10 Crazy Facts About Space

When we talk about space, it feels like we are talking about something really far away that we have no idea about. But stand in an open area and look up. Space is right there. It puts a lot of things in perspective. Full of marvels, mysteries, and magic, the Milky Way alone has over 200 billion stars. Around 500 solar systems have been found by the scientists and astronomers. and all of this is only a minuscule part of the vast universe. Apart from the jaw-dropping facts about space, there some really crazy facts that are hard to believe. We already know that the Milky Way tastes like raspberries and smells like rum. Here is a list of some crazy facts about space that are mind-blowing!

1. The International Space Station is only 408 kilometers away from the Earth. That is nearly half the distance between Washington and Boston. And space is only an hour’s, vertical drive away.

Outer space
Image credits: NASA, NASA/Crew of Expedition 22 via spaceflight.nasa.gov

A habitable artificial satellite that had its first component launched into orbit in 1998, the International Space Station is in space but not very far from the Earth. If we could drive vertically, it would only be a drive of 408 kilometers. For a comparison, the distance between Washington and Boston is 704 kilometers. The ISS which is in a low-Earth orbit is expected to operate at least until through 2019.

How far do you think space really is? To understand where space is starts and Earth stops, let’s define it. NASA defined “space” as starting at a point where the atmospheric pressure dropped below one pound per square foot. Any astronaut who crosses this point will get their astronaut wings. Later on, this point came to be known as “The Karman Line” by the World Air Sports Federation. This point is roughly 81 kilometers above the surface of the Earth. So. if you drive vertically at a speed of 81 kilometers an hour, you could get to space in just one hour! (1,2)

2. There are “outcasts” in stars too. There are stars in the space that do not belong to any galaxy and are “intergalactic.”

Virgo cluster of galaxies
This is Virgo cluster of galaxies. The phenomenon of intergalactic stars was discovered here. Image credit: Wikimedia

To us, the stars may appear to spread out randomly in the night sky, but that is not the case. Most stars are parts of huge clusters, and there are long expanses in space that appear to be completely empty. As time passed, some stars that have been a part of a galaxy are no longer so. Such stars are called “stellar outcasts” or “intergalactic stars” which means that they are between galaxies.

The Hubble Telescope discovered around 600 such stars in the Virgo Cluster alone. Astronomers determine whether or not a star is a part of a galaxy by studying their motion. The “stellar outcasts” are governed by the gravitational field of the cluster it is a part of as a whole and not by the pull of a galaxy. Stars are pulled away because of mergers of galaxies, and billions of such stars may yet be undiscovered. Can this happen to the Sun? We wonder. (source)

3. Radio emissions from the planets have been recorded by the satellites and converted to sound waves that can be played. While Jupiter sounds like the waves of an ocean, Saturn sounds really eerie.

The more we delve into the facts about space, the crazier it gets. The solar wind, the planet’s ionosphere, and magnetosphere are comprised of charged, electromagnetic particles. An interaction between these particles produces radio emissions which can be recorded by some spacecraft with highly developed instruments. For example, NASA’s Voyager, INJUN 1, ISEE 1, and HAWKEYE are some of the spacecraft that recorded these emissions from the planets and moons in Earth’s vicinity.

These radio emissions are then converted into sound waves which can be played back. So far, we have been able to record the radio emissions of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Jupiter’s moon Io, Uranus’ moon Miranda, Saturn’s rings and Uranus’ rings. What is interesting is that each of these produces unique sounds. These spooky and eerie sounds were on some people’s Halloween playlist. Saturn’s sound is the eeriest out of all. (source)

4. Since the Big Bang that created Earth, light from several parts of the universe has not reached us yet making a large part of the universe “unobservable.” We really don’t know what’s out there.

Observable universe
Image 1; Conceptualization of observable universe, Our solar system in the center. Image credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi. Image 2; It is a simulated view of the entire observable universe. Image credit: Andrew Z. Colvin/Wikimedia

We have been told that when we look at space, we are looking at the past because what we see is based on how long it has taken the light to travel from its origin to the Earth. Going by the same concept, we have not been able to observe the edge of the universe yet because light has not traveled as far as that. It has nothing to do with the limits of the technology available on Earth but about the physical limit defined by light. The radius of this “observable universe” from Earth is calculated to be about 46.5 billion light-years. And the age of the Universe is 13.799±0.021 (109) billion years.

It can be assumed that in the future, other galaxies will become observable, but Hubble’s law states otherwise. It states that the regions at a sufficient distance from Earth are expanding at a faster speed than the speed of light and this rate of expansion is accelerating due to dark energy (a name given to an energy that is responsible for the expansion of space). This creates a “future visibility limit” which means that we may never be able to see some parts of space in the infinite future beyond that limit. Thanks to dark energy, we might remain in the dark about a large part of what is out there.  😉 (source)

5. There is a skull-shaped asteroid that came really close to the Earth on Halloween in 2015. It passed again in 2018, coming the closest on November 11th, the centenary of the end of World War I.

Image credits: Tomruen via Wikipedia, NAIC-Arecibo/NSF via jpl.nasa.gov

On November 11, 2018, a skull-shaped asteroid came the closest to Earth in that year. It was all over the news about how this skull-shaped asteroid was going to come close to Earth once again on Halloween and how spooky that was, but astronomers said that it was not the case, and it was going to pass by well after Halloween 2018. But November 11 was another event, the centenary of the end of World War I that took the lives of many.

