Top 10 incredible facts about Space you didn’t know about.
1. Space is completely silent.
There is no atmosphere in space, which means that sound has no medium or way to travel to be heard. Astronauts use radios to stay in communication while in space since radio waves can still be sent and received.
I know in movies a lot of times they play sounds when things explode, but I don’t know of any cases where this would actually be realistic. Because space is a vacuum, gases released into space expand very quickly, and as they expand their density decreases.
So say you were in a spaceship in the middle of a big space battle and a nearby ship exploded. The exploding ship would release gases and technically sound could travel along with them. However, since space is a vacuum, these gases will spread out very rapidly and the density will drop off very fast with distance from the explosion. (If you think about it, the amount of air in the ship is probably not very large compared to the volume of space between two ships.) So by the time the explosion reached your ship nearby, any sounds carried by the gas would still be too faint to hear. It seems more likely to me that what you would hear would be the shrapnel from the explosion banging into the hull of your ship. As you point out, it depends on distance. If your ship was directly next to the exploding ship, you would be more likely to hear something, but it would also be bad news for your ship and crew!
It’s pretty much the same for a supernova. The gases from a supernova explosion expand rapidly, and the density will drop off fast. I’m not sure how close you would have to be to hear a supernova, because I’m not sure where you would have to be to get densities close to Earth atmospheric values, and you might need a computer simulation to tell exactly. But to get some idea of how the density of gas would drop off as you expand the material of a star, I did a really simple calculation. If you took a star 50 times the mass of the sun and distributed its mass over a sphere of space with a radius equal to the planet Mercury’s orbital distance, the density would already be 10 times less than atmospheric density at sea level on Earth. Mercury is pretty close to the sun, and you wouldn’t be able to hear sounds even at that distance! In reality, not all the star’s mass is ejected into space, and the gas that is expelled has shock waves, which are compressed. But the basic idea is that you would have to be extremely close to get densities high enough to hear anything. So we won’t ever hear a supernova explosion on Earth, for example. It’s a little sad, but space really is silent.
2. Nobody knows how many stars are in space.
Have you ever looked up into the night sky and wondered just how many stars there are in space? This question has fascinated scientists as well as philosophers, musicians and dreamers throughout the ages.
Look into the sky on a clear night, out of the glare of streetlights, and you will see a few thousand individual stars with your naked eyes. With even a modest amateur telescope, millions more will come into view.
So how many stars are there in the Universe? It is easy to ask this question, but difficult for scientists to give a fair answer!
Stars are not scattered randomly through space, they are gathered together into vast groups known as galaxies. The Sun belongs to a galaxy called the Milky Way. Astronomers estimate there are about 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone. Outside that, there are millions upon millions of other galaxies also!
It has been said that counting the stars in the Universe is like trying to count the number of sand grains on a beach on Earth. We might do that by measuring the surface area of the beach and determining the average depth of the sand layer.
If we count the number of grains in a small representative volume of sand, by multiplication we can estimate the number of grains on the whole beach.
For the Universe, the galaxies are our small representative volumes, and there are something like 1011 to 1012 stars in our Galaxy, and there is perhaps something like 1011 or 1012 galaxies.
With this simple calculation, you get something like 1022 to 1024 stars in the Universe. This is only a rough number, as obviously not all galaxies are the same, just like on a beach the depth of sand will not be the same in different places.
No one would try to count stars individually, instead, we measure integrated quantities like the number and luminosity of galaxies. ESA’s infrared space observatory Herschel has made an important contribution by ‘counting’ galaxies in the infrared, and measuring their luminosity in this range – something never before attempted.
Knowing how fast stars form can bring more certainty to calculations. Herschel has also charted the formation rate of stars throughout cosmic history. If you can estimate the rate at which stars have formed, you will be able to estimate how many stars there are in the Universe today.
3. There is a planet that may be made entirely out of diamonds in the Space.
Move over, Hope Diamond. The most famous gems on Earth have new competition in the form of a planet made largely of diamond, astronomers say.
The alien planet, a so-called “super-Earth,” is called 55 Cancri e and was discovered in 2004 around a nearby star in our Milky Way galaxy. After estimating the planet’s mass and radius, and studying its host star’s composition, scientists now say the rocky world is composed mainly of carbon (in the form of diamond and graphite), as well as iron, silicon carbide, and potentially silicates.
