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Item specifics Condition: Very Good: A book that has been read and does not look new, but is in excellent condition. No obvious damage to the book cover, with the dust jacket if applicable included for hard covers. These noises certainly will not be meant for us and finding them will be serendipitous. On the one hand I would give better odds to our detecting that kind of ETI signal than a beacon aimed at Earth, if for no other reason than technological societies would logically spend far more time talking to their own members than sending messages into the unknown.
However, the fact that their destinations are not Earth automatically lessens their signal strength and thus their detectability across interstellar distances. Other than letting us know that we are not alone in the galaxy, such microwave signals may be indecipherable for a very long time. But an ETI message that starts off with instructions on building a device with technologies that the human race may or may not be able to reproduce and with no clear information as to what the Machine will do? This does not strike me as a logical way to start a relationship between two alien cultures.
I know that in the Contact universe, the Milky Way galaxy is filled with advanced cultures for whom monitoring and contacting young civilizations is a relatively routine occurrence. So of course to them what is the big deal of saying hello and bringing a few representatives into the neighborhood for a brief visit.
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But again, our Universe may not be like this at all. We so desperately do not want to be alone and independent that if we aren't populating the Great Beyond with gods and angels, then we will take superior benevolent aliens as substitutes. The existence of the Machine did serve one good purpose in our world: In Sagan's attempt to have a scientifically plausible ultrafast transportation system for his characters, he enlisted the aid of astrophysicist Kip Thorne to come up with the method.
Thorne's response was to conjecture an artificial wormhole where the holes would be enlarged and kept open natural wormholes are very small and unstable by a very advanced race using "exotic matter" to keep the wormholes stable and usable.
Theory is always fun and much can be learned from it. However, to say that a wormhole could be kept open by a highly sophisticated intelligence using some undefined form of complex matter, for me they might as well have said it works with magic fairy dust. I am well aware of Arthur C. Clarke's quote that a highly advanced society's technology would be indistinguishable from magic to primitives like us. Nevertheless, we cannot advance ourselves if we answer every question we have by saying it is or is like magic or God did it and leaving it at that.
We must strive to find the truth behind the mysteries of existence, or we will dwell in ignorance and stagnation forever. Of course a truly advanced society that can manipulate an entire galaxy would have abilities and technologies far beyond current human comprehension, but I dislike seeing scientific theories skating so close to the edge of becoming supernatural magic. It is said that science fiction is just a modern form of the mythologies humanity has loved to spin out for centuries to explain the world around us. There is nothing inherently wrong with a good story, but I would like to think that as we approach the Twenty-First Century, explaining the workings of existence without resorting to deities or mysticism is something that more authors would be comfortable with by now.
This comment is not directed at the creators of Contact per se. I know they had to come up with some kind of plausible explanation for Ellie to be transported to Vega and back within a matter of seconds and not end up invoking a wizard waving a magic wand. But then my whole argument is that the Machine should never have been necessary in the first place with a "realistic" story about alien contact.
So what kind of story do I consider to be realistic? Gunn's science fiction work, The Listeners. Here the aliens contact Earth to give us all their history and knowledge in order to preserve as much of themselves as they can before their star Capella expands into a red giant and renders them extinct. These ETI do not intend to conquer the human race. They do not possess starships with warp drives or subspace radios. The transmissions between Capella and Earth move at the speed of light and no faster a message from Capella takes 45 years to reach us.
The story therefore stretches over hundreds of years, as a real two-way communication between distant star systems would take. If an ETI were transmitting to Earth in a deliberate and non-hostile attempt to communicate, the message contents would most likely be about their culture and what they know of the Cosmos. Preserving themselves by sending this information to other star systems is also plausible.
We have done this already on a small scale with the Pioneer plaques, the Voyager records, and the Arecibo radio message sent to the globular star cluster Messier 13 in Our microwave leakage might also be considered cultural preservation on a galactic scale of a sort. The Listeners serves as a good example of an ETI contact story which did not involve alien marauders or even a spaceship and still remained suspenseful, intelligent, and scientifically plausible. Even Carl Sagan praised the novel. His words adorn the cover of the paperback version I own.
