We are all inhabitants of this universe, within which we sit upon the Earth inside our solar system in the Milky Way galaxy. There are a vast number of things that scientists have discovered about our universe that you likely don’t realize. From the astounding to the confounding, here are 17 things that you probably didn’t know about our universe.
Each year the moon moves 3.8 cm away from the Earth It’s true, the moon is actually slowly spinning away from Earth and in a few billions of years, it could actually cause the Earth to become very unstable
2. The Sun makes up 99% of the mass in the entire solar system
The sun is roughly 109 times the diameter of Earth and could hold over 1 million of our planets.
3. There are 10 billion trillion stars in the universe at minimum, In more scientific terms, this is more than 10 raised to the 22nd power stars.
4. About 275 million new stars are born each day
This equates out to about 100 billion each year.
5. It takes a photon about 170,000 years to travel from the core of the sun to the surface
This occurs as energy slowly radiates outward through the Sun’s radiation zone.
6. The center of our galaxy tastes like raspberries and smells like rum
Based on studies of the dust at the center of our galaxy, amino acids present suggest that this is how it might taste.
7. Earth’s rotation slows by about 17 milliseconds a century
This means that our days get longer by about 2 milliseconds every ten years.
8. The Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun
Driving non-stop at 60 mph, we would get there in 177 years. Although things might get a little hot before then.
9. There are mirrors on the moon that allow us to calculate its precise distance from Earth
These were placed there during the Apollo missions. We to this day shine lasers at them and monitor the moon’s distance given that we know the speed of light
10. The Milky Way rotates at about 250 kilometers per second and completes a revolution every 200 million years
We’re on a rotating sphere orbiting a star inside a rotation solar system inside a rotating galaxy inside an expanding universe. Trippy.
The Milky Way is a disk that measures about 120,000 light years across, with a central bulge that has a diameter of about 12,000 light years. The disk is not perfectly flat though, it is warped due to our neighboring galaxies Large and Small Magellanic clouds. These two galaxies have been pulling on the matter in our galaxy like a game of tug-of-war.
2. Our galaxy is made up of about 90% dark matter, matter that cannot be seen, and about 10% “luminous matter”, or matter that we can see with our eyes. This large quantity of dark matter causes an invisible halo that has been demonstrated by simulations of how the Milky Way spins. If the dark matter did not exist then the stars within the Milky Way would orbit much slower than has been observed.
3. The Milky Way is only a medium sized galaxy with an estimated 200 billion stars. The largest galaxy we know of is called IC 1101 and has over 100 trillion stars.
4. About 10-15% of the Milky Way’s visible matter is made of dust and gas, with the rest being stars. On a clear night, the dusty ring of the Milky Way can be seen in the night sky
5. In order for the Milky Way to achieve its current size and shape it has consumed other galaxies throughout its history. Our galaxy is currently consuming the Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy by adding the smaller galaxy’s stars to its own spiral.
6. Since we are located about 26,000 light years from the Milky Way’s center we cannot take pictures of the disk. Any representation that you have ever seen of our galaxy is either a different spiral galaxy or what an artist thinks it might look like.
7. Like most larger galaxies, the Milky Way has a supermassive black hole at its center called Sagittarius A*. This black hole has an estimated diameter of 14 million miles, which does not include the disk of mass being drawn into it. This outer disk has about 14.6 million times the mass of our Sun in what would be similar to the orbit of the Earth!
8. Scientists estimate that the Universe is about 13.7 billion years old and that the Milky Way is about 13.6 billion years old. Although the main parts of the galaxy were formed in the early days of the Universe, the disk and the bulge did not fully form until about 10-12 billion years ago
9. The Virgo Supercluster contains at least 100 galaxy groups and clusters, and is about 110 million light-years in diameter. A 2014 study shows that the Virgo Supercluster is only one lobe of a greater supercluster called Laniakea.
10. Everything in space, including the Milky Way, is moving. The Earth moves around the Sun, the Sun moves in the Milky Way, and the Milky Way cruises through space. The Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, radiation left over from the Big Bang, is used as a reference point to measure the velocity of things moving in space. The Local Group of galaxies, which the Milky Way is part of, is estimated to be moving at about 600 km/s or 2.2 million km/hr!
We’re able to have solar eclipses because the sun is exactly 400 times the size of the moon, but the moon is 400 times closer to Earth.
