10 mind-blowing secrets of outer space Part I

Have you ever looked at the night sky and marveled at the stars? Here, circling our lonely star in our lonely galaxy, we gaze past the bright lights, imagining the wonders they conceal. These tiny specks contain secrets about the universe we can only begin to imagine—truths that challenge our understanding of space and time themselves. Below are a few mind-bending facts about outer space and the universe. Feel free to leave discoveries that peak your interests in the comments section below. Click here for numbers 5-1!

Space and time are relative

If there’s one thing that’s absolute in this world, it’s time, right? Well, not quite. While we see time and space as constants, they are actually relative to the observer. What does this mean? According to Einstein, if you were to fly past the Earth at 10% of the speed of light, you would see some strange things. Everybody on Earth would slow down and contract—yes, actually become shorter. You could watch them age for years, but from their perspective they would only have lived for a fraction of that time. In fact, from their reference frame, Earth would be normal and these things would be happening to you. The craziest part of it all? You would both be right.

The sun will eat the Earth

You’ve probably heard that our sun is a perfectly typical star, just a normal, run-of-the-mill fireball fusing hydrogen into helium. But do you know what will happen to it as it ages? Scientists predict that in approximately 5 billion years our star will become a Red Giant, a cooler, much more voluminous ball of flame fusing helium into carbon. Our friend in the sky will expand rapidly, consuming Mercury, Venus, and most likely the Earth. During this time the sun will rapidly lose mass, eventually shedding its shells to reveal a white hot carbon core. Now a small white dwarf, it will continue to glow for billions of years. Isn’t that nice?

Red Giant Sun Earth Future

An artist’s impression of the sun right before it engulfs the Earth. Sarah Palin can see her house from here.

Supernovae: stars go boom

Our sun will become a white dwarf, but not all stars have the same fate—more massive stars explode in sparkly fashion. Bigger stars must burn at extremely high temperatures to avoid collapsing under their own gravity. Once they run out of fuel, the stars can no longer support themselves, causing an immediate free fall towards the core. The star’s layers bounce off of each other, unleashing their gravitational energy in a spectacular explosion. Called a supernova, the explosion releases more energy than entire galaxies.

Supernova Bright Star Explosion

A supernova (bottom left) rivals the brightness of this entire galaxy. This type of behavior has led scientists to classify supernovae as Type-A attention whores.

Neutron stars: 33 kiloton marshmallows

Lying at the site of a supernova lies a small, dense object. Crushed by the pressure of the implosion, the atoms in the star’s core can no longer support themselves—only their neutrons can stand up to such force. This ball of neutrons, appropriately labeled a neutron star, is no wider than the island of Manhattan. Here’s the catch: it is about 100 trillion times as dense as water. A neutron star’s gravity is so strong that dropping a marshmallow onto its surface would release over 33 kilotons TNT worth of energy—about 1.7 times as much as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Neutron Star Accretion Disc Gravity Size

Neutron stars’ gravitational fields are so strong that they sometimes siphon off another star’s outer layers, forming a disc of accreted material around themselves. This star has been indicted for interstellar theft but will escape imprisonment by telling authorities the whereabouts of its accomplice, Charlie Sheen.

Black holes

Originally a formulaic quirk of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, black holes proved difficult to detect because they cannot be seen. A single point of zero volume and infinite density formed during the explosion of a supergiant star, a black hole’s gravity is so strong that not even light can escape it. This property makes them invisible to direct observation. Even more mind blowing is that any events that take place within the black hole’s event horizon (the radius past which light cannot escape) will never be detected and thus, as far as any observer can tell, never happened.

Were you to watch someone fall into a black hole, you would have to wait a long time—infinitely long, in fact—to see her complete her journey. A black hole’s gravity slows down time so dramatically that from your perspective your unfortunate friend would slowly drift towards the black hole until she reached the event horizon, where she would remain for perpetuity (though the light carrying her image would be drained of its energy until she faded into darkness). The good news is that from your friend’s perspective this would only last a matter of seconds, after which she would be pulled apart atom by atom and compressed into the black hole.

Galaxy Black Hole Supermassive Amazing Spiral

Scientists believe every galaxy contains at least one supermassive black hole. Sociologists have yet to understand the process by which a galaxy chooses the recipient of this title.

So what do you think of these wonders of the universe? Do they challenge the way you understand space and time? Let me know in the comments section below! As always, please like, share, or reblog this post if you enjoy it. Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday! IT’S FREE! Click here for numbers 5-1!

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Other cool science articles:

Three Amazing Facts About the Quantum World

What is Dark Matter?

Four Crazy Mysteries of Science

The Road to the Multiverse

Don’t Click This Link


Comment question of the week

What’s the coolest thing you learned in science class? Anything mind-blowing?

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112 thoughts on “10 mind-blowing secrets of outer space Part I

  1. Pingback: Suspected Yellow Supergiant Supernova | David Reneke | Space and Astronomy News

    • Very cool! The scale of the world is fascinating. Atoms are so incomprehensibly small while galaxies are so huge! Interestingly, some parts of physics break down at the quantum (i.e. sub atomic) level. Scientists are currently trying to bridge this gap with a Theory of Everything.

