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A methuselah is, roughly speaking, a pattern that takes a large number of generations in order to stabilize (known as its lifespan) and becomes much larger than its initial configuration at some point during its evolution. In particular, patterns that grow forever are not methuselahs. Their exact definition is not completely agreed upon, and most definitions place restrictions on the number of cells in the initial pattern.

Martin Gardner defined methuselahs as patterns of fewer than ten cells that take longer than 50 generations to stabilize, though some sources allow for more cells or require a longer lifespan.