Bright Guy

Cool facts on just about everything

Space


  1. NASA's Messenger spacecraft found a valley on planet Mercury that's 1000 km long, 500 km wide with sides that are up to 3 km high!  It was likely created as Mercury cooled, causing the planet's crust to shrink and contract.  This process suggests that Mercury is still warm inside which is counter to previous understanding.
  2. PSO J318.5-22 is the obscure name for a rogue planet about 80 light-years away.  It's larger and more massive than Jupiter.  Its surface temperature is estimated to be about 800 C.  The planet also has clouds; but due to the extreme temperatures, the clouds are made up of silicates and perhaps molten iron.
  3.  The solar system likely has a ninth planet!  Seriously.  The thought of planets beyond Neptune has been around for a while, but now two researchers have announced evidence that a body nearly the size of Neptune that orbits the sun in a highly elliptical orbit every 15,000 years (red ellipse pictured).   Their math suggests there's only a 1:15000 chance that there is not a celestial body out there.  This planet would be quite distant.  Even at its closest point, it's still 7x further than Neptune from the sun (about 200 AUs).  Ironically one of the co-researchers was responsible for discovering Eris in 2005 which ultimately led to the downgrading of Pluto to a dwarf planet because of what Eris revealed about the number of Pluto-sized planets out there.  They developed their theory in 2003 when Sedna was discovered with its highly irregular orbit.  As more bodies were added, the combination of their orbits yields a formation that demonstrates that some large body must be contributing to it.  The formal search is underway using the Subaru telescope in Hawaii.
  4. A triple star system HD 131399 was discovered 340 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Centaurus.  The planet, four times the mass of Jupiter, with an orbit double Pluto's has two smaller stars that orbit one another with a big brother star.

  5. Recent observations of Comet Lovejoy as it passed the sun noted molecules including water, oxygen, sulphur and hydrocarbons, which is normal.  Additionally, however, they noted sugar and alcohol!  It was releasing ethyl alcohol at a rate of 500 bottles of wine per second.
  6. Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, could support life!  Huge plumes that went into the upper atmosphere are found to be molecular hydrogen has been found that could feed microbes, similar to Earth.  The only likely source are hydrothermal reactions between hot rocks and the water in the moon's oceans.  The oceans are likely liquid due to the gravitational influence of Saturn.
  7. Pictures from the New Horizons' probe visiting Pluto have revealed that it has a thin nitrogen atmosphere and has weather that changes (similar to Earth).  There also appear to be glaciers that appear to flow into a sea.
  8. The  Cassini probe orbiting Saturn noted that Enceladus, it's six largest moon (about 500 km across) is responsible for the formation of Saturn's E Ring, its widest and outermost ring.  About 100 geysers spew about 200 kg of material per second into space.
  9. The surface area of Mars is exactly the same as the land surface area of Earth.
  10. Life may have come from Mars!  Evidence suggests that its geology facilitated the growth of organic molecules.  The "pre-biotic soup" on Earth would have formed tar; RNA (ribonucleic acid) must be coaxed together with "templating" atoms but these are dissolved in oceans instead of the abundant supply found on the surface of Mars.  In addition, the molybdenum and boron required for RNA were extremely rare on Earth 3-billion years ago.  The molybdenum also needed to be oxidised.  While Earth had little oxygen at the time, Mars did.
  11. An exoplanet (around star J1407) discovered has a ring system 200x larger than that around Saturn!  There are about 30, each tens of millions of kilometres in a diameter!  If they were around Saturn they'd be many times larger than a full moon as seen from Earth (picture right).The planet itself is believed to be the size of Jupiter, but 10 to 40x more massive.
  12. Neil Armstrong declared:  "That's one small step for a man..." versus "That's one small step for man..."  Research examining speech patterns in Ohio (where he was from) found incidences where individuals say "fora" when saying "for a" which can be heard in his original speech.
  13. Astronomers discovered a cluster of quasars stretching four billion light-years across!  By comparison, the Milky Way is only a hundred thousand light-years across.  What's interesting is current astrophysical models show that the upper limit is only 1.2 billion light-years.  Anything larger shouldn't exist.
  14. The Boomerang Nebula with spinning gases at 500,000 km/h is the coldest naturally observed temperature at 1 K (pictured).
  15. Neptune was mathematically predicted before it was visually observed!  Using math tables predicting the orbits of various planets, Alexis Bouvard found something was influencing Uranus' orbit justifying the hypothesis for an eighth planet.  Though Galileo had observed it earlier, he described it as a fixed star, and not a planet.