That’s right, you can thank simple geometry for one of the most stunning natural phenomenons. The perfect matchup of those proportions is why it appears that the moon perfectly obscures the sun during a total eclipse. But thanks to the moon’s changing orbit, in about 50 million years, it will no longer blot out the sun perfectly.
2. The sun makes up more than 99% of the solar system’s mass.
The sun is frickin’ HUGE. The rest of the solar system’s mass is split among the eight planets and their own little moons, comets, asteroids and assorted dust and gas surrounding the sun.
3. And if the sun were the size of a typical front door, Earth would be the size of a nickel.
Hey everyone, we’re living on a tiny planet. So tiny, in fact, that more than one million Earths could fit inside the sun.
4. There’s an asteroid that has rings, like Saturn.
Chariklo is a “small object” (aren’t we all) that has two icy rings around it (don’t we all). It orbits between Saturn and Uranus, and it’s only about 154 miles across.
5. There’s also a planet made of diamonds that’s two times the size of Earth.
The “super earth,” aka 55 Cancri e, is most likely covered in graphite and diamond, making our dirt and water planet look like a real dud.
6. And it rains diamonds on Jupiter and Saturn
Hailstones made of diamond form when “lightning storms turn methane into soot (carbon) which as it falls hardens into chunks of graphite and then diamond,” according to the BBC. The largest diamonds are about one centimeter in diameter
7. Oh, and there’s another planet where it rains glass sideways.
In 2013, the Hubble telescope spotted a blue planet that kind of looked a lot like Earth — except that that planet has a temperature of about 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit, and it rains glass sideways, at about 4,300 miles per hour.
8. All of space is almost completely silent.
In space, no one can hear you scream, but no one can really hear anything, anyway. There are some vibrations and sound waves that are imperceptible to humans, but overall, space is a vacuum, and it’s pretty darn quiet.
9. One of Saturn’s moons is walnut-shaped because it’s absorbed some of Saturn’s rings. view Image
Look at the little UFO-shaped planet! Pan’s distinctive equatorial ridge isn’t because it really wants to look like a ravioli; instead, it’s because the moon accumulates some of Saturn’s runoff ring particles as it orbits. Scientists first theorized that Pan had its unusual shape in 2007, but it wasn’t confirmed until it was photographed for the first time in March 2017.
10. The largest asteroid in the solar system is a whopping 329 miles in diameter.
It’s called Vesta, and yes, 329 miles is really big — that’s about 25 times the length of Manhattan.
Uranus appears to be a featureless blue ball upon first glance, but this gas giant of the outer solar system is pretty weird upon closer inspection. First, the planet rotates on its side for reasons scientists haven’t quite figured out. The most likely explanation is that it underwent some sort of one or more titanic collisions in the ancient past. In any case, the tilt makes Uranus unique among the solar system planets. Uranus also has tenuous rings, which were confirmed when the planet passed in front of a star (from Earth’s perspective) in 1977; as the star’s light winked on and off repeatedly, astronomers realized there was more than just a planet blocking its starlight. More recently, astronomers spotted storms in Uranus’ atmosphere several years after its closest approach to the sun, when the atmosphere would have been heated the most.
2) Jupiter’s moon Io has towering volcanic eruptions
For those of us used to Earth’s relatively inactive moon, Io’s chaotic landscape may come as a huge surprise. The Jovian moon has hundreds of volcanoes and is considered the most active moon in the solar system, sending plumes up to 250 miles into its atmosphere . Some spacecraft have caught the moon erupting; the Pluto-bound New Horizons craft caught a glimpse of Io bursting when it passed by in 2007.
Io’s eruptions come from the immense gravity the moon is exposed to, being nestled in Jupiter’s gravitational well. The moon’s insides tense up and relax as it orbits closer to, and farther from, the planet, generating enough energy for volcanic activity. Scientists are still trying to figure out how heat spreads through Io’s interior, though, making it difficult to predict where the volcanoes exist using scientific models alone.
3) Mars has the biggest volcano (that we know of)
While Mars seems quiet now, we know that in the past something caused gigantic volcanoes to form and erupt. This includes Olympus Mons, the biggest volcano ever discovered in the solar system. At 374 miles (602 km) across, the volcano is comparable to the size of Arizona. It’s 16 miles (25 kilometers) high, or triple the height of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth. Volcanoes on Mars can grow to such immense size because gravity is much weaker on the Red Planet than it is on Earth. But how those volcanoes came to be in the first place is not well known. There is a debate as to whether Mars has a global plate tectonic system and whether it is active.
