Space discoveries that will blow your mind
The size of the universe is hard to fathom, and it’s expanding even faster than scientists originally thought. While humans will never map out the entirety of space, that doesn’t stop them from exploring it. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been around since 1958. Japan, Russia, and France—just to name a few countries—all have space agencies dedicated to exploring the final frontier.
Since NASA’s inception in 1958, astronauts have landed on the moon, parked a robot-controlled rover on Mars, and discovered thousands of exoplanets—planets that orbit stars outside of this solar system. Scientists can even explore the 95% of invisible space comprised of dark energy, dark matter, and dark radiation. Each year on the first Friday in May, the United States observes National Space Day in honor of the remarkable achievements already made and those still to come in our continued exploration of space. To celebrate our many milestones in this arena, Stacker compiled a list of 30 mind-blowing space discoveries after searching news archives and reports from NASA. Click through to see what they’ve uncovered—from a super-Earth and sun twins to the first photograph of a black hole.
An expolanet with a mass almost three times that of Earth was discovered in 2017 by A. Suárez Mascareño and her team with the HARPS-N spectrograph on the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo off the coast of Spain. This "super-Earth" is located 21 light-years away and orbits its M dwarf star in only two weeks. Scientists have their eyes set on these common planet types as a possibility for life.
NASA's Dawn mission in 2015 found a single volcano-esque mountain near the equator of the dwarf planet Ceres. NASA reported that the mountain, named Ahuna Mons, likely formed as a cryovolcano that releases frigid, salty water sometimes mixed with mud instead of molten rock, like an Earth volcano.
Potentially habitable planet
In 2017, an exoplanet about the size of Earth, Ross 128b, was discovered by Xavier Bonfils of the Institute of Planetology and Astrophysics of Grenoble and the University of Grenoble Alpes in France. This could be the closest planet to our solar system that is potentially habitable.
Liquid-filled canyons on Titan
In 2013, NASA's Cassini spacecraft found deep canyons about a half-mile wide on Saturn's moon Titan. These Grand Canyon-like formations are filled with liquid hydrocarbon. This was the first time researchers found evidence of both liquid-filled channels and canyons on Titan.
Ultramassive black holes
Black holes are invisible parts of space created when a star dies. Their gravitational pull is so strong, they engulf both matter and light. NASA’s Chandra X-ray telescope recently found “ultramassive” black holes that are 10 times larger than originally thought and are growing faster than the stars in their respective galaxies. The findings came from astrophysicists at the University of Montreal and the Institute of Space Sciences in Spain, who looked at 72 galaxies that all had supermassive black holes in their center—which most galaxies have.
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Collision of neutron stars
Scientists captured two neutron stars crashing into each other in 2017. When a star runs out of energy, it collapses into itself resulting in either a neutron star or a black hole. The discovery revealed that these high-powered impacts not only produce gravitational waves that cause a ripple in space-time, but they result in heavy elements such as gold and platinum.
Tsunamis on Mars
NASA-funded research released in 2016 showed that shorelines located below the surface of Mars were created by two mega-tsunami events. The findings support the theory that the red planet once had an ocean underneath its desert surface.
In 2015, a team of scientists led by Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory in France reported that Comet Lovejoy left a trail of ethyl alcohol, the same thing found in booze. The team found evidence of 21 organic molecules, including a type of sugar. Finding organic materials in comets supports the theory that these celestial objects could have contained life-creating elements.
In 2018, planetary scientists reported that they had found evidence for “pebble accretion,” the theory that golf ball-sized clumps of space dust accumulated to create tiny planets called planetesimals during the early stages of planetary formation. Results were published from a team of scientists at the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.
Cosmic microwave background
The Big Bang theory holds the universe rapidly exploded into being 13.8 billion years ago. The cosmic microwave background (CMB), which dates back to about 400,000 years after the Big Bang, shows the heat left behind. Although the radiation is too cold for humans to see, it is visible on the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The CMB was found in 1965 by researchers at the Bell Telephone Laboratories, but in 2013, scientists used the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite to measure radiation to get the best picture possible of the birth of the universe.
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