At least a third of the planet’s mass is likely pure diamond.
“This is our first glimpse of a rocky world with fundamentally different chemistry from Earth,” lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan of Yale University said in a statement. “The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite.”
55 Cancri e is the first likely “diamond planet” to be identified around a sun-like star, though such worlds have been theorized before. Planets like this are vastly different from our Earth, which has relatively little carbon.
“By contrast, Earth’s interior is rich in oxygen but extremely poor in carbon — less than a part in thousand by mass,” said study co-author and Yale geophysicist Kanani Lee.
55 Cancri e is what’s known as a super-Earth, with a radius twice as wide as that of our own planet, and a mass eight times greater. It speeds around its host star, making a full orbit in just 18 hours (Earth takes 365 days). It is so close to the star that it’s surface temperature reaches a scorching 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,100 degrees Celsius), making it probably way too hot for life.
Previous studies of this planet suggested it might actually be covered with oozing “supercritical fluids” — high-pressure liquid-like gases — seeping out from its rocks. But this idea was based on the assumption that 55 Cancri e had a similar chemical makeup as Earth, Madhusudhan said. The new findings suggest the planet has no water at all.
The revelation of the planet’s diamond nature means that it could have very different thermal evolution and plate tectonics processes than Earth, which could create bizarre types of volcanism, seismic activity, and mountain formation.
55 Cancri e is one of five planets encircling a sun-like star called 55 Cancri, which lies about 40 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Cancer. This star is so close it is visible to the naked eye in the night sky.
The researchers hope to make follow-up observations of this star system to better determine the star’s composition and to analyze 55 Cancri e’s atmosphere. This information could bolster the idea that the planet is a diamond world.
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4. A single day on Venus is longer than an entire year.
Venus is often referred to as “Earth’s Sister” planet, because of the various things they have in common. For example, both planets reside within our Sun’s habitable zone (aka. “Goldilocks Zone“).
In addition, Earth and Venus are also terrestrial planets, meaning they are primarily composed of metals and silicate rock that are differentiated between a metallic core and a silicate mantle and crust.
Beyond that, Earth and Venus could not be more different. And two ways in which they are in stark contrast is the time it takes for the Sun to rise, set, and return to the same place in the sky (i.e. one day). In Earth’s case, this process takes a full 24 hours. But in Venus’ case, its slow rotation and orbit mean that a single day lasts as long as 116.75 Earth days.
Naturally, some clarification is necessary when addressing the question of how long a day lasts. For starters, one must distinguish between a sidereal day and a solar day. A sidereal day is a time it takes for a planet to complete a single rotation on its axis. On the other hand, a solar day is a time it takes for the Sun to return to the same place in the sky.
On Earth, a sidereal days last 23 hours 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds, whereas a solar day lasts exactly 24 hours. In Venus’ case, it takes a whopping 243.025 days for the planet to rotate once on its axis – which is the longest rotational period of any planet in the Solar System. Also, it rotates in the opposite direction in which it orbits around the Sun (which it takes about 224.7 Earth days to complete).
In other words, Venus has a retrograde rotation, which means that if you could view the planet from above its northern polar region, it would be seen to rotate in a clockwise direction on its axis, and in a counter-clockwise direction around the Sun. It also means that if you could stand on the surface of Venus, the Sun would rise in the west and set in the east.
From all this, one might assume that a single day lasts longer than a year on Venus. But again, the distinction between sidereal and solar days means that this is not true. Combined with its orbital period, the time it takes for the Sun to return to the same point in the sky works out to 116.75 Earth days, which is little more than a half a Venusian (or Cytherian) year.
5. There are giant pools of water floating in space.
Two teams of astronomers have discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe. The water, equivalent to 140 trillion times all the water in the world’s ocean, surrounds a huge, feeding black hole, called a quasar, more than 12 billion light-years away.
“The environment around this quasar is very unique in that it’s producing this huge mass of water,” said Matt Bradford, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “It’s another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.” Bradford leads one of the teams that made the discovery. His team’s research is partially funded by NASA and appears in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
A quasar is powered by an enormous black hole that steadily consumes a surrounding disk of gas and dust. As it eats, the quasar spews out huge amounts of energy. Both groups of astronomers studied a particular quasar called APM 08279+5255, which harbors a black hole 20 billion times more massive than the sun and produces as much energy as a thousand trillion suns.