  2. My wife has a “black hole”, she keeps throwing my wallet into it.

    All this stuff is totally mind blowing, and hard to get into perspective.

    Somewhere on my blog is a cartoon of the SKA telescope which I did a couple of months ago.

  3. Ok, I never got to finish that comment… I was going to backspace and seem like a normal human being when I accidentally hit “enter”. But in all seriousness… I’m blown away by the concept of time and how unreal and fragile the idea of it really is. You know this by science, but spiritual teachers will tell you this as well. Time is an illusion… think about it. Once we get that through our heads, we can live in the present, the only real moment there is! Great post… followed!

  4. Black holes are fascinating! My husband and I are obsessed with space. I am going to show him this post when he gets home! Thanks so much for sharing and congrats on being FP, this was truly deserving!

  5. I had a sad thought that we’ll probably end up killing off our own planet before the sun gets to it :(

    On another note, I’ve always loved learning stuff about outer space since I was a kid! Thanks for the lesson! :)

    • Thanks! The idea that our galaxy will very likely collide with Andromeda is very cool–though a little bit disconcerting haha. I agree, it’s amazing how large and how spaced out the galaxies are. Any of these stand out in particular?

      • Yeah, black holes are pretty crazy. The idea that there is a rip through space-time is enough to give anyone a headache.

        I try to imagine the function y = -(1/x^2) transposed into R^4.

        Space is so cool =)

  6. Funny captions to the photos.
    Space always interested me since childhood but I have reluctantly come to accept the chipmunk family that is my mind — I cannot comprehend it. Most astronomical mind bending facts like these leaves my mouth agape but can hardly recall it later… not even for bragging!
    Anyway, this is incredible stuff. Rain of methane, time and space VARY for each observer, to see Earth’s dinosaurs if I were on a different galaxy, inescapable light, neutron cores that spew killer marshmallows, being shred atom to atom as my friend only see’s my smiling frozen face…

    Anywho, what is your view on the possibility of a parallel universe? I think it has some merit to it. I fondly remember its reference in the movie Rabbit Hole.

    Sigh… I wish I could have a roommate like you who would gladly explain complicated stuff and make me laugh at the same time, as he cheerfully makes me a PB&J sandwich. Sigh.

    • Any multiverse hypothesis can’t be tested (at least as of now), but my hunch would be yes. People first believed that the sun orbited us, that we were special. Then they thought that our solar system was the center of everything. Then that our galaxy was the only galaxy. To me, it only seems logical that our universe isn’t special either!

  7. I’ve seen several videos on Einstein’s special theory of relativity but can never ever figure it out…i’m so fascinated by it that I don’t miss any material referring to it. I just hope to figure it out before the sun eats the earth!

    • haha that’s a pretty good goal. This site might be helpful for special relativity. For the most part you can just ignore the text and go to the first interactive part (where you can press play and watch the path of the light traced out.) Light always travels at the same speed, and both reference frames are correct. The basic idea is that in the equation distance=rate x time r is a constant and d has changed, so t must have changed as well. http://www.phys.unsw.edu.au/einsteinlight/jw/module4_time_dilation.htm

      • thanks for that link…love the simulation…i think another dozen views and I’ll finally figure it out. The thing I struggle with most is reconciling observation with reality. For me, time is an absolute scalar reality that is not dependent on the speed of light. In fact, it is the other way round. anyways, i’m not going to give up…another few shots at that link and i’ll get back to you…thanks again :)

        • You got it! It definitely took me a long time to understand it at first. The fact that light always travels at the same speed baffled scientists for hundreds of years. It’s really strange–light moves at speed “c” relative to the observer. Even if you were moving at .99c, you would still see photons bounding ahead of you at the speed of light. I’m glad the animation is helpful. It’s hard to find examples online that aren’t too technical.

  8. The thing that blew up my mind the most during school years, wasn’t something I learned in school, but something I read on the book Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder, when he talkes about the fact that most of the stars we see in the sky are actually dead for many years, but their light is still reaching us…
    From school itself, I remember once being laughed at by my classmates when I asked the teacher why sometimes we see the stars changing coloues when we gaze at them. The teacher ‘defended’ me saying it was a very interesting question, but she never gave me an answer…

    • I agree! One of the coolest things about astronomy is that the further away we look, the further into the past we’re exploring! As technology improves we will be able to observe events from the very early universe. Crazy! I’m not sure about why a star would change color–they do over billions of years, but I haven’t heard of quick transformations. Stars can often appear to change because of the way they twinkle, which is actually a result of molecular activity in Earth’s atmosphere. That’s why we place our top telescopes (like Hubble) into orbit. From outside our atmosphere, the stars appear as constant lights!

      • Thanks. That explains. I never really though it was a real change of colours and have always guessed it was some optical ilusion kind of thing, but at 11 I wondered and thought my science theacher would be able to give me some answer… ;o)

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