliding glass door and immediately look up, searching for stars sprinkled beyond the silhouetted trees. At the time, I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what I was seeing. Instead, each beacon of light represented a […]

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    Life Beyond the Pale Blue Dot

    Our own oasis of life in the cosmos is blue, but will others be?

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    The Mystery of the Missing Planets

    There is an unsolved problem I want to tell you about: The case of the missing Trojans. You might be thinking of the mythical horse with soldiers hidden inside. Or maybe you’re thinking of a sports team. Or a type of computer virus, or, let’s be honest, of the condoms. (Note that I said, “Case […]

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    Why Discovering Martians Could Be Disappointing

    There are two kinds of extraterrestrial life with very different implications.

  • Folger_HERO

    Why Discovering Martians Could Be Disappointing

    There are two kinds of extraterrestrial life with very different implications.

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    The Beckoning of the Ice Worlds

    We’ve been looking for life on Earth-like planets. Will Europa teach us better?

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    Why Europa Is the Place to Go for Alien Life

    NASA is scheduled to probe the Jovian moon in 2023.

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    Reading Earth’s Destiny in the “Blood Spatter” Around Other Stars

    Ever notice how pretty much all superhero movies are origins stories? Everyone wants to know how Batman and Wolverine and the Hulk became who they are. But there aren’t too many superhero-in-old-age stories out there, with balding, hunchbacked super-oldsters hobbling around assisted-living homes. The same goes for the Solar System. The question of how the […]

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    The Genetics of the Earth and Moon

    Imagine that two very similar-looking neighbors undergo a genetic test. The exam shows that the pair’s genetic fingerprints are virtually identical. They feel a flash of shock and excitement. What does this mean? Could they be long-lost twins, separated in a hospital mixup? The Earth and Moon share a similar issue, one that poses a […]

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    If You Were a Secret Message, Where in the Human Genome Would You Hide?

    Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) uses the VLA (Very Large Array) to look for alien signals. But that’s not the only way. Warner Brothers When people think about SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, they imagine messages sent via radio—Jodie Foster tuning antennas, hoping to pick up signals from the “billions and billions” of star systems […]

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    Give Thanks to Jupiter, our Little Planet’s Big Protector

    Jupiter is famous for its Great Red Spot, but the stormy planet may also be responsible for keeping the inner solar system calm.NASA/JPL You are special, just like your parents used to tell you. You are a rare flower, a unique snowflake. Just like everyone else. How about our solar system? Is it special? Earth […]

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    The Endless Storm Over Jupiter

    Why the Great Red Spot refuses to die.

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    Jupiter Is a Garden of Storms

    Why the Great Red Spot refuses to die.

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    The 315-Year-Old Science Experiment

    How counting sunspots unites the past and future of science.

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    The 315-Year-Old Science Experiment

    How counting sunspots unites the past and future of science.

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    Mario Livio on 25 Years of Hubble

    The astrophysicist looks at the history of the world’s most famous telescope.

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    Forget “Earth-Like”—We’ll First Find Aliens on Eyeball Planets

    Imagine a habitable planet orbiting a distant star. You’re probably picturing a variation of Earth. Maybe it’s a little cloudier, or covered in oceans. Maybe the mountains are a little higher. Maybe the trees are red instead of green. Maybe there are scantily clad natives … OK, let’s stop there. That image may very well […]

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    Humankind’s Most Ambitious Search for Life’s Beginnings

    A rendering of Hayabusa2 using its “horn” to gather materials from the crater it will make using an explosive-propelled projectile. In the lower right is MASCOT, a lander that will be left on the surface to carry out ongoing studies.Akihiro Ikeshita / JAXA From mythological tales to the exploration of Mars, humans have hunted the […]

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    The Amazing Sky Calendar That Ancients Used to Track Seasons

    The Nebra Sky Disk photographed in Basel, Switzerland, in 2006Dbachmann via Wikipedia   Henry Westphal is tired. It’s July 4, 1999, a Sunday. He and a friend are climbing the Mittelberg or “Central Hill,” a small mountain near Nebra, in central Germany. Both men know of ancient ruins located here. Equipped with two metal detectors, […]

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    Don’t Write Off ET Quite Yet

    It’s true that we haven’t seen alien life, but neither have we seen much of the universe.

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    A Quick Spin Around the Big Dipper

    See how the night sky would appear from a different part of the galaxy.

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    What’s 250 Million Light-Years Big, Almost Empty, and Full of Answers?

    Astronomers are using new tools in their search for cosmic voids.

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    Why Galactic Collisions Are So Beautiful

    The Antennae Galaxies are in a state of “starburst,” when the gas from the two colliding galaxies crashes together to produce huge numbers of new stars.ESA/Hubble & NASA According to the basic approximation, stars are formed by a stately, gradual process that belies the power it eventually unleashes. Within a great gas cloud, gravity slowly […]

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    Ingenious: Gregory Laughlin

    An astrophysicist looks into the future and the distance.

  • Powell_HERO

    When the Earth Had Two Moons

    A new model—“The Big Splat”—explains the strange asymmetry of the moon.

  • Berger_HERO

    Ingenious: Edwin C. Krupp

    “Astronomy is almost nothing but the story of light.”

  • Billings_HERO

    Looking for a Second Earth in the Shadows

    Scientists are blocking out the light of distant suns to look for life.

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    Falling in Love With the Dark

    One astronomer has taken to U.S. National Parks to rekindle an old romance.

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    The Billion-Dollar Telescope Race

    How three groups are competing to make the first extremely large telescope.

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    Ingenious: Daniel Wolf Savin

    Illuminating the birth of the stars.

  • Nadis_HERO

    The Stories That Galaxies Tell

    Peculiar shapes were the key to realizing that galaxies merge.

