31 January, 2013

Today we know that the Milky Way is a galaxy a hundred thousand light-years wide and that it contains more than two hundred billion stars, including our sun. Our galaxy is shaped like a flat, spiraling disk, with a bulge at the center where the density of stars is greatest (there’s a black hole in there, too); we live more than halfway out, on one of the spiral arms. When you view the Milky Way, you are gazing through the plane of this disk and at the universe around and beyond—which, astronomers report, is imponderably vast and contains billions of other galaxies. Are there other sentient beings out there? Who knows. On Earth, at least, humans suppose that we alone seek out the sweep of our own galaxy. But we’re wrong. Late last week, in a paper in Current Biology, Marie Dacke, a biologist at Lund University, in Sweden, and her colleagues revealed that at least one other species takes guidance from the Milky Way: the dung beetle.

Dung Beetles, Dancing to the Milky Way : The New Yorker