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At Home in the Universe

from Science News

When Lewis and Clark started exploring the West, they didn't know much about what lay beyond St. Louis. Neither, at first, did astronomers know much about cosmic realms beyond Uranus.

But just as 19th century explorers filled in huge blanks on the American map, so did 20th century skywatchers flesh out a much greater map--of frontiers far beyond the solar system, out across the entire Milky Way. Now, in the last few years, cosmic cartography has again redrawn modern science's picture of the galaxy, from the inside out.

Surprising new findings from this endeavor begin at the Milky Way's heart, where astronomers recently spotted a tendril of gas streaming toward the galaxy's central black hole. Next year, scientists will have a ringside seat for the first time as the matter swings perilously close to its doom.

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