Someone once said that space is the final frontier. That may be true, but there are going to be a lot of things to sort through before anything truly becomes final. There is a lot of stuff going on in space, and some of what we have already discovered is absolutely mind-blowing.
10. Giant Booze Cloud
Belarus has the highest alcohol consumption in the world at 17.5 liters per capita. That’s a good deal of booze, but Belarus would have nothing on a region of space known as W3 (OH). This area is what is known as a stellar nursery and stars are being formed there. In the midst of that is a massive expanse of booze. A 288 billion mile long cloud of methyl alcohol.
Methyl alcohol doesn’t have a lot of uses for people looking to get a buzz. It’s the kind of alcohol found in antifreeze or in fuel. Drinking it would kill you but, in fairness, trying to consume a 288 billion mile long bridge of any liquid would kill you.
The booze is part of a filament of what is called masing gas, a burst of energy released as a maser from a giant cloud of gases rotating around a central star.
9. Glass Rain
Back in the day, Prince once sang about Purple Rain and while it was never really clear what he was talking about, at least it didn’t sound as dangerous as HD189773b. On that world, it rains glass.
HD189773b orbits a star called HD189773 that you can find 60 light years from Earth. The planet is a gas giant like Jupiter. The surface measures a balmy 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and winds reach around 4,000 to 5,000 miles per hour. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the weather takes the form of glass rain. But, as you might guess based on the temperatures, it’s not solid shards of glass. It’s molten glass.
Despite these extreme circumstances, there is also evidence of water in the planet’s atmosphere as well, and oxygen and methane also. The fact methane and oxygen exist in the atmosphere at those high temperatures is a bit of scientific mystery.
8. 13 Billion Light Years Distant Radio Waves
Radio is an interesting thing. Radio waves are a kind of electromagnetic radiation. We have long since mastered creating radio waves on our own, and that has allowed us all to enjoy morning DJs when stuck in traffic on the way to work. But radio waves are able to form naturally as well, and they can be caused by a number of things, including cosmic phenomena.
People are always monitoring the skies to find radio signals from an alien intelligence. While nothing that seems to have come from an intelligent source has been found so far, we have discovered different radio emissions over the years. And one of the most interesting ones discovered so far was isolated in 2021.
The emissions are coming from something called a radio-loud quasar. That’s essentially a supermassive black hole that could be a few million times the size of our sun. The black hole is so big, and it swallows up so much gas and matter, that it releases huge amounts of energy as it does so. That energy, electromagnetic energy, releases radio emissions. That was what scientists recently discovered.
Now any old quasar will release these radio signals so in and of itself this isn’t entirely unique. But these emissions are the oldest ever discovered, dating back 13 billion years. The universe was a remarkably young 780 million years old when the signals were first released.
7. Phosphine Gas on Venus
The search for life in the universe has a lot of potential avenues to take. Once upon a time people pondered the idea of moon men. Mars has long been a source of wonder from the fantastic tales of HG Wells to more reasons considerations of the potential for microscopic life to have once existed on the red planet. By and larger, however, life has eluded us. The best we can lay claim to right now is planets that have one or more elements present we feel are necessary for life.
Venus has long been considered too volatile a world for life to exist. The atmosphere is full of carbon dioxide as well as sulphuric acid. The surface is covered in mountains, craters, and thousands of volcanoes. It’s also about 870 degrees Fahrenheit thanks to all those greenhouse gases. Suffice it to say, it sounds utterly inhospitable.
Despite appearances, scientists made a curious discovery in the Venusian atmosphere. There are traces of something called phosphine. On Earth, you can get phosphine in two different ways. You can go out of your way to manufacture it with science or you can get it naturally; some kinds of bacteria produce it. And since no one has a factory set up on Venus, there’s only one other option.
There’s no direct evidence of Venusian bacteria right now. No one has observed it directly. But the phosphine is a strong indicator that somehow, in the hostile atmosphere, something is alive.
6. A Three-Sun Planet
Science fiction loves an unusual sunset. From the dual suns of Tatooine to the triple moons of Land of the Lost, an unearthly view of the sky has been a favorite feature for ages now. And even in our own solar system we have seen planets with many moons that likely have a very cool night sky if you were there to observe them. But the multiple sun idea is not as sci-fi as you might at first guess.
As it happens, our solar system is a bit of a cosmic weirdo. Having a single star is less common than having a pair. Many solar systems come with companion stars, meaning a lot of planets out there actually have a pair of suns in the sky. So Tatooine is not so far-fetched. But things get even more complicated further out into space.
