Much of what is known about space science is hard to fully understand, even for the scientists who study the field. Fortunately, there are many more understandable, and cooler facts about space that we can enjoy. These incredible space facts go a long way toward teaching us the complex interactions between gas, dust, gravity, stars, energy, and the galaxies that keep the Universe intact, at least the parts of it we can observe, measure, and quantify.
Therefore, to help us better understand some of the mechanisms at work in space, here are ten cool facts about space that are sure to leave you amazed.
1. Water, Water Everywhere!
Although the existence of water in deep space had been predicted for decades, astronomers were surprised to find out just how much of it there really is, or how widely it is distributed. By way of illustration, the amount of water vapor in a quasar discovered more than 12 billion light years away is 140 trillion times that of our own planet, and 4,000 times more than that contained in the whole Milky Way, where most of the water is frozen in ice.
2. Space Makes You Taller
Since there is no gravity in space to compress the spine through a person’s weight, some astronauts have been found to grow taller by as much as 2 inches (50 mm) while they are in space, and in a few cases, by as much as 3 inches (75 mm). However, when astronauts return to Earth, the increased gravity causes their full weight to once again compress their spines, which reduces their height to what it was before they left.
3. Strange Radio Signal From M55
One of the strangest, and most puzzling things to have ever come from space was a radio signal that came from the direction of M55, a globular star cluster in the Sagittarius constellation. The narrow-band signal that was detected by the Big Ear radio telescope in Delaware, and which was recorded by the operator Jerry R Erhman, on August 15th, 1977, lasted for 72 seconds and bore all the hallmarks of an extra-terrestrial, non-solar system origin.
Despite rigorous tests to determine its exact origin, and further tests to eliminate or confirm equipment malfunction(s), the origin of the Wow! Signal, as it was dubbed at the time, remains a mystery. All subsequent attempts to trace the origin of the signal, or to pick it up again have failed.
4. Space Has A Distinctive Smell
Space has a distinctive smell, and according to astronauts who had been on spacewalks, it strongly reminds them of seared beef steak, hot steel, and the fumes given off by welding processes. The smell of space seems to cling to spacesuits, tools, and equipment, and all astronauts who return to the ISS interior have reported it upon removing their helmets.
In attempts to identify the source of the smell, NASA engaged the services of Steven Pearce, a chemist, to recreate the smell for training purposes. Although the exact origin of the peculiar smell is still somewhat of a mystery, Pearce is of the opinion that it derives from ions that vibrate at extremely high energy levels.
5. Some Stars Are Cold
Although the existence of cool brown dwarf stars, which are stars in which the nuclear synthesis process has failed to “ignite,” have been confirmed, recent discoveries point to a class of stars that are cooler than the human body.
Brown dwarf stars, including the newly discovered class dubbed “Y-dwarfs,” lack the mass required to compress their cores to the point where nuclear fusion can begin, and as result, they only emit the heat and light gained during their formation. Over time, however, these failed stars cool down until they only emit infrared light, much like a barbecue fire that dies down. Eventually, the star cools down to the point where it emits no radiation of any kind, which is when it becomes almost impossible to find because it becomes invisible to most detection methods. That is why relatively few brown dwarf stars are known.
6. The Sun Is White, Not Yellow
Contrary to what millions of people believe, our Sun is almost pure white, and it only appears yellow to human vision because of the way the atmosphere interacts with the spectrum of optical light emitted by the Sun.
Due to the composition of Earth’s atmosphere, some of the visible light that reaches it is scattered, which is why the sky is blue. If blue and violet light from the Sun made it through the atmosphere without being scattered, the Sun would appear blue/violet to human vision. But because short-wave-length blue and violet light is scattered and absorbed by certain components of the atmosphere, the sky appears to be blue.
Similarly, because light with longer wavelengths such as yellow, orange, and red is not scattered by the atmosphere, we see only the yellow, red, and orange light from the sun that does make it through the atmosphere intact, hence, the sun appears to be yellow.
The color of stars also tells us their temperature, from cooler red stars such as Betelgeuse, all the way up to hotter blue stars like Rigel. Our white sun has a temperature of around 5,800 Kelvin, and is classified a G-type yellow dwarf, which is a misnomer as this sequence of stars can range in color from a cooler yellow to a hotter white.
7. Space Makes Cockroaches Grow Faster
According to reports by the Russian Novosti news agency, cockroaches that were conceived in conditions of zero gravity and elevated radiation levels on a Russian satellite grew faster and stronger quicker than a control group of cockroaches raised on Earth.
The exact mechanisms of the accelerated growth rates were not explained, but it is assumed that micro-gravity coupled with increased radiation may be the cause. Similar effects were observed on Earth after the Chornobyl disaster when earthworms were found to be growing faster, and several orders of magnitude bigger than worms that had not been exposed to vastly increased radiation levels.
8. Stellar Object Rotating 700 Times Per Second
Neutron stars, which are the highly compressed remains of stars that end their lives in supernova explosions, are perhaps the most extreme examples of the Conservation of Angular Momentum Law ever discovered as many of them have rates of rotation that exceed 600 revolutions per second.
When a massive star explodes, the remaining core is obliged to conserve its angular momentum, or rotation, and because the core is only a few tens of kilometers in diameter, and sometimes much smaller, its rotation increases by the difference between the original and current diameters, exactly like a ballerina that can speed up her rotation during a spin on her toes when she draws her arms in toward her body.
However, since supernova explosions are asymmetrical, the rate of rotation of the core can be accelerated to ridiculous rates, and the fastest rotating neutron star known, PSR J1748-2446, rotates at a speed of more than 700 times per second, which equates to a speed at its equator of 70 000 km /second, which approaches 25% of the speed of light.
9. Nobody Can Hear You Scream In Space
Since space is (almost) a vacuum, nobody can hear stars explode, or anything else for that matter. Sound waves need a medium through which to propagate, which is why sound travels further in water than it does through the atmosphere, water being denser than the atmosphere.
Some regions of space, such as those between galaxies are almost perfect vacuums and can contain as few as three of four molecules per cubic kilometer. Radio waves, with which astronauts communicate, on the other hand, do not need a medium.
10. Sun 99.8% Of Our Solar System’s Mass
Although the Sun’s average density is only 20% of that of water, there is so much of the Sun that it accounts for very nearly all of the mass in the solar system. By comparison, the Earth is nothing but a speck and could fit into the Sun close to 1 million times, a star that has 330,000 times the mass of our own planet. Jupiter accounts for around 80% of the remaining 0.2% of the solar system’s mass, with the rest taken up by the other planets, dust, asteroids, and everything else.