The universe is constantly surprising us, it’s always decimating what we think we know about every aspect of the never ending abyss encircling us. Carl Sagan put it best “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known”, this sums it up. Whenever we go searching for proof of a particular concept or idea, something completely unrelated that we thought we understood gets turned upside down. This is the joy and wonder of space and it has bewildered and intrigued me since I was a child. The universe will of course contain some of the strangest co-incidences and occurrences you’ve ever seen, from unicorn-shaped galaxies and Mercury’s Mickey Mouse shaped craters to nebulae and shooting stars. Here we’re going to look at 6 of the strangest phenomena in the universe.
186 Year Old Tornado on Jupiter
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a high pressure storm on the enormous planet Jupiter that is said to be as bad as the worst hurricanes on Earth. It’s so large that you could fit three of our Earth inside it. The Voyager 1 in 1979 took amazing photographs of this phenomenon and with these and other photographs of Jupiter, they allowed scientists to see different colors in the clouds around the Great Red Spot suggesting the clouds swirl around the spot counter-clockwise at varying altitudes. The Great Red Spot had been observed from Earth for around 400 years as its large enough to be viewed by earth-based telescopes. Giovanni Domenico Cassini in 1665 is said to be have been the first to officially observe this marvel, obviously this is quite difficult to confirm but one things for certain, this ever decreasing powerhouse is dying off, becoming smaller and smaller over time, and yet is still one of the weirdest spectacles of the universe.
Largest Water Reservoir in the Universe
The largest and most distant reservoir of water in the universe ever detected was found in 2011. The water equates to 140 trillion times all the water in the Earth’s oceans. The water surrounds a quasar which contains a gigantic black hole called APM 08279+5255 – 20 billion times larger than the sun and is more than 12 billion light-years away. The quasar is powered by the huge black hole that slowly swallows a surrounding gas or dust filled disk producing huge amounts of energy. This quasar’s energy production equates to a thousand trillion suns. All the water vapour in the Milky Way is 4,000 times less than in this quasar. The water vapour surrounds the black hole in a gaseous encirclement reaching hundreds of light-years wide, a light-year being around six trillion miles. Although the gas is at -63°F (-53°C) and is 300 trillion times less dense than Earth’s atmosphere, it’s five times hotter and 10 to 100 times denser than what’s typical in galaxies like the Milky Way. Measurements of the vapour and of other molecules, such as carbon monoxide, say there’s enough gas to feed the black hole until it gets around six times larger but who knows what’ll happen to it by then.
Super Massive Black Hole Defies Science
The largest black hole in the universe was discovered in 2015, J0100+2802 inside the largest Quasar, with the highest luminosity of any known quasar. J0100+2802 is baffling astronomers as, at the mass of 12 billion suns and with the luminosity of 420 trillion suns, 7 times brighter than the previous brightest quasar, and forming only 900 million years after the Big Bang, it shouldn’t be anywhere near the size it is for its age. Its located 12.8 billion years away from Earth. Xiaohui Fan, an author of the study that discovered this phenomenon, has summarised its impressiveness perfectly; “How can a quasar so luminous, and a black hole so massive, form so early in the history of the universe, at an era soon after the earliest stars and galaxies have just emerged?” The significance of this finding cannot be underrated as it has made astronomers reassess their understanding of quasars and their formation. The Milky Way galaxy has a black hole with a mass of 4 million solar masses at its centre, the black hole powering this new quasar is 3,000 times heavier.
55 Cancri e, discovered in 2004, is a planet in the Milky Way that is at least one third diamond. 55 Cancri e is known as a super-Earth, with a radius twice as wide as Earth and a mass eight times greater. It orbits around its host star, 55 Cancri found about 40 light-years from Earth in the Cancer constellation, in just 18 hours, remember it takes Earth 365 days to orbit our Sun. Being so close to its host star, about 25 times closer than Mercury is to the Sun, the surface temperature reaches 9200°F (5,100°C), making it uninhabitable. The value of the planet has been theorized to be around $26.9 nonillion. A nonillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (30 zeros). To put this in perspective, if the Earth was covered in a nonillion $1 bills, the bills would create a layer 12 million miles thick.
A Big Cloud of Raspberry Flavoured Rum!
Sagittarius B2, a giant molecular cloud of gas and dust found about 390 light years from the centre of the Milky Way, contains huge amounts of ethyl formate. Ethyl formate, a chemical compound, is responsible for giving this behemoth the smell of raspberries and rum. Sagittarius B2 has a mass equating to 3 million times that of the sun and spans an area of around 150 light years. Temperatures in the cloud range from 80°F (27°C) to -451.8°F (-233.2°C). Don’t get too excited though as there are an abundance of other chemical compounds up there including propyl cyanide. This alcoholic wonder contains billions of litres of alcohol. Sagittarius B2’s composition was studied in Spain by astronomers using the IRAM radio telescope. The cloud actually contains enough ethyl alcohol to fill 400 trillion, trillion pints of beer. To consume that much, every person on earth would have to drink 300,000 pints every day for a billion years.
A Planet of Burning Ice
Gliese 436 b is a planet roughly the size of Neptune and was first discovered in 2004, found around 30 million light years from Earth and is about 20 times larger. It orbits only 4.3 million miles from its star and takes 2 days and 15.5 hours whereas the Earth orbits roughly 93 million miles from the Sun. Gliese 436 b has a minimum surface temperature of 475 °F (245°C). The water that exists on the planet, known as ice-X, is kept together by immense gravitational forces despite extraordinary temperatures, the substance is of course not conventional ice, its compressed water similar to the way diamonds are formed from carbon. These forces prevent water molecules from evaporating and escaping the planet, instead becoming tightly packed deep within.
This list is by far nowhere near long enough to cover every weird spectacle in the universe. There are planets completely made of ice, stars supernova’ing left right and center, and there’s even huge gaps in the universe that are unexplainable such as Bootes Void. Whether you’re a huge fan of space and science or just love the weird and wonderful, you definitely need to read up in this area. Every time I personally read something new about space, I just want to learn more, you can understand why astronomers spend so much time working or how some people can become completely obsessed. Regardless of whether you believe in an almighty creator or the random explosive power of the big bang as the start of this big beautiful universe, you have to agree that it really is mind-blowing and the creator needs commending.