Deep time


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Colourised photographs taken using the schlieren technique depict for the first time the shockwaves of two supersonic jets, typically heard on the ground as the sonic boom. Photo courtesy NASA

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Thinkers and theories
Before, now, and next

Pastness, presentness and futurity seem to be real features of the world, but are they? On McTaggart’s philosophy of time

Emily Thomas

A firefighter battling the King Fire in Fresh Pond, California, on 17 September 2014. Photo by Noah Berger/Reuters

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Deep time
The planet is burning

Wild, feral and fossil-fuelled, fire lights up the globe. Is it time to declare that humans have created a Pyrocene?

Stephen J Pyne

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

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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

Photo by HG/Magnum

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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

Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins/National Geographic

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Deep time
Welcome to Terra Sapiens

Humans have been altering Earth for millennia, but only now are we wise to what we’re doing. How will we use that wisdom?

David Grinspoon

A Parasaurolophus dinosaur by Rich Penney. Courtesy the artist

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Palaeontology
What say you, dinosaur?

Did Neanderthals speak? Did dinosaurs roar? And when did birds begin to sing? The soundscape of deep time is coming back

Alex Riley

Potential impacter? A single frame Rosetta navigation camera image of Comet 67P taken on 15 April 2015 from a distance of 162 km. The crescent phase has been rendered in false colours. Photo courtesy ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM.

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Deep time
Laws or comets?

Does history unfold randomly and by chance, or are there underlying patterns and deep connections between its parts?

Walter Alvarez

From the Robert Kennedy funeral train, USA, 1968. Photo by Paul Fusco/Magnum

Essay/
Physics
A science without time

From past to present, into the future: the flow of time is central to human experience. Why isn’t it central to physics?

Gene Tracy

Photo by Cultura/Gallery Stock

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Biology
Where do minds belong?

Intelligence could have been moving back and forth between biological beings and machine receptacles for aeons

Caleb Scharf

Dinosaur collectors Pete (l) and Neal Larson (c) of the Black Hills Institute prepare the skeleton of Sue, the Tyrannosaurus Rex now on show at the Field Museum, Chicago. Photo by Louie Psihoyos/Corbis

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Deep time
A tyrannosaur of one’s own

Dinosaur collecting isn’t just for museums any more – film stars and sheikhs do it too. What drives a man to covet big bones?

Laurie Gwen Shapiro

What if light slowed down? Illustration by Matt Murphy/Handsome Frank

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Deep time
Light dawns

Light travels at around 300,000 km per second. Why not faster? Why not slower? A new theory inches us closer to an answer

Sidney Perkowitz

The Tollund Man, Denmark. Photo by Christian Kober.Corbis

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Deep time
Last hominin standing

Was human evolution inevitable, or do we owe our existence to a once-in-a-universe stroke of luck?

Dan Falk

Illustration by Claire Scully

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Astronomy
In the beginning

Cosmology has been on a long, hot streak, racking up one imaginative and scientific triumph after another. Is it over?

Ross Andersen

Within the Gurgler Glacier in Austria. Stewart Franklin/Magnum

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Deep time
Written in stone

In the race for geology’s highest accolade – a ‘golden spike’ – do advocates of the Anthropocene sell their ideas short?

James Westcott