Space isn’t just the final frontier, it’s a vast expanse of weirdness. From black holes, to dark matter, to white dwarfs, and brightly colored nebulas that a human couldn’t travel across in 1,000 lifetimes. The full breadth of the infinite beyond is something we will literally never fully know or understand. But what we already do know about is amazing, including some remarkably strange phenomena.
10. Star Dragging Space-Time
Thanks to Star Trek, if nothing else, many of us understand there’s a relationship between space and time. So much so that we call it space-time. The faster you travel in space, the more time slows down. It’s all very cool and mind-bending stuff but, for most of us, it will always be sci-fi or, at the very least, theoretical. But it doesn’t have to be.
Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity predicts that any spinning body will drag space-time with it in a phenomenon called frame-dragging. Consider it like a whirlpool, only instead of water, it’s space and time swirling around. It’s very difficult to observe on a relatively small scale of something like our planet because the effect is incredibly small.
Researchers have observed a white dwarf star, the corpse of a once massive star, which is now the size of Earth but 300,000 times heavier. And it’s fast. While a day goes by in 24 hours here on earth, it takes about two minutes on the white dwarf.
The white dwarf is paired with a pulsar. This thing is even smaller, the size of a city, but it’s made of neutrons packed so tightly together it’s 400,000 times heavier than Earth. It emits radio waves which let us track its orbit here on Earth, and that has allowed us to see that these pair of super dense stars are actually dragging space-time around with them.
9. Nuclear Pasta
Nuclear pasta sounds dangerously delicious, but the name isn’t a very good descriptor of this strange phenomenon. So what is nuclear pasta? Perhaps the strongest thing that has ever existed.
Researchers believe there is something formed inside the dense core of neutron stars. A neutron star happens when a massively dense star gets so large it collapses on itself. The origin star would have been many times bigger than our sun. The neutron star that forms afterwards is incredibly small, relatively speaking. Less than 20 miles in diameter. Despite that small size, the mass of it could be 25 times the sun that birthed it. Black holes are the only smaller and more dense celestial bodies we know about.
Inside that neutron star are a lot of neutrons, hence the name. They’re packed insanely tight and exist at around 600,000 Celsius. All of these tightly compacted neutrons, protons, and electrons create layers in the star. There may be a core of something called quark-gluon plasma in the middle, but around the crust is where protons and neutrons form the unique structures called nuclear pasta, so named because that’s the shape they take. It’s still theoretical at the moment, but if this substance exists on the outside of neutron stars, the density of it makes it the strongest substance ever known. It’s predicted that it would take 10 billion times the force needed to smash steel to break through it.
8. Supermassive Black Holes
Sure, we all know about black holes, but do you know about supermassive black holes? It’s the difference between a garden snail and one of these insane, cat-sized snails people sometimes have as pets. There’s just something about a thing that’s bigger than it should be that can really freak you out.
A “normal” black hole, if there is such a thing, may be anywhere from about 10 to 100 solar masses in size. That means it’s 10 to 100 times as dense as a star. Something 100 times the size of our sun would basically eat our entire solar system, so that’s a substantial size, right? That’s a normal black hole.
In the center of any given galaxy you will also find a large black hole. Our Milky Way galaxy has a large black hole in the middle of it that is about 4.5 million solar masses. That’s big, but is it supermassive? Not yet.
The largest black hole discovered so far has the unassuming name TON 618. Its mass has been calculated at 66 billion solar masses. That makes it more than 15,000 times more massive than the black hole in the center of our own galaxy. To add a little more perspective, the solar mass of all the stars in the Milky Way has been estimated to be as much as 64 billion solar masses, meaning it would stamp out not just our solar system but the entire galaxy with room to spare.
7. Rogue Planets
Most planets tend to stick to a pretty standard game plan in space. They get into orbit around a star and then spin for the rest of eternity, or at least until something cataclysmic happens. As far as we know, anyway. But that’s not always 100% true. Turns out there are a few planets out there that have a rebellious streak and chose not to remain in a predictable orbit around a star. They call them rogue planets and they go where they want.
We’re not sure what makes a rogue planet form at all. They may have been regular planets like Earth and Mars that were knocked out of their orbit somehow and sent like a billiard ball through space. Or maybe they started life as something bigger that collapsed but didn’t have the density to form a star, so it just made a little wandering planet.
Scientists recently discovered no less than 70 rogues wandering the Milky Way, so they’re rare but not super rare by any means. But they are unusual since we have no idea how they even started in the first place. There’s even speculation they may hold life, and there could be hundreds, thousands, even billions more out there, but they’re hard to spot.
6. Hoag’s Object
With a name like Hoag’s Object, there’s no way this isn’t a little weird. And it lives up to its potential when you get into what exactly it was that Arthur Hoag discovered back in 1950.
Hoag was an astronomer doing what astronomers do, observing the universe. He stumbled upon something deep in space and wasn’t sure what he was seeing. At first it looked like he’d discovered a new galaxy, which, in and of itself, isn’t all that unusual. But this galaxy looked like it might be inside of a second galaxy, which was definitely weird.
