It has been a remarkable time for the sky gazing junkies that many of us on earth are. Gazing up in wonder and speculation at that wide and endless big ole black yonder is as much a source of wonder to us in the modern age as it has always been in our less knowledgeable past. As our knowledge expands and an insatiable curiosity buds along with it, astronomers, cosmologists and astrophysicists constantly uncover mysteries and delights that set even the most accomplished of eggheads cannot stop scratching until those shells crack! Last year was a mammoth year for the science of space discovery, for instance New Horizons bypassing Pluto and demonstrating its ice clad glory. There was also a black hole at the center of our galaxy getting a little puckish and swallowing up a huge cloud of gas. The year 2016 has been no slouch when it comes to the unfurling oddity of space, and even surprising us at our cosmic doorstep (when it comes to the vastness of space at least).
The New Year has launched with eerie near confirmation of a long held belief by some (although admittedly, a large portion of that ‘some’ were apocalypse-awaiting nut jobs!) of an extra planet lurking way out on the fringes of the Solar System. There have been whispers of a ‘Planet X’ lingering way out and testing the sun’s reach. But now the evidence for this has solidified into potential for an actual planet and quite a hefty one at that. It seems that bizarre patterns in the gravity of many Kuiper Belt objects imply that a force of significant clout is yanking on them way past the limits of any previously thought planet. So the rumors of a big planet may well be not so ridiculous after all, only the weird schools of thought claiming this planet will smash into ours will be left out in the frigid cold at that immense distance. So we know that space is an odd, huge expanse of blackness and we are discovering how strange it is more so with each passing day. Bizarreness ranging from incomprehensibly vast structures to objects so minuscule that they make amoebas look like leviathans. Particles behaving so oddly as to perform all tasks at once yet form the solid choices we all make when joined together as you or me.
Let’s have a closer inspection of what constitutes this cosmos, be it through a telescope or microscope. From monsters of gravity to those with no mass that treat time like a playground!
10. Close Encounters of the Absurd Kind
Let’s ponder our obsession with intelligent extraterrestrial life. A large central tenet of such faith is the belief and wish for the sightings of UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects). People have been obsessed with flying saucers and invaders from Mars since the turn of the 20th century, when the likes of H.G. Wells penned War of the Worlds and several decades later, Orson Welles terrified radio listeners with his interpretation of the story. Since then, especially marked by the alleged spacecraft crash and capture of aliens in Roswell, the thirst for hunting and spotting alien ships have maintained a healthy public desire. Media, movies and a myriad people consume this. Despite blurry images to people claiming abduction and even those asserting they can communicate with are even are aliens (Scientologists…), the presence of extraterrestrial life and visitors still remains achingly vague, or the domain of grainy and shaky camera or now, phone, footage. What is even more strange is the overlooking of the technology that would be required to get here to stick things into a hapless person’s rear end. So what do the people beyond the moon want? Are they even there?
9. Planet Formed From Diamond
All planets have their lowly beginnings as rock, even the humongous gas giants that drift out past the Asteroid Belt. Yet physics work in mysterious ways and if you warp nature’s recipe in just the correct way, you cook up a world that is completely fashioned out of diamond… more than likely many ditzy celebs are working out the kinks of warp drive in order to lay their mitts on this planet… and Cartier too! Dubbed “55 cancri e,” the world has twice the radius of earth’s as well as packing a punch of mass 8 times that of our home planet, this so-called “Super-Earth” is around 40 light years away (that equals roughly 1.2 quadrillion miles, 1,200,000,000,000,000 to be precise… ish!) The colossal diamond globe is a sweltering 3,900 degrees Celsius and zips around it’s parent star in a matter of a mere 18 hours! A sparkling jewel in the heavens and no mistake!
8. Unseen Reality
The universe is colossal, gargantuan, vast (and all the other words for big you can think of and then some). However, although most of the mass in existence is empty, we are still a little clueless as to why the universe is so big and weighs so much. Cosmologists tripped over a quite disconcerting stumbling block that they had previously not even known was there to begin with. So much was not accounted for that recent calculations have put that only 5% of the universe that comprises galaxies, comets, humans and the devices which this article is being read on actually exists.
95% of existence is missing, yet unless the equations are light years off, something lurks out there that evades our detection. The popular term for this phenomenon is “Dark Matter”, or “Dark Energy.” Therefore the hunt is on for signs of the strange substance and force, believed to cluster in halos around galaxies (Dark Matter) or to push up the speed of the universe’s expansion (Dark Energy). But just what does its presence signify for the cosmos around us?
Scientists are going as far as to dig far down into the Antarctic ice to build a lab, the idea being to snatch any stray motes of Dark Matter from the ether and to decipher what it actually is. It may be a while, if ever, before we understand the depth and truth of these unknown elements of reality, but it will be a wonderful journey and an even better destination.