I do not know when he wrote them, but it certainly could have been before Contact was even conceived. What matters is that Gunn portrayed how our first contact might actually happen and unfold. People should be made aware of this so that they do not have any more unrealistic expectations of what is out there than what they already do. SETI searches can be seriously harmed by lack of support if the public is expecting the Mothership to land at Devil's Tower instead of a faint whisper from deep space.
I also had some issues with the technical aspects of the Machine. What happened to the pod test with Elmer that they were planning to conduct with the first Machine at the Kennedy Space Center before it was sabotaged? It was wise of them to see what would happen with an inanimate dummy before dropping a live human being through the spinning rings no doubt where the "exotic matter" was stored. But did they perform this test with the second Machine in Japan? If they had, then they should not have been so surprised when Ellie went through the rings and seemed to have gone nowhere at all.
It would appear that the test was conveniently dropped instead of the actual dummy. This makes little sense, though: If hundreds of billions of dollars were spent in making this Machine and human lives were at stake, I would darn sure want to test it first both to see if I got my money's worth and that the thing is safe. This is a major plot inconsistency for which no clear answer was provided for. It was obviously done to heighten the ongoing debate between faith and reason, which means that once again the filmmakers sacrificed realism while trying to make a point. Speaking of the Machine's cost, if S.
Hadden has that kind of money, resources, and influence to build two Machines, I am surprised the man doesn't just take over Earth. Then again, maybe he did, but was far more subtle and benevolent about it than, say, Hitler. In our world, there are a number of individuals with lots of money and power who have made serious contributions to SETI, but I do not believe any one individual could ever reach Hadden's level.
I also have a problem with how quickly these Machines were made. It seems like only months passed between the time of the Vega Message and the Machines' construction instead of the years it should have taken. Now it is the realities of time that were sacrificed to satisfy the filmmakers' need to keep the plot moving along. And why two? Other than Hadden's snide comment about governments spending more money whenever the opportunity arises, one seemed sufficient for the purposes of the film plot.
Did Hadden anticipate problems with the United States' Machine? At least in the novel the reason was that rival nations wanted to build their own Machines the Message was receivable everywhere Vega was visible from Earth and meet the ETI first, plus gain any advanced technological information that the Machine had to offer. Having a second Machine ready to go when a religious fanatic blew up the first one seems too much like a deus ex Machina. I am a firm believer in backup systems, especially when it comes to spacecraft, but I think the Machine was a just too much in terms of technology, effort, and cost to afford making more than one.
But I guess when you are superbillionaire S. Hadden, virtually anything is possible. My issue with the suicide pill is that they made the statement about it being a top secret standard issue item for astronauts since the beginning of the space program. Not only is there no validity to this, but my main concern is that now viewers will come to believe that such a thing is carried onboard all manned space missions.
As a case in point, the Apollo 13 astronauts were asked many times, after returning from their near-fatal mission to Luna in , if they had suicide pills in the event they were stranded in space. All of them strongly denied it. If they had been permanently stuck in the void, Commander Jim Lovell said he would have kept the spacecraft and crew going as long as possible, then let the air slowly leak out of the ship. This way they would merely be rendered unconscious before death occurred.
Another reason why I do not believe our astronauts ever carried any such means of killing themselves I do not know about the Soviet cosmonauts, but I will assume the same is for them : Especially in the early days of the space program, the astronaut corps was made up primarily of jet test pilots.
These are men who looked death in the face and always tried to do everything possible to get out of a dangerous situation alive before giving up the ship, as it were. Suicide would be a very last resort measure. Indeed, these men would rather have died while trying to keep their craft from crashing than just quit. I know that the U-2 pilots who flew over the Soviet Union in the late s and early s carried cyanide tablets Francis Gary Powers was supposed to have used his, but either did not or was captured before he could do so.
However, these were top secret spy missions where giving information to the enemy was the worst thing that could happen. The men and women who explore the heavens are doing it in the best interests of everyone. They too are generally not ones to give up in a crisis without exhausting every other possibility first. One more comment regarding the provisions they had for Ellie to take aboard the pod: Ellie may have been right in one sense to protest taking any medical kits, use a special chair, or have anything else not recommended in the Machine blueprints, but I also think the Machine project planners were only being sensible and cautious for Ellie's comfort and safety.