  16. The Hubble and Spitzer telescopes found the oldest galaxy cluster!  MACS0647-JD is 600 light-years wide and is 13.3 billion light years from Earth (therefore 13.3 billion years old)!  Scientists suspect this galaxy was created about 420 million years after the Big Bang.  Scientists utilised gravitational lensing to visualise this very small object.  By looking at a significantly larger galaxy in front of the object in question; the smaller galaxy's light can be pulled and enhanced making it brighter.  The study will be published here in December 2012.
  17. A NASA spacecraft discovered a tenuous atmosphere of oxygen on Dione, one of Saturn's moons. Radiation from Saturn and Jupiter is believed to influence the ice of their moons splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen.
  18. The first woman (and civilian) in space was Valentina Tereshkova in June 1963; a cosmonaut from the USSR.  The first American woman didn't get into orbit until 1983!
  19. Finger-like features noted on Mars in the late summer months and early winter suggests the flow of water! The "water" is believed to be about 5% water with the remainder being salt (if it were pure water it would have sublimated at this point). While evidence of historical water has been found, this is the first to suggest that water is currently flowing on Mars (as confirmed by NASA later).  Other ice deposits have been found with one having similar volume to Lake Superior!

  20. NASA's Kepler telescope found a planet orbiting two stars.  Scientists have indicated that it likely resembles the planet Tatooine from Star Wars. The planet is a cold gas giant and is located about 200 light-years from Earth.  The two suns are 69% and 20% the mass of our sun.  The planet averages -73C to -101C, orbits every 229 days, and lies about 104 million km (about the same orbit as Venus).
  21. Europa, Jupiter's smallest Galilean satellite, is composed mostly of ice making it one of the brightest and smoothest objects in the solar system.  Scientists believe that the liquid ocean below could harbour life.

  22. The Buran spacecraft was a shuttle designed by the USSR.  It completed one unmanned spaceflight before being cancelled in 1993.  The vehicle was later destroyed in 2002 when its hanger fell into disrepair and collapsed. It was slightly larger than the American Space Shuttle, used a different fuel, and could operate manually or automatically (automatic control was only added to the Space Shuttle in STS-121).
  23. Venus is the only planet in our solar system that has a clockwise orbit.
  24. An exotic planet has been found to be made of diamond!  It's about 4000 light-years away orbiting a pulsar every 2 hours.  It's slightly more massive than Jupiter and is 20x denser.  Another planet, twice the size of Earth (in the Cancer constellation) is also made of diamond.  55 Cancri e is so rich in carbon that it holds 3 times our planet's mass in diamonds!  It's only 40 light-years and can be seen with the naked eye.
  25. Vanguard 1 has been in space longer than any other man-made object!  Launched in 1964, it was also the first satellite to be solar powered.
  26. Rhea, Saturn's second largest moon, is about 25% rock and 75% water ice.  It is believed to be the only moon in the solar system to have a ring system.  Only confirmed with infrared observation, direct observation has yet to reveal any such evidence, research is ongoing.
  27. While Star Trek did not invent them; the following 10 items were popularised on the original series:
    1. The personal computer
    2. The tablet computer
    3. Portable memory (e.g. flash-drives)
    4. Biometrics (i.e. using statistics to analyse personal characteristics)
    5. Wireless earpieces (e.g. Bluetooth)
    6. Remote location finding (e.g. GPS)
    7. Automatic sliding doors
    8. Tricorder (e.g. PDA)
    9. Large viewing screen
    10. Communicator (e.g. cell phone)
  28. Using Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3, scientists have calculated that the universe is expanding by 73.8 km/s/megaparsec reinforcing the theory of the increasing rate of universal expansion.  A parsec is a unit of distance in space; 1 parsec = 31 trillion km; 1 megaparsec = 1 million parsecs.
  29. Venus is the only volcanically active planet in the solar system (besides Earth of course).
  30. Neutron stars are composed almost entirely of neutrons (formed after a supernova).  They are typically 1.35 to 2.1 times heavier than the sun squeezed into a radius of about 12 km (the sun is 60,000 times larger than that)!  To escape, you'd need to travel 1/3 the speed of light.  One teaspoon (5 ml) of material weighs 900 times more than the Great Pyramid of Giza!
  31. Bacteria survived 1.5 years on the outside of the International Space Station!  Scientists hope this can lead to further development of life-support systems.  These bacteria could be used for bio-mining to extract specific minerals from rocks.
  32. Sudbury, Canada became famous when it was visited by NASA scientists and astronauts to test the lunar rover to be used for the Apollo moon landing missions.  They travelled to the mining community because of its 'moonscape', caused by years of roast-bed mining.  The resulting acid rain killed the plants which eroded the land and stained the rock black.  Over the past 30 years, however, re-greening efforts have significantly improved the community's flora. 
  33. The first time a U.S. Space Shuttle landed outside of the US was when the Space Shuttle Enterprise landed at Canadian Forces Base Goose Bay in Labrador in 1983.  The Boeing 747 had to refuel before continuing on to Europe.