Astronomers expected water vapor to be present even in the early, distant universe but had not detected it this far away before. There’s water vapor in the Milky Way, although the total amount is 4,000 times less than in the quasar because most of the Milky Way’s water is frozen in ice.
Water vapor is an important trace gas that reveals the nature of the quasar. In this particular quasar, the water vapor is distributed around the black hole in a gaseous region spanning hundreds of light-years in size (a light-year is about six trillion miles). Its presence indicates that the quasar is bathing the gas in X-rays and infrared radiation and that the gas is unusually warm and dense by astronomical standards. Although the gas is at a chilly minus 63 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 53 degrees Celsius) and is 300 trillion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere, it’s still five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than what’s typical in galaxies like the Milky Way.
Measurements of the water vapor and of other molecules, such as carbon monoxide, suggest there is enough gas to feed the black hole until it grows to about six times its size. Whether this will happen is not clear, the astronomers say, since some of the gas may end up condensing into stars or might be ejected from the quasar.
Bradford’s team made their observations starting in 2008, using an instrument called “Z-Spec” at the California Institute of Technology’s Submillimeter Observatory, a 33-foot (10-meter) telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Follow-up observations were made with the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy (CARMA), an array of radio dishes in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California.
The second group, led by Dariusz Lis, a senior research associate in physics at Caltech and deputy director of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, used the Plateau de Bure Interferometer in the French Alps to find water. In 2010, Lis’s team serendipitously detected water in APM 8279+5255, observing one spectral signature. Bradford’s team was able to get more information about the water, including its enormous mass, because they detected several spectral signatures of the water.
Other authors on the Bradford paper, “The water vapor spectrum of APM 08279+5255,” include Hien Nguyen, Jamie Bock, Jonas Zmuidzinas and Bret Naylor of JPL; Alberto Bolatto of the University of Maryland, College Park; Phillip Maloney, Jason Glenn and Julia Kamenetzky of the University of Colorado, Boulder; James Aguirre, Roxana Lupu and Kimberly Scott of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Hideo Matsuhara of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Japan; and Eric Murphy of the Carnegie Institute of Science, Pasadena.
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6. If you ever stepped on the moon, your footprints would remain there forever.
The first footprints put on the moon will probably be there a long, long time — maybe almost as long as the moon itself lasts.
Unlike on Earth, there is no erosion by wind or water on the moon because it has no atmosphere and all the water on the surface is frozen as ice. Also, there is no volcanic activity on the moon to change the lunar surface features. Nothing gets washed away, and nothing gets folded back inside.
However, the Moon is exposed to bombardment by meteorites, which change the surface. One little space rock could easily wipe out a footprint on the moon. And since the Moon has no atmosphere, it is exposed to the solar wind, a stream of charged particles coming from the sun, and over time this acts almost like weather on Earth to scour surfaces on the moon, but the process is very, very slow.
7. Uranus has 27 moons. All of these moons are named after the characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.
“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s star-crossed Juliet famously wanted to know. And for those of us peering skyward, it’s a question for the ages: Where do celestial bodies get their names from?
There are constellations and planets christened after Greek and Roman gods. The craters on Mercury are artists and musicians, like Bach, John Lennon, and Disney. And the moons of the planet Uranus — there are, impressively, 27 altogether — have literary ties — 25 of them relate to characters in Shakespeare’s plays.
For centuries, whoever discovered a celestial body usually had dibs on the naming rights. But when it comes to Uranus’ moons, details are murky about who exactly began doling out Shakespearean monikers.
“I’ve read a huge amount of what Herschel wrote. And as far as I know, he’d never heard of Shakespeare,” Hoskin says.
But the Shakespeare references had to come from somewhere. One clue: Herschel’s son, John Herschel, also became an astronomer. He never discovered any moons, but he was a three-time president of the Royal Astronomical Society and one of Britain’s most prominent scientists in the 1850s. He also named Saturn’s moons. So, there’s a reason to believe that when his contemporary William Lassell stumbled upon two more of Uranus’ moons in 1851, John Herschel may have had a hand in their naming, too.
