Scientists and astronomers spend all day, every day, poring over data in search of answers to the universe’s myriad questions, but they’ll be the first to admit that outer space is really, really hard—if not entirely impossible, at least for our mortal minds—to figure out.
So given that even experts don’t exactly know what’s going on in the great beyond, it’s only natural that us earth-faring folk would have some burning questions. Herein, you’ll find the most mind-numbingly confounding. So strap in, and get ready for cognitive blastoff in three….two… one! space science and science of universe
Just how big is the universe?
For those who slept through astronomy, here’s a refresher: Our sun, a star, is surrounded by nine-ish (more on that later) planets. These star-planet clusters are called solar systems. Clusters of solar systems are called galaxies. The Milky Way—that’s the galaxy we’re in—is widely believed to have about 200 billion solar systems. Researchers have pegged the observable universe—that’s what we can tangibly see—at about 150 billion galaxies. Honestly, though, it could go on, and on, and on, and on, and, well, you get the point. space science and science of universe
In fact, a team of researchers at Oxford recently deployed a model that suggests the universe is at least 250 times larger than that. To put that the resulting figure in context, that’s more zeroes than we can get away with typing without crashing your web browser. And that’s just galaxies. Thinking about how that number applies to solar systems, let alone planets, is enough to melt anyone’s brain. space science and science of universe
What’s “space roar” sound like?
It turns out that in space, you can hear something scream, or at least “roar.” Researchers have detected a cacophony of radio signals that can make it hard to make out other signals being sent through space (though it would be impossible to hear with the human ear). Dale Fixsen, a University of Maryland research scientist, told Mental Floss that there are several theories for what causes this, from the possibility that the roar is coming “from the earliest stars” to “radio galaxies,” but these are, after all, just theories space science and science of universe
How do stars explode?
When stars run out of fuel, they go out with a bang, exploding in massive blast known as a supernova. But while research and technology such as NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array have illuminated much about the process, it still remains something of a mystery. space science and science of universe
“Stars are spherical balls of gas, and so you might think that when they end their lives and explode, that explosion would look like a uniform ball expanding out with great power,” said Fiona Harrison, the principal investigator of NuSTAR at Caltech, upon announcing the findings in 2014. “Our new results show how the explosion’s heart, or engine, is distorted, possibly because the inner regions literally slosh around before detonating.” space science and science of universe