Space Fact Saturday

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 Out of this World

Facts about Space

William Shatner hit the nail on the head when he uttered the famous phrase, “Space, the final frontier.” Why? Well, contrary to what some scientists will have you believe, space remains mankind’s final and rather obscure frontier. After all there is so much we have yet to understand about space, and much that we thought we knew is starting to look ‘shaky’.

For example, if you were to approach a couple of astrophysicists and ask them about their views on ‘black holes’ you will, more often than not, open up a cosmic size Pandora’s box of never-ending debate. While it is feasible that many of you might enjoy such a conversation, it is equally likely that you will walk away from the whole episode with a tangible sense that as much as science likes to think it knows a lot about space… it really doesn’t.

However hope is not lost! For amongst all the dull theoretical extrapolations and mind numbing confusion, there remain a number of facts that will challenge some of the ‘cast iron’ perceptions you have about the universe. As a starting point read on and discover 10 of the most mind boggling facts about space!

10. Water Pools In Space


In 2011 astronomers discovered a gigantic vapour cloud caught in the gravitational pull of a black hole deep within the universe, making it the largest discovery of water anywhere. According toUniverse Today, the cloud, known as a ‘reservoir’ in astronomical circles, is believed to be capable of holding all of the Earth’s oceans 140 trillion times over!

While the discovery of water in space is not headline news, it is the sheer volume of water discovered and the fact that the reservoir seems to be slightly younger than the big bang itself that has caught the attention of scientists. Matt Bradford from NASA has stated that, “[The discovery] is another demonstration that water is pervasive throughout the universe, even at the very earliest times.”

So if the Earth ever runs out of water, at least we know where we can find ourselves an intergalactic water pump. The only problem is how we would get there, as it currently resides 10 billion light years from Earth.

9. It Would Take 225 Million Years To Walk A Light Year

light year-space

It would take 225 million years to walk a light year. Don’t believe me? Well as all great mathematicians suggest, let us show our workings!

  1. One light year (the distance light travels in a year) is about 5.9 trillion miles.
  2. If you briskly walked 5.9 trillion miles at 20 minutes per mile constantly without any breaks, you would complete your light year stroll in 225 million years.

In other words if you started your walk just before the emergence of the dinosaurs you would be about to finish walking now!

On an interesting side note, according to Jessica Cheng in the September 2008 edition of ‘Popular Science’ magazine, the long trip would come with a unique set of problems. She estimates that in order to complete the journey you would need about 11.8 billion pairs of shoes! Not to mention the fact that you would be burning 80 calories per mile and would therefore need an average of 2 trillion power bars to fuel your body for the trip!

Cheng also goes on to suggest that after such a journey, you wouldn’t have got very far. In an astronomical sense 1 light year is the equivalent of you just about reaching the end of Earth’s garden path. The nearest star from Earth, Proxima Centauri, is a staggering 4.22 light years away.

8. Eros Asteroid Of Riches


In 1998 the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft passed close to the asteroid Eros and relayed back to Earth its findings. It discovered that Eros was a floating treasure chest of unprecedented riches. Due to its size, NASA has suggested that if Eros consists of 3% metal, like so many meteorites that fall to Earth, then it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Eros might indeed contain 1.8 billion metric tons of gold and other precious metals such as platinum.

According to Dr. David Whitehouse, then Science Editor for the BBC, in an article entitled, ‘Gold rush in space’, Eros is indeed a large but by no means the largest of asteroids. That being said he believes that since Eros is speculated to contain a multitude of rare elements, the asteroid has a total monetary worth of close to $20,000 bn. Of course it goes without saying that if Eros ever impacted the Earth, its priceless metal content and indeed monetary value will be of little consolation (or, for that matter, use) for what would most certainly be an extinct mankind.

7. There Are 1,397 Known Asteroids That Could End Mankind


In an attempt to prevent the dramatic scenes of movies such asArmageddon, NASA has its eyes fixed on the 1,397 asteroids in and around our solar system that could, upon impact with the Earth, bring about the end of the human race. You can rest assured that should anything larger than 350 feet in diameter come within 4.6 million miles of the Earth, NASA will be on critical alert.

The extent to which NASA is aware of potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs) is both impressive and frightening. Rather ominously NASA has released an orbit plan for each of the 1,397 known PHAs. Aside from looking like somebody’s overzealous attempt at getting to grips with Spirograph, the image does not fail to impress the severity of PHAs and the real and continual threat that they pose to mankind. As Dan Nosowitz suggests in the August 5th 2013 edition of the ‘Popular Science’ magazine, it is hard to believe that we have yet to be impacted by one of these ‘destruction max’ asteroids.

6. The International Space Station Travels At Five Miles A Second


According to CoolCosmos, a NASA education and outreach website, the International Space Station orbits the Earth at a speed of (roughly) 17,150 miles per hour! This equates to the station travelling five miles every second with its crew witnessing a sunrise every 92 minutes. To see the International Space Station in action you can log onto the following website and watch its orbit of the Earth live and in real time here.