Considering how rough a ride she had in that wormhole, I was a bit surprised that the ETI did not try to pad the walls or provide their own chair, at least. For a film about space with Carl Sagan as its creative source and consultant, one would expect the astronomical aspects of it to be quite accurate. Happily, this is the case in the majority of instances where celestial objects and events are presented.
The following are some selected examples from the film. A Brief Tour of the Universe. Accurate astronomy is prevalent right at the very start of Contact with the incredible opening sequence as we travel from Earth into the Universe with our microwave leakage. Numerous real celestial objects, such as the Eagle Nebula Messier 16 with its incredible black pillars of star-forming gas and dust, were seen in all their glory as we passed them by, though naturally at speeds far beyond those achievable in reality.
You can find cels of these scenes in the September, issue Number 71 of Cinefex magazine, which contains an excellent article on the film's special effects.
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Since I do not know when or if a Making of Contact book will be produced, this Cinefex article could be your best source on the subject. For more details on this quick tour of the Cosmos, see the section The Opening Sequence. I looked for that particular pulsar in the online Princeton Pulsar Catalog.
No pulsar with that designation exists, according to their records. Perhaps the neutron star did not want its real number used in the film. At least the writers got the astronomical naming scheme correct. Shortly thereafter, a group of other astronomers working with Arecibo arrive at the station. Clark introduces them to Ellie and briefly describes what they are studying. One scientist named Chris is studying the black hole at the center of M Messier 87, also known as Virgo A, is a gigantic elliptical galaxy some sixty million light years from Earth. M87 does have a very active nucleus emitting a long jet of gas and radiation into intergalactic space.
It is believed that a black hole a star that has collapsed into a singularity, leaving a gravity well from which even light cannot escape of some three billion solar masses is the source of all this activity. If one goes along with the workings in the Contact universe, though, it may well be just another astroengineering project conducted by many ETI civilizations working to keep the Universe from expanding into nothingness.
Another scientist named Eli is studying Markarian , which is only described as "a major gamma-ray source". Markarian is an active galaxy about which I could find very little information, including confirmation that it really is a major source of gamma rays. The following is the information provided by Dr. Pogge on Markarian and the type of galaxy it is: "Markarian is a Type 1 Seyfert galaxy identified as such by Professor Donald Osterbrock of the Lick Observatory in , and subsequently detected at X-ray wavelengths by the Einstein satellite.
Seyfert 1 galaxies are a subset of the general class of Active Galactic Nuclei AGNs for short which includes Quasars at the most luminous end, and our own galaxy perhaps at the low-luminosity end. Seyfert 1s are characterized by a bright galactic nucleus with an optical spectrum showing strong doppler-broadened emission lines of Hydrogen and Helium and sometimes broad lines of singly-ionized iron , somewhat narrower emission lines of collisionally excited metal ions e. Type 2 Seyferts, by comparison, have only narrow emission lines of Hydrogen, Helium, and the metal-ion species in their spectra.
Markarian , near as I can tell, is not among them. However, there are two famous AGNs from the Markarian catalog sufficiently energetic to be detected at not only gamma-ray energies but the very high energies GeV to 10 TeV capable of producing Cherenkov air showers visible from the ground: Markarian and Markarian The only other object confirmed to have been detected at these energies has been the Crab Nebula supernova remnant.
Some more familiar heavenly bodies are mentioned when Ellie and Palmer Joss are sitting out under the stars with the Arecibo telescope in the background. Ellie is pointing out constellations to Palmer, of whom I get the impression is not terribly familiar with the night sky. Ellie remarks on Cassiopeia, one of the northern circumpolar star patterns easily recognized as a large W-shape or the letter M, depending on the time. The Cinefex 71 magazine article on Contact describes how the special effects experts made the star patterns match what one would really see in the sky, in deference to Sagan.
I think it is something they should have done regardless of who was advising on the film. This constellation is named after the Greek mythological queen Cassiopeia, wife of King Cepheus and mother of Princess Andromeda, who have their own star patterns nearby.
Cassiopeia was bound to her throne to forever circle the north pole star with her head downward. This was her punishment by the Nereids for her boast of being more beautiful than all the Sea Nymphs. I am not quite certain if there is a symbolic connection between Cassiopeia and Ellie, except perhaps that Ellie tended to be punished by the Establishment for declaring how much more important searching for extraterrestrial life was over the other fields of astronomy.