Pictures of the object are quite breathtaking – it looks like a massive glowing core surrounded by a perfect ring of stars, many thousands of points of light, just like our own Milky Way, only formed into a circle.
The object is 600 million light years away and a stunning 100,000 light years across. Since it’s discovery, we’re seen other ring galaxies out in the universe, but this one is still perplexing. Most ring galaxies form with a galactic collision of two other galaxies, but there is no evidence of that here.
5. Fermi Bubbles
Head right to the center of the Milky Way galaxy and you’ll discover the Fermi Bubbles, which were first observed in 2010. What is a Fermi Bubble? It’s a giant blob, and our galaxy has two of them. They kind of straddle the middle of the galaxy, one above and one below like a giant figure eight. They extend out from the galactic plane about 25,000 light years. So they’re big blobs.
The Bubbles are made of energetic plasma and they emit large amounts of energy in the form of gamma rays and x-rays. Their location and structure suggests they’re somehow related to the black hole at the center of the galaxy, but very little else is known because they’re so unusual and unique. They seem to be energetic plasma structures connecting the blobs top and bottom, and there are also high energy neutrinos in them.
There are several theories about what could have caused the bubbles ranging from a star falling into the black hole, to several stars, to numerous, simultaneous supernovas and a handful of other theories, all of which are just random speculation for now.
4. Alchemical Planetary Bodies
In ancient alchemy, the idea was to use something called the Philosopher’s Stone to transmute a substance of little worth, like lead, into something of greater worth, like gold. They didn’t realize it at the time, but that idea isn’t scientifically unsound. The universe was little more than hydrogen when it formed. The process of fusion allows for elemental transmutation. Molecules gain more nuclei and hydrogen becomes helium. That happens in our sun every day.
In a supernova type reaction, stars can create elements heavier than iron, things like gold and platinum. The primal forces of the universe brought all these elements into being and the result of that is that, over millions and billions of years, entire planets have been formed that are almost entirely made of single elements or basic compounds.
In 2021, scientists discovered an iron planet, while the big news of 2012 was a world made of diamond. Gj 1214b is a world that’s almost entirely water. And, not to be outdone, researchers also discovered an asteroid named Psyche 16 that was made up of over $10,000 quadrillion worth of gold and platinum.
This one is almost too obvious, but at the same time, not obvious enough. We take life for granted because we’re surrounded by it. And the majority of people surveyed, about 65%, think intelligent life must exist in the universe beyond our world.
But the fact is, we’ve seen no real indications of it. Nothing scientific holds up, and researchers have scanned a lot of space looking for signs of life. Not just aliens coming to visit, but radio signals and any sign that someone else is out there. We’ve discovered thousands of planets and stars, but so far nothing to indicate we’re not alone.
Now that doesn’t mean we aren’t alone, but it does mean we are relatively strange. We can’t find anything like us, and that makes us very unique. Maybe we just got lucky.
An interesting point to consider here is the reason many people believe we can’t be alone is because the universe is just so big. How could we be alone? On the other hand, a point few people consider is that the universe works on a scale far greater than we can imagine, and that also refers to time. The universe is in no rush to go anywhere. What if we haven’t found life anywhere because we’re the first and most advanced? Because someone would literally have to be the first, right? Why not us?
2. The Star to Planet Transformation
In space we know that there are typically two main kinds of celestial bodies – planets and stars. Other things like quasars and black holes and white dwarfs are basically stars that have had rough lives and experienced some serious changes. But the two are different in how they form and what they do.
Stars are giant balls of gas undergoing serious chemical reactions that emit light and heat. Planets are either solid masses or, even if they are gas, they are not undergoing those chemical reactions and don’t produce light and heat like a star would. Planets orbit stars and are typically much smaller and less massive than their stars. So they’re different things is what we’re saying. But maybe not always.
Far from earth, in a galaxy called GSN 069, there is a star that had a run in with a black hole. That almost always spells the end of the star because what could possibly escape a black hole? Well, this star did.
The star is actually orbiting the black hole now, and it suffered a lot during its run in. So much so that the black hole turned it from a red giant into a white dwarf, thanks to all the material stripped away from it. Scientists believe, based on what has already happened, that the star may actually one day evolve into a planet instead of following the normal path of stellar decay, thanks to the black hole’s influence.
Now, one day is a relative term here and the current guess is about a trillion years from now, which is just short of preposterous, even on a stellar timeline.
1. Raspberry Flavor
News broke recently that there’s a TV being developed that you can taste, because who wouldn’t want to taste their favorite show? And you may think it’s silly because some things are obviously not meant to be tasted but, in a very technical sense, everything does have a taste. Case in point – the galaxy itself. It tastes like raspberries.
If you’ve ever looked at renderings of the Milky Way in its entirety, you’ll notice it looks kind of cloudy in parts, especially towards the middle. That’s not just masses of star material, but clouds of various gases as well. Astronomers have determined there’s a massive cloud of ethyl formate in the center of the galaxy.
Ethyl formate is a large part of the reason raspberries taste the way they do. It also smells like rum, meaning the center of our galaxy is one hell of a festive cocktail.