In 1899, William Lassell’s daughter Jane Lassell told a reporter that the moons’ names were given by Sir John Herschel, “to whom my father applied.” What that means for sure, we’ll never know — she also said she lost their letters in a move — and Herschel never took the credit.
What is certain is this: Next to Titania and Oberon, the moons Lassell learned of became known as Ariel and Umbriel. (Umbriel is a figure in an Alexander Pope poem, and Ariel turns up as a character in both Shakespeare’s and Pope’s works. Pope is the literary exception to Shakespeare’s claim on Uranus’ moons.)
Continuing the tradition
Nevertheless, a clear Shakespearean precedent had been set by 1948, when the American astronomer Gerard Kuiper discovered the fifth moon of Uranus. “So you are now putting Kuiper among these prominent astronomers from the 19th and 18th centuries. This was really a big deal,” says Derek Sears, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, who’s writing a biography of Kuiper. And true to tradition, Kuiper named the new moon Miranda, after a character in “The Tempest.”
In the 1980s, NASA’s Voyager 2 probe found 10 new moons around Uranus. To label them, members of the Outer Planets Task Group in the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature went back to the source: They started with Puck, from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The remaining moons sound like a character list out of the “Complete Works of Shakespeare.” They include Cordelia, Ophelia, Bianca, Cressida, Desdemona, Juliet, Portia, and Rosalind. Belinda, named for a Pope heroine, rounds out the leading ladies.
Two young astronomers, Brett Gladman, and JJ Kavelaars found two more moons in the mid-1990s, as they pored over images taken at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego. The images were created using a technique that made faint celestial bodies more visible. And when the question of what to name the moons was raised, Gladman — who knew his Shakespeare — had a ready answer.
“What’s a Shakespearean character that lives in the dark? So Caliban leaped out right away, as you know, a creature emerging out of the dark,” Sears says.
Gladman and Kavelaars named the next moon Sycorax — about “The Tempest,” but also because Kavelaars loved the television show “Doctor Who.” Several years later, they found two more moons, which had staggering, off-kilter orbits. They named them Stephano and Trinculo, after the drunken butler and drunken jester in “The Tempest.”
It would, of course, be more practical to quit linking celestial discoveries with mythological heroes, rock stars or the odd mix of characters from Shakespeare and Pope. But according to Sears, sometimes simple has nothing to do with it.
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“I do think most astronomers have some sort of a huge romantic streak,” he says. “It’s just something about the right side of the brain of the astronomers that says, ‘Let’s give them all names,’ you know — totally unnecessary, but we kind of like it.”
8. Space is expanding.
Scientists studying more than 140,000 extremely bright galaxies have calculated the expansion of the universe with unprecedented accuracy.
The distant galaxies, known as quasars, serve as a “standard ruler” to map density variations in the universe. Physicists were able to extend their calculations almost twice as far back in time as has been previously accomplished.
Using the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS), two teams of physicists have improved on scientists’ understanding of the mysterious dark energy that drives the accelerating universe. By nearly tripling the number of quasars previously studied, as well as implementing a new technique, the scientists were able to calculate the expansion rate to 42 miles (68 kilometers) per second per 1 million light-years with greater precision, while looking farther back in time.
Andreu Font-Ribera, of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, led one of the two teams, while Timothée Delubac of EPFL, Switzerland, and France’s Centre de Saclay headed the other one. Font-Ribera presented the new findings in April at a meeting of the American Physical Society in Savannah, Georgia.
The new research “explores a region of the universe that was not explored before,” Font-Ribera said.
Stretching the standard ruler
The expanding universe stretches light waves as they travel through it, a process astronomers refer to as redshifting. An object’s physical distance from the observer depends on how quickly the universe is expanding.
Baryon acoustic oscillations (BAOs) are sound waves imprinted in large structures of matter in the early universe. Competing forces of inward-pushing gravity and outward, heat-related pressure cause oscillations similar to sound waves in the baryonic, or “normal” matter in the universe.
Dark matter, which interacts with normal matter only gravitationally, stays at the center of the sound wave, while the baryonic matter travels outward, eventually creating a shell at a set radius known as the sound horizon.