4). Mars also has the longest valley
If you thought the Grand Canyon was big, that’s nothing compared to Valles Marineris. At 2,500 miles (4,000 km) long, this immense system of Martian canyons is more than 10 times as long as the Grand Canyon on Earth. Valles Marineris escaped the notice of early Mars spacecraft (which flew over other parts of the planet) and was finally spotted by the global mapping mission Mariner 9 in 1971. And what a sight it was to miss — Valles Marineris is about as long as the United States!
The lack of active plate tectonics on Mars makes it tough to figure out how the canyon formed. Some scientists even think that a chain of volcanoes on the other side of the planet, known as the Tharsis Ridge, somehow bent the crust from the opposite side of Mars, thus creating Valles Marineris. More close-up study is needed to learn more, but you can’t send a rover over there easily.
5) Venus has super-powerful winds
Venus is a hellish planet with a high-temperature, high-pressure environment on its surface. Ten of the Soviet Union’s heavily shielded Venera spacecraft lasted only a few minutes on its surface when they landed there in the 1970s. But even above its surface, the planet has a bizarre environment. Scientists have found that its upper winds flow 50 times faster than the planet’s rotation. The European Venus Express spacecraft (which orbited the planet between 2006 and 2014) tracked the winds over long periods and detected periodic variations. It also found that the hurricane-force winds appeared to be getting stronger over time.
6) There is water ice everywhere
Water ice was once considered a rare substance in space, but now we know we just weren’t looking for it in the right places. In fact, water ice exists all over the solar system. Ice is a common component of comets and asteroids, for example. But we know that not all ice is the same. Close-up examination of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, for example, revealed a different kind of water ice than what is found on Earth. That said, we’ve spotted water ice all over the solar system. It’s in permanently shadowed craters on Mercury and the moon, although we don’t know if there’s enough to support colonies in those places. Mars also has ice at its poles, in frost and likely below the surface dust. Even smaller bodies in the solar system have ice – Jupiter’s moon Europa, Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and the dwarf planet Ceres, among others.
7) Spacecraft have visited every planet
We’ve been exploring space for more than 60 years, and have been lucky enough to get close-up pictures of dozens of celestial objects. Most notably, we’ve sent spacecraft to all of the planets in our solar system — Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — as well as two dwarf planets, Pluto and Ceres. The bulk of the flybys came from NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977 and are still transmitting data from beyond the solar system in interstellar space. Between them, the Voyagers clocked visits to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, thanks to an opportune alignment of the outer planets.
8) There could be life in the solar system, somewhere
So far, scientists have found no evidence that life exists elsewhere in the solar system. But as we learn more about how “extreme” microbes live in underwater volcanic vents or in frozen environments, more possibilities open up for where they could live on other planets. These aren’t the aliens people once feared lived on Mars, but microbial life in the solar system is a possibility. Microbial life is now considered so likely on Mars that scientists take special precautions to sterilize spacecraft before sending them over there. That’s not the only place, though. With several icy moons scattered around the solar system, it’s possible there are microbes somewhere in the oceans of Jupiter’s Europa, or perhaps underneath the ice at Saturn’s Enceladus, among other locations.
9) Mercury is still shrinking
For many years, scientists believed that Earth was the only tectonically active planet in the solar system. That changed after the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft did the first orbital mission at Mercury, mapping the entire planet in high definition and getting a look at the features on its surface. In 2016, data from MESSENGER (which had crashed into Mercury as planned in April 2015) revealed cliff-like landforms known as fault scarps. Because the fault scarps are relatively small, scientists are sure that they weren’t created that long ago and that the planet is still contracting 4.5 billion years after the solar system was formed.
10) There are mountains on Pluto
Pluto is a tiny world at the edge of the solar system, so at first it was thought that the dwarf planet would have a fairly uniform environment. That changed when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew by there in 2015, sending back pictures that altered our view of Pluto forever. [Destination Pluto: NASA’s New Horizons Mission in Pictures] Among the astounding discoveries were icy mountains that are 11,000 feet (3,300 meters) high, indicating that Pluto must have been geologically active as little as 100 million years ago. But geological activity requires energy, and the source of that energy inside Pluto is a mystery. The sun is too far away from Pluto to generate enough heat for geological activity, and there are no large planets nearby that could have caused such disruption with gravity.