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The Milky Way is ~100,000 light years across, and the penultimate harvest took place ~50,000 years ago. If they wanted to see what happened back then, couldn't they literally look back in time? Hypothetically, there should be many vantage points within the galaxy where the events of the first harvest would be plainly visible, or at least anomalous enough to warrant keeping space telescopes pointed in that direction. Pick a spot you know the Protheans had been, pick another spot ~50,000 light years from there, and observe.

While this might be harder with current space telescopes, unless I'm mistaken, telescopy in the setting of Mass Effect wouldn't have to be all that much better than the state of the art. We do have a tough time seeing past Pluto for example, but only because it's so dark out there. If there were some sort of explosion in the Kuiper belt, like maybe a Mass Relay short-circuiting, we would most certainly notice that.

Even if the Protheans harnessed interstellar methods of communication that did not make use of electromagnetic radiation (i.e. the beacons), it seems unlikely that there wasn't at least a brief period in which they made use of radio transmission. Furthermore, The game contains hundreds of Prothean ruins, including places whose destruction had to have been very dramatic and radiant. Such events occurred all throughout the galaxy in a span of about 100 years (if I recall correctly what Liara and Javik had said in ME3).

The only references I've found that might be relevant are the Turian space telescope comprised of Gromar and a planet in Attican Beta, as well as references to an attempt at figuring out what happened on Rothla by travelling to the event's light cone.

Is this an oversight by the writers, a blunder by the characters, or is there an in-universe explanation for the inadequacy/limitations of their telescopes?

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    The resolution would be too low. I can't imagine a telescope where you could distinguish 1km-tall objects from 50 thousand light years away... – Petersaber Aug 12 '15 at 8:59
  • Might be worth asking about the feasibility of such a telescope in the Physics SE? – DavidS Aug 12 '15 at 9:04
  • @DavidS Given how much more advanced Mass Effect tech is than the real world, I think we can assume that their telescopes would rely on principles not covered by Physics SE (like Element Zero). – Nerrolken Aug 12 '15 at 14:47
  • @Nerrolken That depends. If some very basic properties of the universe decree that the telescope would be practically impossible, then you'd need an equally large jump in telescope tech as we had with Element Zero. If that's the case we can simply say the tech hasn't got there yet. Seems the simplest explanation. – DavidS Aug 12 '15 at 15:22
  • @DavidS What I mean is, there aren't any basic properties of the universe that can't be contradicted by science fiction. The Mass Effect relays break several basic properties of the universe, for example. So even if the Physics.SE folks weighed in, they likely couldn't give any answers since anything they say could be explained away by "future tech." – Nerrolken Aug 12 '15 at 15:24
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Part of the problem is probably the fact that the races in the Mass Effect universe didn't invent long range faster-than-light travel. Instead they're reusing the Mass Gates left behind by the protheans.

So even if they'd have a telescope system good enough, they'd have to find reachable space at the right distance to known ruins, which probably would still be some massive (pun intended) undertaking, certainly not happening just due to rumors. Remember, they didn't even want to investigate many more obvious things at first.

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    +1 An excellent point: before you can use the telescope, you have to get it in place. Hell, that might be why the Reaper cycle is 50,000 years: it's half the width of the galaxy in light-years, so the final evidence of their existence would be erased as the light leaves the galaxy. – Nerrolken Aug 12 '15 at 14:49
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    @Nerrolken that's interesting. By the time a new space-faring culture arises, the sight of Reapers reapin' has already left the Galaxy on one side, and is mostly obscured from the other side because of the galaxy's core and the giant black hole there. – Petersaber Aug 13 '15 at 6:36
  • In addition, space is also extremely vast. To see something through a telescope you have to be looking at the "needle in the haystack." The chances of just getting lucky and running across a reaper in your telescope is slim. Reminds me of the line in the movie "Armageddon" where the General asks the same question and the NASA guys explains that they only had funding to view like 6% of the sky. – Odin1806 Apr 9 '17 at 14:41
  • @Odin1806 I disagree with the notion of looking for a haystack in a needle. Since the intelligent worlds are known and travel is FTL, you can just fly to the edgemost world, and then point the telescope at your own homeworld. The navigational data used to travel there will similarly be used to direct the telescopes line of sight. Then it is a waiting game since the reapers are not present all the time. But it might be fun to witness your own races history. How is that not the best documentary ever? – Mainstroke Jul 14 '17 at 14:04
  • This does not address the other problems of watching for the reapers. But the vastness of space is irrelevant if you know the coordinates. And hopefully telescopes are somewhat superior to our technology. – Mainstroke Jul 14 '17 at 14:10
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Very few people believed in the Reapers until Mass Effect 3, when they were already there. The Council believed that Sovereign was a Geth construct, and any evidence of Reapers from the Arrival DLC was destroyed when the relay exploded.
Despite this, even if a group solely interested in exploring why the Protheans went extinct decided to undertake the venture of building and deploying what would probably be a very expensive telescope, it is unlikely that they would be able to see any more than the slow heat reduction of a planet that had had all its technology destroyed. Interesting, yes, but it wouldn't tell them any more than they already knew: the Protheans went extinct. Even at several kilometers long, over a distance of 50,000+ light years a Reaper ship would appear very small and be extremely difficult to detect.

Although I'm no astronomer, I'd wager that a telescope large enough to clearly see a Reaper ship and be able to compare it to Sovereign for positive identification would probably have to be at least several light-hours large itself.

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I may be wrong but I believe that unless you had a really really good telescope you would only see evidence of a battle you would not be able to render individual ships or even planets at the distances in question which wouldnt tell you anything more than you already know at some point in the past something destroyed the civilization in a relatively short time

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