7. Baking Behemoths
Jupiter is a hefty old world. So vast that it is thought a boggling, mind twisting 1,100 earths could squeeze into its gaseous bulk! The planet is choked with dense cloud fogged around a heavy iron core, roiling in eternal rage, brewing gravity so powerful that it would crush a person to nothing if one were able to stand on its diaphanous surface. With nearly 70 moons, some of which – such as Ganymede – are as big as planets.
However, the gases and elements that comprise massive planets such as Jupiter have often been considered to linger farther out from their parent star, in this case the sun. But the tireless work of the Kepler planet finding mission has located numerous Jupiter-sized planets hovering in close proximity to their home sun, some even far closer to that star than Mercury, our sun’s closest planet. Some explanations posit that these big globes are the victim of violent upheaval, tossed chaotically by other forming planets and perhaps nearby stars, caused these hot Jupiters to be so tightly tethered to their stars.
6. Irreversible Metal Melding
Some metals are of course magnetic and will become fastened to a magnet within close range of it. The oxidized atmosphere encircling our world allows us to extract metals and put them to the myriad uses we have utilized them for in our modern society. In the seemingly perpetual environment of outer space however, such a possibility evaporates, with metal becoming one huge lump. If two pieces of metal were to come together in space, they would fuse in a manner that puts super glue to shame and remain stuck that way permanently. No diamond rings or steel skyscrapers floating around in the vacuum, that is to say.
5. Endless Versions of You
The universe is gigantic and the greatest minds may even feel that the cosmos is endless. Expanding forever, beginning from a tiny point punctured in the silent forever. Yet does, or can, anything lurk beyond the perimeter of this cosmic coil? Are we infinite? Yes, are WE? Many cosmologists feel as though there are countless universes laying out beyond the borders of our own reality, perhaps infinite ones. Bound up within these perpetually reaching universes, everything is possible, various different yous existing. Living out perhaps the lives you’d only envisioned in your wildest dreams, or in your sweatiest nightmares… When it comes to never ending throws of the dice, you could be a King or Killer and all the spaces in between.
4. Sun-Swallowing Black Holes
One of the greatest and most bizarre phenomena in the universe is Black Holes. These very ominous consequences of excess gravity puncture the fabric of space-time in many regions of space. When a star at least 20 times the mass of our sun approaches death, super heated matter expels out into the surrounding nothingness.
Meanwhile the core of that star continues to pull inwards to a greater extent until the mass is so enormous that the core falls in on itself, forming a black hole. Once formed, a black hole is perilous and fatal to the any matter that surrounds it. If anything strays beyond the lip of these sinister gravity traps – a black hole’s edge is referred to as the Event Horizon – even light, the black hole will devour it entirely, leaving no trace (although this trace is disputed by Hawking Radiation, and the fate of anything eaten by a black hole is speculation).
Recent sightings into deep space have noticed a very ravenous black hole gobbling a WHOLE STAR. The star, dubbed Swift J1644+57 is hurling out gargantuan jets of matter as a black hole worth the mass of 1 million of our sun feasts on it! Tuck in black hole! Bon appetit!
3. Raging Spouts of Energy
Black holes are shown to be violent messy and starving remnants of a star that will indiscriminately gnash and chew their way through matter and light with unequalled enthusiasm. Yet scientists maintain that no energy can be destroyed, only transferred, and Newton’s Third Law of Motion dictates that every action is offset by an equal and opposite reaction. So what is the fate of that consumed matter and light? It must be deposited somewhere. This is where White Holes come in. Perhaps theoretical, these objects are theorized to belch out vast jets of energy and dominate their local universes. Some assert that white holes have already been observed and that we know them as quasars. Whatever they are, they would be terrifying celestial geysers. Good thing earth isn’t near one!
2. Honey, I Shrunk The World
“Make a fist, and if your fist is as big as the nucleus of an atom, then the atom is as big as St Paul’s, and if it happens to be a hydrogen atom, then it has a single electron flitting about like a moth in an empty cathedral, now by the dome, now by the altar.” – Tom Stoppard.
Space indiscriminately wastes a lot of, well, space! Virtually the entirety of an atom is comprised of nothing at all. The extent of vacant room in an atom permits that the bits and pieces we are crafted out of is enough space to swing a cat… not literally, in an atomic sense. If you were to do away with all this seemingly unnecessary space, one would be able to squash existence down into a rather tiny amount of wiggle room. To the point where ridding the entire bulk of humanity of negative space would allow you to fit the whole of humanity within a sugar cube… that’s right, a sugar cube! Forget Primordial Soup, we are sugar dissolving in a celestial cup of coffee.
1. Existence Is Thirsty Work!
Water is essential to our survival, we are made up of around 75% of the stuff. A similar amount of the planet’s surface is also wet, with 70% of the earth’s crust being drowned in H2O! Earth is not alone in that respect though, it is thought that water may pervade our Solar System. There may even be more of it on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus than there is on earth! Yet this stat is a spit in the ocean when submerged in the fact that giant deposits of water simply swim around in space. Many of these areas of moisture of have up to 140 trillion (140,000,000,000,000) times the H2O pooling on earth. It’s pretty hard to get to however, so not advisable for slaking thirst!