For more information about the constellation Cassiopeia and its various parts, refer to this Web page URL:. As Ellie was describing Cassiopeia to Palmer, she mentioned how that area of the sky had a supernova remnant she often listened to. That radio source is known as Tycho's Supernova Remnant. It is named after the famous Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe , who witnessed this stellar explosion on November 11, Considered the finest sky observer before the age of the telescope, Tycho wrote a paper on his studies of the supernova and published it in This work did much to prove that the event was located deep in space and not part of Earth's atmosphere, as comets were often thought to be in his era.
The supernova also turned Tycho's interest from alchemy back to astronomy, to the benefit of future astronomical research. After Ellie described Cassiopeia to Palmer, he asked her what drew her into astronomy. Ellie explained that one night when she was eight years old, she asked her father, Ted, about a certain bright star looming in the evening sky.
He said it wasn't a star but the planet Venus, a world "filled with deadly gases and sulfuric acid rain. This scene contains some good meaning for the film and us. Before the Space Age, Venus was once thought to be an abode of life like Mars. Those thick clouds hiding the planet's surface led to wild speculation about steaming swamps full of reptiles and stranger creatures. In , Carl Sagan wrote his dissertation on the possibilities of life in the Sol system. In the section on Venus, Sagan claimed that the second world from our sun is much hotter than most scientists believed at the time.
Sagan said this was due to the greenhouse effect, where solar radiation penetrated the planet's dense clouds but could not escape back into space. As a result, the surface temperature built up far past the limits that any Earth-like organisms could survive. Sagan was widely applauded for this discovery. In a sense, Venus helped launch Sagan on his way to become one of humanity's most famous scientists.
Sagan's Venus theory was proven correct when the Soviet Union's Venera probes landed on Earth's nearest planetary neighbor and reported a global surface temperature of degrees Celsius, or degrees Fahrenheit. These short-lived landers also let scientists know that the surface air pressure was ninety times greater than what we experience at sea level! This is equivalent to being approximately one kilometer under the oceans. The atmosphere itself is composed mostly of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid. These elements gave further support to Sagan's greenhouse theory of why Venus is a perpetual furnace.
In , I published a three-part series on the exploration of Venus by the robot probes of the Soviet Union and the United States. I invite you to read them to see how we came to shed the mysteries of this shrouded world at these Web URLs:. It is ironic that Sagan, a man who devoted himself to finding life beyond Earth, was the one who determined that life as we know it could not survive on Venus.
Sagan also determined that the Mars features which changed shape and color as seen through telescopes were due to sands being shifted around by the winds, not masses of plant life growing and dying with the Martian seasons, as many others had thought.
This is the hallmark of a scientist who is willing to change his theories in the face of new and stronger information that contradicts his own. I would like to think that Venus was chosen for Contact as the celestial body that launched Ellie into her lifelong passion for astronomy because it was the planet that also helped to bring Sagan into the limelight.
His popularizing science is what gave us so many wonderful gifts of knowledge, including Contact. For a new book on the planet that is both very informative and entertaining to read, check out David Grinspoon's Venus Revealed. Grinspoon even conjectures that some unusual probe data taken at certain layers of Venus' atmosphere may be due to a form of life that can survive in the less severe regions of the planet's clouds. There is a wonderful Web site on the book at this URL:.
The astronomical star of the show was naturally Vega, the place where the Message was transmitted from. This star has had a long and prominent affect on human history and astronomy. The Babylonians called it the Messenger of Light. To the Assyrians, it was the Judge of Heaven. The Chinese called it the Spinning Damsel. She was separated from her lover, the star Altair, by the river of Milky Way stars. However, they were reunited once each year by a living bridge of magpies.
All of these names are certainly appropriate in context with Contact. This includes the Chinese one, if you look at it as Ellie wishing to reunite with her deceased father. It is also known as Alpha Lyrae, being the brightest star in the constellation of Lyra the Lyre. This was a stringed instrument, like a harp.