5. There Are More Stars Than Words Spoken


According to Scientific American, there are more stars in the universe than words have been spoken by every human who has ever lived. As much as this sounds a gross exaggeration of fact, the true number of stars in the universe is probably a number so vast that it is beyond the comprehension of the human brain. For example, Nicola Willett of The Mars Society estimates that there are at least 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (70 sextillion x10 to the power of 22) stars in the universe. She goes on to suggest that the universe itself probably contains more than 100 billion galaxies, each likely to contain billions of stars. Don’t worry if this confuses you, as these are the sort of numbers that we will never truly begin to understand.

Our only certainty in the process of comprehending the total amount of stars in the universe is that we are likely to never know the true answer, as star counting is a process of hypothesising with a large, and a very large at that, margin of error. In other words, nobody has known, knows presently and will never likely know the true figure of the sum of all the stars in the universe.

4. The Moon Suffers From Moonquakes


When Clive. R. Neal, associate professor of civil engineering and geological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, and a team of 15 planetary scientists re-examined Apollo data from the 1970s, he concluded that ‘The moon is seismically active.’

Seismometers placed at the landing sites of the Apollo missionsbetween 1969 and 1972 radioed data back to Earth until they were taken offline in 1977. The results were surprising, suggesting that there are at least four types of moonquakes:

  1. Deep moonquakes that occur on average around 700km below the moon’s surface and are probably triggered by the Earth’s tidal forces.
  1. Usual vibrations and minor moonquakes as a result of meteorite impact.
  1. Thermal moonquakes caused by the Sun when illuminating and expanding the frigid crust on the moon’s surface following a two week deep-freeze lunar night.
  1. Shallow moonquakes that occur frequently at a depth of 20-30km below the moon’s surface.

In truth nobody is really certain what exactly causes moonquakes.Speculation is rife among scientists. All that is known is that unlike earthquakes, moonquakes last longer. This is because, unlike the earth, the moon’s crust is hard and uncompressible. Therefore a moonquake tends to vibrate the moon like a tuning fork, whereas the Earth has elements of compression (like water and minerals) that act like a sponge during an earthquake and disperse the tremors within a matter of minutes. On the moon, a moonquake has been known to last 10 minutes!

3. Planet HD189733b


The Hubble Telescope has identified a deep azure blue planet in distant space. The planet, called HD189733b, is a huge gas giant orbiting very close to its star. Its atmosphere is a hellish environment of 4,000mph (7,000kmph) winds and molten glass that rains sideways! The estimated temperature of this deep space ‘beast’ is a scorching 1,000 degrees Celsius!

The planet might outwardly look serene and earth-like, but its bluish hue is a result of silicate particles scattering blue light rather than any reflection of a serene tropical ocean. If mankind were to ever find itself in a situation similar to the movie Interstellar, this planet would be one of the most hostile environments in the known universe. Not that we would be able to reach it, as it currently resides 63 light years from Earth!

2. The Earth Has More Than One Moon


If you thought the Earth has only one moon, it might surprise you to discover that this is actually false. While the moon is indeed the only celestial body to observe a strict orbit of the Earth, there are in fact a number of other ‘near-Earth’ asteroids which follow the Earth as it orbits the Sun. These are called ‘co-orbitals’ and there are at least 6 known ‘co-orbitals’ caught in the Earth’s gravitational pull. However don’t think you can gaze into the night sky to find them, as most can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Of course you might agree with many astronomers and suggest that these co-orbitals are not technically moons. However, what is clear is that while they might not be moons in the traditional sense, they are far from your average asteroid.  Like the Earth they orbit the Sun in roughly a year and occasionally pass close enough to the Earth to exert a slight gravitational influence. In astronomical terms this means that the suggestion that they are in facts moons is all the more realistic.

Robert Jedicke, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii, has suggested that, “At any one time there are one or two 1 meter diameter asteroids in orbit around the Earth.” Perhaps when we think of the moon we should consider the possibility that rather than the Earth having one solitary moon in Luna, the Earth has in fact a number of fluctuating moons that come and go throughout the year!

1. There Are Less Than Nine Planets In Our Solar System


Despite what you were taught in your science lessons, our solar system has less than 9 planets. Don’t be fooled, you would be right in thinking that there were 9 planets 10 years ago but in recent years the International Astronomical Union has decided it would be a good idea to apply its own criteria of what constitutes a planet to our solar system.

The criteria stipulate that in order for something to be defined as a planet it must:

  1. Orbit the Sun
  2. Have enough mass to be round in shape (but doesn’t have to be perfectly spherical)
  3. Have cleared ‘their neighbourhood’ or immediate orbit.

The first planet to fail the criteria was Pluto in 2006 when it was demoted from a planet to a ‘dwarf planet.’ This is perhaps not surprising as there has been much debate since Pluto’s discovery about whether it is actually a planet. For years it was seen as an icy rock not too dissimilar to an oversized asteroid confined to the region of space at the very edge of the solar system. That makes 8 planets.

Space Fact Saturday

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