The asteroid that is named “TB145” passed really close to Earth in 2015. It missed us by only 300,000 miles. People with telescopes could observe it and determine that it really looked like a skull. But in 2018, the closest it got to Earth was 25 million miles making it impossible to determine its shape. Estimated to be 2,000 feet in diameter, NASA said that it is a “dead comet” that once expelled large quantities of debris in the solar system. The skull-shaped asteroid will not be seen anywhere near Earth until 2082. Let’s see what event it marks then! (source)

6. Uranus has 27 moons. All of these moons are named after the characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope.

Six largest Moons of Uranus, with their size comparison with Uranus itself. Image credit: NASA via Wikimedia

You’ll find the fairy “Titania” from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in space. Thanks to Sir William Herschel’s son, John Herschel, the 27 moons of Uranus are named after the characters from the works of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Uranus’ moons are grouped into three categories: 13 inner moons, five large moons, and nine irregular moons. The five large moons are named Titania, Oberon, Miranda, Ariel, and Umbriel. Titania and Oberon are from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Miranda from The Tempest, and Arial and Umbriel from Alexander Pope’s poem The Rape of the Lock.

John Herschel thought that instead of naming the moons after the characters of Greek mythology, it was better to name them after magical spirits in literature as Uranus is the god of sky and air. Except for three names that are taken from Pope’s poem, Ariel, Umbriel, and Belinda, all the 24 moons are named after characters from Shakespeare’s plays like Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, etc. (source)

7. It is very much possible for more than one universe to exist. Several other universes, called “multiverses” by physicists, can be out there. And technically, we may never be able to visit them.

Remember Stranger Things? Parallel dimensions can exist. So can parallel universes. Once called “fiction,” the idea of a parallel universe is now accepted by physicists, and some scientists have been entertaining the possibility. We cannot visit these universes or see or touch them. They could be “doppelgangers” of what we are or something entirely different.

Scientists have stated that a “multiverse” can exist in five ways:

a. The patchwork universe: The unobservable universe could be a completely different one. We could be an “island universe” and there might be many others.

b. The inflationary universe: The Big Bang could have happened more than once. There could be multiple universes being created and destroyed at different intervals of time.

c. Cosmic natural selection: Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics proposed a theory that universes may evolve like us and a “mother universe” may produce “baby universes.”

d. The brane multiverse: Einstein proposed the fourth dimension. Now physicists are entertaining the idea of multiple dimensions. One physicist said that a fifth dimension maybe curled up. Another theory, called M-theory, talks about seven hidden dimensions.

e. The quantum multiverse: In quantum mechanics, particles are treated as waves and a wave function allows a particle to exist in several states at once called a “superposition.” But, when an object is measured, that superposition is lost as only one state exists. A physicist, Hugh Everett, said that maybe superposition is not lost, and we just cannot see the other states or realities known as the “many worlds of interpretation”. The same concept applies to the universe. It is there, but we might not be able to see it. (source)

8. Saturn’s moon Titan has methane lakes and oceans. While it may be difficult to swim or boat in that due to its low density, you will be able to push yourself halfway out of the water like a dolphin. And with wings, you can easily fly!

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell via photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov, ESA via nasa.gov

The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes suggested the possibility of methane oceans and lakes on Titan, Saturn’s moon. There are large amounts of methane at Titan, the moon that has a really low gravitational pull as compared to Earth. If you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you would weigh 12 pounds on Titan. Walking on Titan would be equal to walking at the bottom of a swimming pool as its atmospheric pressure is 60% greater than Earth.

Let’s say you managed to get to Titan by building a fancy spacecraft and decided to go swimming. The density of liquid methane is only half of that of water. So, you would need a proper apparatus to propel yourself forward in the liquid. Due to its low gravity and density, you could push yourself about halfway out of the water like a dolphin. And, if you had artificial wings, you could take off and really fly! (12)

9. If a human ever gets sucked into a black hole, they will be “spaghettified.” A human body will become a string of atoms in a black hole and this process is really named, “spaghettification” and also called the “noodle effect.”

As weird as it sounds, you get “spaghettified”—turned into a string of atoms. In astrophysics, the vertical stretching and horizontal compression of objects into long, thin, spaghetti-like shapes through a non-homogenous gravitational field is known as the “noodle effect” or “spaghettification.” This is what happens near black holes and no object can withstand it. This happens because the gravity at one point of the object will be much stronger than the other end. This can happen also during strong tidal forces.

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking describes a fictional astronaut being “stretched like a spaghetti” on passing through a black hole. In 2018, spaghettification of a star was imaged by researchers who were observing the colliding of galaxies 150 million light-years away. (source)

10. Jupiter does not orbit the sun. It is so huge that the center of gravity of its orbit is not actually inside the sun. Both the sun and the Jupiter orbit around the same point in space.

What we learned in school about all the planets in the solar system orbiting the Sun was wrong. The gas giant, Jupiter, does not because it is so huge! It has 2.5 times the mass than all the other planets in the solar system combined. That makes it so big that the center of gravity between the Sun and Jupiter is not inside the Sun like it is for other planets. The center of gravity is a point in space outside the Sun, and both the Sun and the Jupiter orbit around it. That point is 1.07 solar radii from the center of the Sun. Yeah, the Sun is not really stationary.

This happens even though Jupiter is only a fraction of Sun’s size. When the Earth orbits the Sun, the center of gravity is so close to the center of the Sun that the movement of the Sun is negligible. Same goes for the other planets. (12)

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