Deep time


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Astronomy Biology Biotechnology Chemistry Computing and artificial intelligence Cosmology Deep time Earth science and climate Ecology and environmental sciences Engineering Evolution Genetics History of science Human evolution Human reproduction Illness and disease Mathematics Medicine Oceans and water Palaeontology Physics Quantum theory Space exploration
Contemplating the deep future, in light of the past: philosopher Nick Bostrom at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. Photo by Andy Sansom/Aeon Magazine
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Computing and artificial intelligence
Omens

When we peer into the fog of the deep future what do we see – human extinction or a future among the stars?

Ross Andersen

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

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

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

Trails left by circumpolar stars, as viewed from Star Axis, a monumental work of land art in the New Mexico desert. Photo courtesy of Charles Ross
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Architecture
Embracing the void

The ancients had pyramids to tame the sky’s mystery. We have Star Axis, a masterpiece forty years in the making

Ross Andersen

Photo by Jim Crotty/Gallery Stock
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Astronomy
Save the Universe

It is only a matter of time before our Universe goes black, cold and dies. Must this be the end of the road for life?

Michael Hanlon

The world's oldest living trees, bristlecone pines each stand on their own pedestal of dolomite rock, high in the Californian mountains All photos by Nick Paloukos
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Deep time
The vanishing groves

A chronicle of climates past and a portent of climates to come – the telling rings of the bristlecone pine

Ross Andersen

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

At the Trollstigen lookout, Norway. Photo courtesy Vegard Haugland

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History of ideas
The end is not near

Thanks to science, most of us accept the deep past – so why are our imagined futures so shallow?

J L Schellenberg

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

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

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

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

Charismatic microfauna. Limacina helicina, a small, swimming, predatory sea snail. Photo by Alexander Semenov

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Oceans and water
Acid trap

Earth’s oceans are beginning to warm and turn acidic, endangering plankton and the entire marine food chain

Peter Brannen

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

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

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

Banded iron rock, mineral layers compressed in vibrant colours found in the Hammersley Range, Western Australia. Photo by Mint Images/ Frans Lanting/Getty
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Biology
Mineral fodder

We may think we are the first organisms to remake the planet, but life has been transforming the earth for aeons

Robert Hazen

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