Legend says the lyre was invented by the Greek god Hermes called Mercury by the Romans as a gift to his half-brother, Apollo. He in turn gave it to Orpheus, the musician of the Argonauts. Vega was the first star to be photographed. Bond and professional photographer J. Whipple used the fifteen-inch refractor telescope to take a one hundred-second daguerreotype exposure of the star on the night of July 16, During the evening months of summer, this zero magnitude star is positioned directly overhead at the zenith as part of the famous Summer Triangle of bright stars, which includes Altair and Deneb.
That Contact premiered in early July when Vega was at its peak was a nice touch. Vega was Earth's north celestial star fourteen thousand years ago. Our planet undergoes precession, or wobbles on its axis, due to the gravitational pulls of Sol and Luna. Over the twenty-six thousand years it takes Earth to make one complete precession, a number of prominent stars get to become our north star along the way.
Polaris holds this honor now. Vega will become the north pole star again in twelve thousand years.
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Vega is the fifth brightest star as seen from Earth's skies. It is three times as large and massive as our sun. Burning at a surface temperature of 9, degrees Kelvin, Vega is fifty-two times more luminous than Sol. Being a large blue-white A0 Main Sequence V star, Vega burns its nuclear fuel faster than our sun, so its estimated lifetime is "only" two hundred million years. By comparison, a yellow dwarf star like Sol should last for ten billion years before swelling into a red giant on its way to becoming a white dwarf.
It is not considered that Vega would ever have time to form any kind of stable system of planets, let alone have life evolve there. The distance to Vega is currently determined to be twenty-five light years and four months from Earth. This translates into trillion kilometers, or trillion miles. The former distance to Vega was placed at twenty-six light years including in the novel and film , but this was before the European Space Agency ESA released in June of its precise star measurement data made by the Hipparcos satellite.
Our Sol system is actually plunging through the Milky Way galaxy in the direction of Vega at the speed of twenty kilometers per second. We will arrive where Vega is located now in about , years. IRAS detected a debris disk around Vega, the first ever witnessed. Astronomers theorized that our Sol system and others formed from the condensation of interstellar dust and gas called protoplanetary disks. The center of the disk collapsed into a fusion-powered star. Debris knots in the outer parts of the disk turned into the planets, moons, and minor bodies.
It was thought that the debris seen circling Vega was evidence of a solar system in the making, short-lived as it may be on the celestial scale of stellar events. This meant that if Vega had such a disk, perhaps then other more stable stars also formed planetary systems in this manner, which in turn could have organisms evolving upon them.
While it was not the same as finding either actual extrasolar planets or life, it was an exciting step in that direction. Other protoplanetary disk discoveries from the IRAS data soon followed, but Vega was remembered as being the first. This major astronomical find of the early s is probably what inspired Sagan to make Vega the place to locate the ETI's interstellar listening post for the novel, which was published in In the film, when the Message is first picked up by Ellie's team at the VLA and its galactic source determined they got its right ascension and declination correct, by the way , the staff debates whether the signal could actually come from Vega.
The star was rightly considered to be too new and surrounded by debris. They speculate that perhaps any ETIs in that system are just visiting and possibly using "laser blasters and photon torpedoes" to keep the gas, dust, and rocks from causing a fatal impact with their starship. In the novel, the ETI satellite orbited Vega so as to avoid the debris disk. There was one thing that Sagan and the other astronomers of the s did not know about Vega: The debris disk might actually be just the star's equatorial region bulging out from Vega's very rapid rotation rate.
In , Canadian astronomers discovered that Vega was rotating once on its axis every eleven hours, instead of five days as previously thought. For comparison, our sun rotates along its equator once every twenty-five days. This caused its poles to flatten and its middle to extend outward.
They also determined that one of Vega's poles was pointing towards Earth, not its equator. So while there may be many stars with early planetary systems throughout the Milky Way galaxy, Vega no longer appears to be among them.
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Of course, with the pace of new discoveries in astronomy these days, this too could change in the near future. In Ellie's flashback scene of her father's death, the night began with Ellie standing on the balcony of their home, excitedly watching a meteor shower in progress. Using the biographical data on Ellie spouted by S. Hadden during their first meeting aboard his private jetliner, Ted Arroway died from his heart attack "by myocardial infarction" on November 10, I looked into when any meteor showers might have been occurring during that time in November.