Quasars, like other galaxies, are surrounded by dust. Light leaving galaxies streams through that dust, revealing the imprint of the BAOs. Studying this light allows researchers to map the distribution of quasars, as well as the gas in the early universe.
By using BOSS, the largest component of the third Sloan Digital Sky Survey, to map BAOs, scientists can determine how matter is distributed in the early universe. When it comes to measuring the expansion of the universe, BAOs serve as a “standard ruler.”
“We think we know its size, and its apparent size depends on how far away it is,” Patrick McDonald, of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, said at the conference.
9. Most of the atoms in our bodies were created in stars through fusion from the space.
When the first atoms came into being in the early universe they were mainly hydrogen (the smallest atoms there are) and some helium. All over the universe those atoms lumped together under gravity until the pressure and temperature became so high that the hydrogen atoms fused together to form heavier elements. The reaction is nuclear fusion, and it’s the engine of all-stars. The first hydrogen fuses to form helium, and then in a cascade helium atoms fuse to form heavier elements.
Many stars die as a supernova, without doubt, the most violent explosions in the universe. The supernova which was just a single star becomes as bright as the complete galaxy its part of. Remember that such a galaxy typically consists of 100 billion stars.
During the supernova explosion, all the elements from helium to the heaviest elements are thrown into space. Later they will coalesce to form planets around new stars. So indeed, everything the earth consists of comes from such an exploding star.
And the next step is life. A single cell consists mainly of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, all ultimately coming from the earth. For instance, a plant will take these elements from the soil and the air, and we animals get it from plants. So the elements from the soil, which came from stars, ultimately end up in each of our cells.
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10. In the Milky Way, the average distance between stars is about 5 light-years or 30 trillion miles
The Sun is one star in our Galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy. The Milky Way gets its name from the fact that it’s hard to see stars in the densest parts of the Galaxy, so instead, it looks like someone spilled milk across the night sky. The ancient Romans called it the “Via Galactica” or “road of milk”. There are about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, making it one of the largest galaxies in the Universe.
The center of our Galaxy is a bulge of stars, with a black hole at the very center. The black hole contains about a million suns’ worth of mass. The dark splotches you see in the picture above are caused by dust particles that block the light from stars behind them. We can’t see the black hole directly, but we can watch stars move around it.
The two purplish shapes to the lower right of the bulge are two little galaxies that orbit the Milky Way, much as the Earth orbits the Sun. They are called the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and are very beautiful features of the night sky in the southern hemisphere.
The Milky Way is a “spiral galaxy”, with a disk of stars rotating around the bulge. There are two basic types of galaxies, spiral galaxies, and elliptical galaxies. Spiral galaxies have flat rotating disks of stars, whereas ellipticals are more spherical. Spiral galaxies look different depending on how they happen to be oriented in the sky.
Because the Sun is in the disk of the Milky Way, it’s hard for us to see the spiral structure of the disk. However, radio astronomers have mapped the spiral structure using spectra. The result is shown below. The Sun is in the Orion spiral arm and rotates around the center of the Milky Way once every 240 million years. New stars are forming in giant clouds of dust and molecular gas, shown mapped in the picture below as irregular shapes. The molecular clouds lie along the spiral arms, traced by the solid lines; dotted lines show arms which we think exist, but which haven’t been completely mapped yet.
One of the amazing facts about the Milky Way is that most of its mass is not in stars or gas or dust. Astronomers have figured out the mass of the Milky Way by studying the motions of the stars and gas clouds and calculating how much mass the Milky Way must have to keep the stars and gas clouds from flying away into intergalactic space. We find that 90% of the mass of the Milky Way must be something besides the objects like stars that we can see. Astronomers call this unseen mass the “dark matter” and do not know what it could be.
Although galaxies look like dense concentrations of stars they are really very empty. In the Milky Way, the average distance between stars is about 5 light-years or 30 trillion miles.
How can we understand the enormity of these distances in our galaxy? These analogies will help you:
If the Sun were the size of a baseball, the density of the stars in our galaxy would be comparable to scattering fifty baseballs across the United States, so that there would be one star per state.
If the distance from home plate to the pitcher’s mound were equal to the distance from Earth to the Sun, the next star would be 800 miles away.
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