Cosmology


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Viewed from the International Space Station, stars glitter in the night sky above the Earth’s atmospheric glow. Photo courtesy Nasa

Essay/
Cosmology
Big space

Our planet is a tiny porthole, looking over a cosmic sea. Can we learn what lies beyond our own horizons of perception?

Katie Mack

A section of the Andromeda galaxy M31, from the largest and most detailed image ever taken with the Hubble telescope. The full image shows more than 100 million stars stretching across more than 40,000 light years. Photo courtesy NASA, ESA, J Dalcanton, B F Williams, L C Johnson (University of Washington), the PHAT team and R Gendler

Essay/
Astronomy
Does dark matter exist?

Dark matter is the most ubiquitous thing physicists have never found: it’s time to consider alternative explanations

Ramin Skibba

Planetary System. Eclipse of the Sun. The Moon. The Zodiacal Light. Meteoric Shower. From Yaggy’s Geographical Study, 1887. Courtesy the David Rumsey Map Collection

Essay/
History of science
Naming the Universe

How the quick thinking of internationally minded astronomers avoided stamping the solar system with petty European rivalries

Stephen Case

At the European Southern Observatory, La Silla, Chile. Photo courtesy Alan Fitzsimmons/ESO

Essay/
Cosmology
Fate of the Universe

Are we part of a dying reality or a blip in eternity? The value of the Hubble Constant could tell us which terror awaits

Corey S Powell

In the Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya, in 2012. Photo by Olivia Arthur/Magnum

Essay/
Cosmology
The cosmic now

Are you here now? Impossible to say. The idea that any group of events can truly happen at once is just an illusion

Anthony Aguirre

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field of nearly 10,000 galaxies, taken in 2004. The snapshot includes galaxies of various ages, sizes, shapes and colours. The smallest, reddest galaxies may be among the most distant known, existing when the Universe was just 800 million years old. Photo courtesy NASA, ESA, and S Beckwith (STScI) and the HUDF Team

Essay/
Astronomy
Monsters in the dark

The Universe’s biggest galaxies could hold the key to the birth of the cosmos. Why are these behemoths so hard to find?

Matthew Bothwell

The 29 May 1919 solar eclipse taken by the British astronomer Arthur Eddington (1882-1944), confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The stars near the Sun appear slightly shifted because their light is curved by its gravitational field. Príncipe Island, Gulf of Guinea. Royal Astronomical Society/Science Photo Library

Essay/
History of science
Curving the Universe

A century ago, a team of scientists chased the arc of starlight across a total eclipse to prove Einstein right on relativity

Matthew Stanley

From beginning to end; The Great Day of His Wrath (1851-3), by John Martin. Works of end-time prediction did not appear until the Seleucid era. Courtesy Tate Britain, London

Essay/
History of ideas
A revolution in time

Once local and irregular, time-keeping became universal and linear in 311 BCE. History would never be the same again

Paul J Kosmin

Photo by HG/Magnum

Essay/
Physics
Time after time

The question of whether time moves in a loop or a line has occupied human minds for millennia. Has physics found the answer?

Paul Halpern

Donnie McBurney (left) and Chris Welch, both of Merrit Island, Florida, watch as the space shuttle Discovery lifts off from Cape Canaveral on 29 October 1998. Photo by Gregg Newton/Reuters

Essay/
Cosmology
Anthropic arrogance

Claims that the Universe is designed for humans raise far more troubling questions than they can possibly answer

David P Barash

The Moon and stars light up Mount Everest, also known as Qomolangma on 29 April 2008. Photo by David Gray/Reuters

Essay/
Cosmology
How cosmic is the cosmos?

Ever since Heisenberg and Tagore, physicists have flirted with Eastern philosophy. Is there anything in the romance?

Zeeya Merali

The Little Sombrero galaxy NGC 7814. Photo courtesy ESA/Hubble & NASA

Essay/
Space exploration
What if ET is an AI?

After centuries searching for extraterrestrial life, we might find that first contact is not with organic creatures at all

Caleb Scharf

The planet Jupiter. Observed 1 November 1880 at 9.30pm. From the Trouvelot Astronomical Drawings (1882) by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot. Courtesy The New York Public Library

Essay/
History of science
Behold: science as seeing

One astronomer’s dimpled pie is another’s cratered moon. How can our mind’s eye learn to see the new and unexpected?

Gene Tracy