10 Strange Facts About The Universe

It’s fair to say that the universe is a pretty big place, so big that we will probably never fully understand how it works.  That said, research conducted over the past few decades has brought us a far greater understanding of the complexity that is ‘everything’ than ever before and thrown up plenty of strange facts along the way.

1. There’s Probably Someone Else Out There

alien gray

Aliens are sci-fi bread and butter, whether they’re coming to pay us a not-so-friendly visit or we’ve developed interstellar travel and have gone to check out their place.  There are at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe, and 300 billion stars in our galaxy alone, making there a whopping 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars out there, each probably having a planet or ten surrounding it.  If you consider just how big the universe is, probability leans heavily toward the idea that there’s other intelligent life out there somewhere.  The problem is…

2. We’ll Probably Never Meet Each Other

Et phone home

Let’s assume there is intelligent life on the nearest known planet outside our solar system that might actually be able to support it, Tau Ceti f.  First of all, one or other of the people of the two planets would have to develop technology sufficiently close to light speed to make travelling between them possible – for perspective, consider that the Sun and Tau Ceti are 11.9 light years apart. Next, the two would have to exist within the same window of time to come into contact with one another, not necessarily a guarantee if you think about what alien visitors would have encountered on Earth just 10,000 years ago.  Of course, if distance weren’t an issue, there’d be a much greater chance of running into ET, but that would require a complete reworking of our understanding of the laws of physics.

3. Shooting Stars Are Actually A Thing

shooting star

Of course, everyone knows that what we call a shooting star is actually a meteorite burning up as it hits our atmosphere, but there are such things as ‘hypervelocity stars’.  The first of these was discovered in 2005, travelling ten times faster than ordinary stars at a huge 530 miles per second and heading straight out of its galaxy.  The cause of these super-fast flying balls of gas is unknown, with supernovae or other high-energy phenomena one possible cause.

4. There Is A Giant Booze Cloud In Space

Radio Telescope in Merlin Array

In 2006, the MERLIN radio telescope detected a huge cloud in space consisting of gaseous methyl alcohol.  What’s even more remarkable is that this cloud spans roughly 288 billion miles – over three times the distance between Earth and the Sun.  Those looking to make a truly astronomical cocktail shouldn’t get too excited however – methanol isn’t suitable for human consumption.  It’s also 10,000 light years away!

5. A Star Is Born. And Then Another.

All the matter flying around the universe is inevitably drawn together, meaning that new stars are being created in galaxies throughout the universe.  In our own galaxy, approximately two new stars are created each year – in extremely active galaxies like recently-discovered HFLS3, the rate is as high as 2000 per year.

6. Earth Days Are Getting Longer

The rotation of the Earth is affected by a range of factors, including the gravitational effect of the moon and even events on Earth such as major earthquakes and tsunamis.  The precise length of a day actually fluctuates on a daily basis, but on average has been getting progressively longer at a rate of just milliseconds per year – when the dinosaurs still walked the Earth, a day was just 22 hours long.

7. You Can See The Big Bang On Your TV

tv static big bang

While digital TV might have meant an end to the classic black and white static of days gone by, if you can get to a set with an analogue setting, you can get a glimpse of the beginning of the universe.  1% of the static on the screen is a result of cosmic microwave background radiation, a remnant of the Big Bang which took place 13.7 billion years ago.

8. Everything Is Stardust

It might sound like the name of a hippy LP from the 70s, but there’s a lot of truth in this old saying.  Every naturally-occurring element, with the exception of hydrogen and helium, is created within stars, meaning that (for example) the iron in your blood is actually billions of years old and has come from stars trillions of miles away.

9. Most Of It Is A Mystery

Of course, it goes without saying that there is a vast amount that we don’t know about the universe, but the point here is that we are totally clueless as to what fundamentally makes up 96% of the universe.  We know that stars, planets, asteroids and similar objects make up 0.4%, and huge gas clouds fill 3.6%, but the remainder is so-called ‘dark matter’ and ‘dark energy’, of which we still know absolutely nothing about other than the fact that it must be there.

10. There’s A Very, Very Big Diamond Out There

Discovered in 2004, a collapsed star just 50 light years away from Earth was discovered, measuring 4000km across and with a pure diamond core of 10 billion trillion trillion carats.  If the interstellar mining industries of so many sci-fi movies ever became reality, I imagine there’d be a fair few fights over the rights to this rock!

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