Why is the sky at night dark? What does gravity do? How big is the universe? Does time go forwards or backwards? In this, the cover feature from our Autumn issue, Marcus Chown explains what we really know about the universe. The answers may surprise you.

2. Schools for scandal

Earlier this year, allegations of an Islamist plot to take over Birmingham schools caused a national outcry. What really happened? Samira Shackle reports.

3. Oddballs, loners and voyeurs

A prolific novelist and essayist, Muriel Spark disdained sentimentality – yet this masks just how strange her writing could be. In this piece from our Autumn issue, Fatema Ahmed explores her work.

This year, both Stuart Hall and Richard Hoggart - two of the three architects of Cultural Studies - passed away. Their work reminds us that culture is neither passively consumed, nor handed down from on high. Caspar Melville assesses their legacy.

And finally, one from the archive! In September, Nigerian witch-hunter Helen Ukapbio announced she would sue the British Humanist Association for libel. In this report from 2011, Richard Wilson describes how in Africa, humanists are on the front line in the battle to protect women and children accused of witchcraft.