  34. The first two space shuttle launches had the fuel tank painted white to protect the tank from UV light.  It was later discovered not to be a problem, they left the tank unpainted, reducing weight by about 600 lbs.

  35. The Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxies are predicted to collide in 4 billion years.  Our solar system has a 50% chance of being 3x further from the Milky Way's core and a 12% chance that our solar system is completely ejected from the galaxy.
  36. NASA's space suits are made up of 18,000 different parts and 11 different layers!  Currently, there are two in use, the Russian Orlan space suit and the U.S. Extravehicular Mobility Unit.
  37. The moon is shrinking as evidenced by 'shrinking marks'!  The crust appears to be buckling due to a cooling molten core.  It's believed to have shrunk 600 ft in diameter in the last billion years.

  38. Shalbatana Vallis is an ancient river valley on Mars and the first definitive evidence of a Martian shoreline.  The delta suggests a large, long-lived lake, suggesting that lakes may have been around for much longer than previously thought.
  39. The north polar vortex of Saturn is a consistent hexagonal pattern.  Each side is 13,800 km long (larger than Earth's diameter).  The cause is unknown.  It's hypothesised that it's a standing wave or perhaps a novel aurora.  Similar shapes have been reproduced in a laboratory setting.

  40. JAXA (the Japanese Space Agency) has developed a 650 sq. ft. solar sail capable of moving using the photons from the Sun.  The material, about the diameter of a red blood cell, causes photons to bounce off moving the sail forward.  They have integrated solar cells into the sail so that it can simultaneously generate electricity.  It's designed for long missions.
  41. An instrument on the Pioneer Orbiter probe that was sent to Venus in 1978 required a 13.5 carat diamond!  They needed a sturdy window (about 2 pennies wide) that would transparent to infrared radiation.
  42. Opportunity, a Mars exploration rover, has been operating on Mars since January 2004; it was only expected to last 90 Martian sols (days).  It has an "arthritic" robot arm, its solar panels are losing efficiency, and it drives backwards to save wear on its locomotion system; not to mention its glitchy flash memory.  It recently surpassed the moon rover to be the longest driven NASA vehicle on a world other than Earth.

  43. The computers used on the Apollo spacecraft (that went to the moon) had less memory than today's conventional calculator!
  44. Harrison Schmitt was the only Apollo astronaut who was not a member of the United States Armed Forces.  He was the only 'scientist' as well, having a PhD in geology.  He was the last man to walk on the moon.
  45. In 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli observed what he described as 'canals' on Mars.  These canals were later proven to be an optical illusion caused by a reflection of ocular veins in the lens of the telescope.
  46. The Moon's gravity is 1/4 that of the Earth.
  47. Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the solar system rising 25 km in height (3x higher than Mt. Everest) and stretching 550 km.  It's surrounded by cliffs that are 6 km high!  Unlike the Earth, which has tectonic plates, Martian volcanoes would have remained immobile over a hot-spot and, as a result, grow continuously.

  48. Mapping of the Earth's magnetic field by ESA's Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer satellite has revealed that the Earth's gravity is shaped more like a potato than a sphere.  This new research allows scientists to improve their understanding of the Earth's internal structure and could be used to help predict events such as Earthquakes.  Mercury, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all have magnetic fields.
  49. Mimas, one of Saturn's moons, is the smallest known astronomical body to have its rounded shape due to self-gravitation.  Its impact crater (which is 130 km across) is it's most unique feature, resembling the 'Death Star' from Star Wars.  If it was to Earth's scale, it would have been larger than Canada.  Fractures can be observed on the opposite side of the moon suggesting it nearly shattered from the impact.  Photographs with a heat sensitive camera reveal a 'Pac Man' image.

  50. Mariner 10, launched in 1973 to fly by Venus and Mercury, was the first probe to use the gravitational slingshot manoeuvre, using Venus to get to Mercury.
  51. One of the hills in the region of Cydonia on Mars resembles a face. First taken in 1976 by Viking 1, it was simply a trick of Martian geology and the sun.
  52. A solar storm in 1989 was so powerful that it caused power outages throughout Quebec and Scandinavia and auroras as far south as Texas.  The long transmission lines over the thick rock of the Canadian Shield were blamed for causing a discharge of electricity into the power grid overloading the system.
  53. The effectiveness of drugs declines in space meaning medications would need to be altered to last any extended missions in space.  It is believed this is due to the elevated radiation levels observed in space.
  54. The Chicxulub crater is the largest confirmed asteroid impact crater on Earth.  Hitting the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, it is believed to have caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.  The asteroid was likely 10 km across causing mega-tsunamis 1000s of feet high and a cloud of superheated dust, ash and steam.
  55. The Earth has two moons!?  Not exactly, but it does have a quasi-satellite in the form of a 5 km in diameter 3757 Cruithne.  Its orbit is similar to that of the Earth in length (264 days) and has 1:1 orbital resonance.
  56. Venus has long been considered Earth's sister, but beyond similarities in size, the two are very different.  Venus has the densest atmosphere of the terrestrial planets in the solar system.  The atmosphere is 92x that of the Earth (like being at a depth of 1 km under Earth's oceans) and is 96.5% CO2 (Earth's is about 0.039% CO2).
  57. Ontario Lacus is a methane/ethane/propane lake near Titan's (one of Saturn's moons) south pole.  It's only slightly smaller than Lake Ontario in North America.