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    Imagine a World With One Universal Time Zone…

    A warped photo of Big Ben. Alan Cleaver via Flickr Earlier this month, the chief minister of the Indian state of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, started something of a brouhaha with a bold pronouncement on the generally sleepy topic of time zones. “We need a local time for Assam and the other northeastern states which will […]

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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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    So Human, So Beautiful

    I look into the mirror and try to see what another human would see. My beard is months old, scraggly and dirty, my balding head covered with wisps of gray. I take out the scissors and start to clean it up. Thoughts of other people, being with other people, force their way to the surface, […]

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    The Madness of the Planets

    Our home in the universe continues to rock out of control.

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    Our Prodigal Sun

    Searching the heavens for our sun’s family.

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    Where Nature Hides the Darkest Mystery of All

      No known object in existence has as clear a division between “inside” and “outside” as a black hole. We live and see the outside, and no probe will bring us information about the inside. We can send radio messages or robotic spacecraft, but once they cross over into a black hole’s interior, we’ll never […]

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    Hunting for Eclipses as Perfect as Earth’s

    Roughly twice a year, the apparent positions of Sun and Moon coincide, and a fortunate few observers are treated to a solar eclipse. Watching such an event provides the opportunity to contemplate a strange coincidence: From the surface of Earth, the apparent sizes of the Sun and Moon in the sky are nearly equal. The […]

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    The Freaky Celestial Events We See—and the Ones We Don’t

    On March 28, 2011, the orbiting Swift observatory spotted an extraordinary gamma-ray burst, a bright source of energetic light from a distant galaxy. Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are some of the brightest and most energetic events in the cosmos. Their measurable strong emission in most cases vanishes after about 30 seconds, but this particular event—known as […]

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    The Unlikely Rocks Found in Mosques, Siberia & Outer Space

    A Penrose tiling, a 2D pattern that shows a similar lack of repetition as a 3D quasicrystal.Wikipedia Back in June, researchers at Ames laboratory in Iowa announced the discovery a new group of rare-earth quasicrystals—an unusual class of crystalline materials where the atomic structure boasts regular patterns that never repeat themselves. They resemble the intricate […]

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    Watching Our Every Move—From Space

    Should extraterrestrials be looking down at Earth from space, they would know a few things about us humans. They would know our routines are dictated by the sun. They would see that we tend to congregate and build near water. But perhaps most of all, they would know that we move. Today’s world is an […]

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    Supernovas & Other Big Bangs: Where Your Body Comes From

    “Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” —Carl Sagan, Cosmos That Carl Sagan quote is among one of his most famous sayings, […]

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    Where Could You Find the Best Surfing in the Universe?

    As recently as the late 80s, finding a planet orbiting another star seemed like the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, about as realistic as a diminutive alien riding a flying bicycle, or a sports car that worked as a time machine. Thanks to many smart astronomers using a new generation of powerful telescopes, we now know […]

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    When a Planet Is Not Really a Planet at All

    As astronomers point their telescopes up at the sky to learn about the cosmos, they tend to push those devices’ abilities to their limits. The edge of what we can measure is, of course, where all the interesting things are happening. The downside of this ambition is that the conclusions drawn from the newest data […]

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    Ingenious: Lisa Kaltenegger

    Stories about a life spent searching for life among the stars.

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    Worlds Without End

    Think we might eventually travel to other planets? In a way, we already are.

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    Roadmap to Alpha Centauri

    Pick your favorite travel mode—big, small, light, dark, or twisted.

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    Point and Shoot

    Special spots in empty space might hold the key to interplanetary exploration.

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    Buried in the Sky

    Looking up to the sky, a young astronomer finds truths at her feet.

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    Hero Planet, or Plebian?

    Far from being romantic heroes, starless planets may be a dime a dozen.

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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 […]

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    How We Could Find Alien Life Soon—and Why We Probably Won’t

    Despite their great distance from Earthbound politics, exoplanets were the topic of a joint hearing on May 9th of the House space and research subcommittees. The recent discovery of a trio of temperate super-Earths was the hearing’s impetus, but most of the discussion was devoted to future prospects—chiefly, how and when scientists might learn whether […]

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    Open Your Mind to What an “Earth-Like” Planet Could Be

    You are standing on a sandy plain lit only by the harsh, cold light of a blue-white spark flashing overhead in steady metronomic bursts. The pinprick of light almost seems like a distant star, but each flash raises a disturbing tingling sensation within you, suggesting the stroboscopic light source is somehow nearby, and must be […]

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    Carbon Fated: We’re Built This Way for a Reason

    In each issue of Nautilus, we shine a spotlight on one “Ingenious” scientist whose work makes us reconsider our world and ourselves. The Ingenious for our first issue, “What Makes You So Special,” is Columbia University astrophysicist Caleb Scharf, who contributed an essay about our place in the universe and talked about his life and […]

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    The Fun-House Mirror Earths

    It’s been just over two decades since astronomers announced the first discoveries of exoplanets—planets orbiting stars other than the sun—and their progress in the intervening years has been so routinely remarkable its recitation now seems mundane: There are now thousands of cataloged exoplanets, and hundreds of billions more probably await discovery in the Milky Way […]

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    Ingenious: Caleb Scharf

    How our view of the universe, and ourselves, is changing.

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    Escape From the Center of the Universe

    When Copernicus told us that Earth is not the center of the universe, we collectively cried, “Oh, no!,” and have spent the past 470 years fanning ourselves silly, trying to recover from the blow to our species’ ego. So goes the mythology of the Copernican Revolution. But it’s not true. The center of the universe […]

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    Goodbye Copernicus, Hello Universe

    Our insignificance, and significance, on a cosmic scale