The Leonids are the major such shower in that month, lasting from November 14 to 20, with its peak on November 17 and There are a few minor showers that do fit into the November 10 timeframe, but this would appear to be a major one, judging by how many bright meteors Ellie saw in such a short time period. If they were witnessing the Leonids, then the peak was apparently a few days early. At least it was a good night for observing, with Luna in a waning crescent phase just one day away from becoming new.
I assume and hope the two telescopes on the balcony with Ellie were meant for viewing other celestial objects, as meteors move much too fast to normally be either seen or tracked in most telescopes. Unaided vision is best for watching meteor showers. As I described in the section on The Machine, artificial wormholes were "invented" by astrophysicist Kip Thorne, thanks to Sagan's search for the characters in Contact to have a plausible way to zip around the galaxy at superlight speeds without violating the laws of physics, at least not too terribly.
Natural wormholes may have been created after the Big Bang, which began the Universe roughly thirteen billion years ago. Whether this actually did happen or if any still exist is a matter of speculation. A wormhole would provide a space-time shortcut between two otherwise very distant places in the Universe. The problem is that natural wormholes are entirely too small for star travel, according to current theories.
A very advanced technical civilization could find the means of widening these wormholes and keeping them open, or even creating their own. This is apparently what the Universe creator race in Contact did. Of course such concepts are very theoretical and well beyond our present capabilities. But I always hesitate to say something is impossible unless proven as such. Sagan originally wanted to use black holes as the aliens' space transit system, but soon realized any travelers would be stretched and crushed into oblivion.
So he settled for intergalactic artificial wormholes. For more of my thoughts on the wormholes in Contact , see the section on The Machine. Unless you really were not paying attention during Contact , or failed to read any number of reviews and summaries on the film, one cannot help but notice that a large amount of the plot was devoted to the struggles between the rational, objective methods of searching for answers to existence called science, and the general acceptance of things as they are without questioning called faith and religion. In one sense I understand why this battle between the two disciplines, which goes back to at least the dawn of civilization, is a part of Contact.
Christianity and some other religions have long maintained that Earth and humanity are the literal and spiritual center of the Universe. We are the only intelligent, non-supernatural beings made by God in all of His Creation. Since we were less than perfect, God decided that we needed some guidance along the way. We were saved about two thousand years ago when God gave us His only Son, Jesus Christ, who died for our sins at the hands of the very humans He wished to save from oblivion.
There are no other intelligent organisms anywhere else in the Cosmos because the Christian Bible never refers to any ETI not counting Ezekiel and his fiery chariots. However, very few people grasped the concept of alien worlds and life when the Good Book was written thousands of years ago. God sent out His Son only once to save souls. Jesus would need to appear and die again and again for imperfect races on countless planets throughout space if aliens did exist. Not a terribly "dignified" concept for the offspring of the Ultimate Being in the Universe. Certainly it is no more dignified than the idea that humans evolved from lower life forms over four billion years of evolution on Earth.
With this mode of thinking, it is easy to see why certain groups would have more than a little problem with the discovery of an alien intelligence. If such beings do exist, then does that mean their long-held beliefs are wrong? Disrupting a large number of people's faith is not a lightly taken matter. But this is now the late Twentieth Century. We are only a few years away from the start of a new millennium. In the two thousand years since Christianity first appeared as a radical Jewish sect in the Middle East, much has been learned about the world around us.
Among the most sought-after of these religious antiquities is the famed Ark of the Covenant. This legendary artifact is the ornate, gilded case built some 3, years ago by the Israelites to house the stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. Biblical accounts describe the Ark as large, about the size of a 19th-century seaman's chest, made of gold-plated wood, and topped with two large, golden angels.
It was carried using poles inserted through rings on its sides. The Ark has been linked to several of the Old Testament's miracles. It was carried before the Israelites during the Exodus and is said to have cleared impediments and poisonous animals from their path. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the Bible says that the river stopped flowing the moment the Ark-bearers set foot in it. And when the Israelites besieged Jericho, they carried the Ark around the city for a week, blowing trumpets until, on the seventh day, the walls fell down, allowing easy conquest.
But in and B. Whether it was destroyed, captured, or hidden—nobody knows.
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