Astronomers have found a planet some 1,800 light years from Earth that exists in a triple star system. Typically, it’s very hard for scientists to discover planets in multi-star systems because all those suns make it hard to see things. This particular planet, a gas giant, has an unusual orbit
5. A Zombie Star
You’re unlikely to ever hear of anything in space that sounds cooler than a zombie star. The name is about as cool as stellar phenomena get. And the reality of it is actually pretty cool as well, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense to the astronomers who are trying to figure it out.
Known as iPTF14hls, the star was discovered back in 2014 when it went supernova. That in and of itself is not very interesting in an astronomical sense. Stars go supernova all the time; it’s how many stars end their lives. But this particular star went a little odd compared to the rest.
Instead of fading out until it was dead, iPTF14hls started getting brighter again after its initial fading. It would brighten and dim over and over again for years. Curious about the phenomenon, scientists checked out previous records of that region of space and discovered that it actually went supernova back in 1954. Then, 60 years later, it had built up enough power to do it all over again.
The exact mechanism that allows this star to die and come back to life again is not known right now, and it seems to be unique in the observable universe for the time being.
4. The Billion Year Rotation
The universe is made up of a stunning number of galaxies. Like the Milky Way, these are vast expanses of multiple stars and planets. Galaxies tend to group together in similar patterns. The result is that there are only a few different shapes of galaxies. These include irregular galaxies, elliptical galaxies, and disc galaxies.
Disc galaxies are further broken down into a few shapes like spiral galaxies and lenticular galaxies. The general idea that there are flattened clusters of stars that are more or less disc shaped. What’s more interesting about that is what every single one of them has in common.
Scientists have determined that every disc galaxy rotates at the exact same rate. Big or small, a disc galaxy will complete one entire rotation around a center point in about one billion years.
Not every planet in the universe is orbited by a moon. Some, like Earth, have one moon. Others, like Jupiter, have multiple moons doing their thing in orbit. As long as a planet has sufficient mass it has the potential to have a moon in orbit around it. But what happens if a moon has some sufficient mass to have its own moon?
Scientists have determined that the potential exists for a moon to have its own moon, creating what is cleverly called a moonmoon. To be fair, no one has actually observed the existence of a moonmoon out there anywhere, so the silly name doesn’t apply to a real thing just yet. But theoretically they could exist because the conditions for one are plausible.
If a planet and a moon had a large enough space between them, and the moon was large enough while the moonmoon was small enough, then mathematically all three could work together in a perfectly stable orbit.
The conditions have to be pretty precise. The moon has to be around 600 miles in diameter while the moonmoon would need to be around six miles in diameter. If those numbers were off, the moonmoon would either be shot into space or smash into the main moon.
It’s worth noting that several moons in our own solar system meet these criteria, including our very own moon. If the right sized moonmoon showed up, it could have happened.
2. Magnetic Rogue Planets
We’re mostly accustomed to planets being reliably in place. They rotate in stable orbits around stars and don’t tend to wander outer space all that much. That’s how it usually works, but not always.
Rogue planets are planets that are not in a proper orbit. They’re free-roaming around the universe like pinballs. They’re also far more common than you might expect. In our galaxy alone it’s estimated there may be billions or even trillions of them. And with that in mind, discovering a new one sounds rather underwhelming. But the one scientists named SIMP J01365663+0933473 was a bit of a standout.
This particular rogue has a unique magnetic field. When it showed up just 20 light years from Earth, it was exhibiting a magnetic field that was 200 times stronger than Jupiter’s, and up to 54 times stronger than Earth’s.
The planet’s magnetic field is so strong it produces planet-wide auroras. Why it has such a magnetic field is still a mystery, but since it’s out there wandering the galaxy alone we may never know.
1. The Biggest Diamond in the Universe
If diamonds are a girl’s best friend, then every girl is honor bound to be BFFs with BPM 37093. In the constellation Centaurus, over 50 light years from earth, BPM 37093 is what is known as a variable white dwarf star. Once brighter than our own sun, BPM shrank and condensed and that made the carbon center of it crystallize into a 2,500 mile across diamond.
The largest diamond in the history of the Earth was the Golden Jubilee Diamond. It was found in 1986 in South Africa and started life as a 755 carat raw diamond before it was cut down to a 545 carat diamond. The Cullinan diamond was the largest rough diamond ever found at over 3,000 carats. Those are so badly shamed by BPM it’s barely worth mentioning them. BPM’s diamond core would be roughly 10 billion trillion trillion carats. It’s around 1.1 times the mass of our sun.