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Millennium briefing: Mapping the cosmos

In the past few years the big cosmic picture has come into focus. We know (more or less) how the universe was created, where it is heading and how it will end. We don't (yet) know if there is intelligent life elsewhere.

By Martin Rees   October 1999

Centuries ago, maps of the Earth had blurred boundaries, where the cartographers wrote “there be dragons.” But after the pioneer navigators had traversed the globe there was no expectation of a new continent, nor that we would ever drastically revise our estimates of the Earth’s size and shape. At the end of the 20th century we have, remarkably, reached this stage in mapping our universe-its spatial extent, its structure, its main constituents, and its huge span in time. For the first time the big cosmic picture is coming into focus. This story-a collective achievement of thousands of astronomers, physicists and…

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