  58. Saturn would float if it were placed in water.
  59. The Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space.  As a wall, constructed of natural materials, following the contours of the landscape and, being a wall, is not very wide; it is impossible to see.  However, astronauts identified that they can see the Great Pyramids of Giza as they are large, exposed and their shadows are cast upon the desert.
  60. The combined millage of all NASA shuttles is 826.7 million km, enough to reach the planet Jupiter!

  61. 81.5 moons equal 1 Earth.
  62. Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov was the first human to conduct a spacewalk.  In 1965, the cosmonaut spent 12 mins in space.  The vacuum of space inflated his suit to the point that he could not squeeze back into the airlock!  He was forced to bleed off some of his suit's pressure through a valve.  His efforts resulted in hyperthermia.  He described how the "sweat sloshed in my boots". 
  63. Following NASA's LCROSS experiment, whereby a probe was purposely crashed into the moon to examine the soil, the floor of the permanently-shadowed crater near the moon's south pole was found to contain a billion gallons of water ice (enough for 1500 Olympic-sized swimming pools)!
  64. Valles Marineris is a valley that's larger than any of the Earth's canyons and stretches 4000 km in length, 200 km in width and 7 km in depth.
  65. If the Sun was at the top of your head, and Pluto was at your feet, then Uranus ends up in the right spot!
  66. Saturn's moon Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a fully developed atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and hydrogen.  The moon experiences climate with rivers, lakes and seas of methane or ethane and, in addition to the Earth, is the only other celestial body where it rains.  Titan is also the first landing site of any probe outside of the inner solar system. 
  67. Due to the rotation of the Earth, it bulges in the middle by about 43 km (0.3% of a difference in diameter).  This is observed to some degree on all the planets, Jupiter is 7% larger and Saturn is 11% larger!
  68. The largest black hole known is 10 billion times the size and is 9.7 billion times the mass of our sun!  It's about 300 million light years away and weighs!

  69. Uranus has a unique orbit, in that it is almost 90 degrees.  This means that instead of turning on its axis, it appears to role around the sun.  It was initially named "George" after King George.
  70. Jupiter's moon Ganymede is the largest satellite in the solar system weighing more than the planet Mercury!  It has a surface of rock and ice with a saltwater ocean believed to be 200 km below the surface.  It's the only moon known to possess a magnetosphere.
  71. Saturn's rings are 300,000 km across and only a few meters wide.  If it was represented by a piece of paper it would be a sheet 1.5 km across!
  72. Jupiter's moon Io has a massive ocean of magma 30-50 km below its surface.  With a temperature of 1,200 C, it produces 100x more lava than the Earth (it is the only other object in our solar system that's volcanically active).  About 400 active volcanoes spew plumes of sulphur and sulphur dioxide as high as 500 km!
  73. The dwarf-planet Pluto forms a unique binary planetary system with its largest moon, Charon.  The barycentre of their orbit is outside of Pluto (one of the reasons Pluto is now a dwarf planet).  In 2005, two other moons were discovered orbiting Pluto, Nix and Hydra.  In 2011, a zoomed in version of the same picture yielded a fourth moon, Kerberos and in 2012, a fifth moon was found dubbed Styx.  Charon is about 1200 km across, Nix and Hydra are 30 and 115 km across, Kerberos is only 10-30 km across and Styx is 7-21 km in diameter.
  74. Voyager 1, a space probe launched in 1977, is still in operation and left the solar system in September of 2013.  Signals from the probe take 16 hours travelling at the speed of light to reach the Earth.  They're also very faint being about 20 billion times weaker than the power of a digital watch battery!  It's the most distant human-made object in space having travelled 19 billion km from the Sun!  It has a computer with only 68 kb of computer memory (a 16 GB iPod has over 16,384,000 kb of storage [16 gb]).  Pictured: Earth, taken by Voyager I in 1990.

  75. The coldest known star is a 'brown dwarf' named CFBDSIR 1458+10B.  These stars lack the mass necessary to trigger nuclear reactions to make the stars shine.  This one is 75 light-years from Earth and is only about 100 degrees Celsius.  Pictured is the double cluster with the star in question in the upper right.
  76. China has launched the Tiangong-1 space lab; a 10.5 m cylindrical module which includes exercise equipment and two sleep stations.  The station will be completed over the next 10 years.

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