10 Enduring Space Mysteries That Have Their Secrets Revealed

10 Enduring Space Mysteries That Have Their Secrets Revealed

10 Enduring Space Mysteries That Have Their Secrets Revealed

The pages of astronomy books are full of ancient mysteries. Thanks to advances in technology, experts can now look back and solve some of the most gruesome space mysteries to date. From the sudden appearance of a “star” 900 years ago over China to the truth about the famous Wow signal, here are ten cosmic enigmas that have finally been solved.

Related: 10 of the first historical pictures taken from space

10 Iron meteorites missing from Antarctica

Some space mysteries exist on Earth. One such puzzle can be found in Antarctica. This icy corner of the world is where most meteorites are found. This abundance has nothing to do with location, but with color differences. Dark cosmic debris is easier to spot in the white expanse of this region than in places with forests or sand dunes.

Thousands of space rocks enter our atmosphere every year, so you’d think that every kind of meteorite could be found in Antarctica. It’s not like that. The snow-covered continent is strangely void of iron meteorites.

The mystery lasted for decades until 2016. That year, British researchers published a study that suggested that there are plenty of iron meteorites in Antarctica – they’re just well hidden. Their iron content ensures that these meteorites become hotter than other space rocks when they enter our atmosphere. Once they hit the ice or snow, they will burrow under the surface (really melt) and disappear from view completely. Antarctica probably has a treasure trove of iron-rich meteorites; we just can’t see them.[1]

9 There are no green comet tails

Astronomers have never imaged a comet with a green tail. This was strange because many comets develop glowing green heads as they fly closer to the Sun. What was stopping the paint from spreading to their tails? It is interesting that this question remained unsolved for 90 years.

Since the 1930s, researchers have suspected that dicarbon might explain the whole thing. Dicarbon is a chemical that forms when organic matter on a comet’s head reacts to sunlight, causing the green color. Unfortunately, sunlight also destroys dicarbon, which could explain why the chemical never survives long enough to reach the comet’s tail.

In 2021, this theory was proven in an incredible way. Scientists had to recreate the process, and it was no easy task. Dicarbon only exists in extreme places (like space), and is also a volatile chemical. For the first time in the world, they created dicarbon, and while it was inside a vacuum chamber, it was brought into contact with gas and lasers to simulate the conditions in space. The lasers, in particular, proved that solar radiation ripped apart the dicarbon before the comet’s tail could turn green.[2]

8 The Jovian Lightning Mystery

Ancient astronomers had theorized for centuries that the largest planet in the solar system had illumination, but this was not confirmed until 1979 when NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft flew past Jupiter. However, in addition to confirming an old suspicion, Voyager 1 also found that Jovian illumination only appeared near the planet’s poles. In comparison, Earth’s illumination is more common at the equator.

It took another flyby to figure out why the lighting bolts avoided Jupiter’s underbelly like the plague. In recent years, the Juno spacecraft buzzed by Jupiter and identified heat as the reason lightning never strikes the planet’s equator.

Earth receives most of the sun’s heat around the equator, which fuels warm air that rises—exactly what lightning is supposed to form. On Jupiter, the process is reversed in an unusual way. Once sunlight causes Jupiter’s equator to bake, the world’s upper atmosphere stabilizes in such a way that it suppresses the rising warm air. For this reason, lighting strikes freely at the poles where there is no atmospheric stability, and the heat from the interior of the planet pushes the hot air upwards.[3]

7 Strange Light Show

In 2022, the James Webb telescope sent a fantastic photo to Earth. It showed a bright light in the middle of several rings. Cutting through the rings were eight spikes of light that radiated from the center outwards, almost creating a spider web effect. When the bizarre but beautiful picture hit social media, people had one question: “What the hell is this?”

The researchers quickly determined that the spikes were a “defect” on the side of the telescope. It tended to produce such anomalies when photographing bright objects in space. Since the spikes were not straight, this left unusual concentric circles around the star.

A closer look revealed that the “light” came from two stars. They orbited each other in an eight-year cycle, and each time the stars approached each other and moved away again, that was when they produced dust and ejected another ring.[4]

6 The Glowing Blobs

In 2000, astronomers encountered a bizarre universe… thing. Billions of light years from Earth it floats like a blur. It was as big as a galaxy and it also shone like one. But here’s the mystery – the giant space bubble had no stars, only hydrogen. So what caused it to shine so brilliantly?

In all, about 30 spots were eventually discovered. However, it wasn’t until dozens of astronomers, countless telescopes and advanced simulations came together that their light source was discovered. Unexpectedly, the stars were involved – but in a very unusual way.

As it turns out, these mammoth orbs are star factories. Deep inside the blob, fresh stars are being produced at a rate 100 times faster than those born in our Milky Way galaxy. For some reason, nearby galaxies are also pouring star-forming materials into the chaos. But the real light comes from the moment when new stars are born. At that moment, the stars emit bright ultraviolet light, which scatters in the hydrogen gas, causing the spot to glow.[5]

5 A 900-year-old mystery

In 1181, Japanese and Chinese astronomers noticed a difference in the night sky. A new light appeared, shone as brightly as Saturn, and remained for six months. The description given by these early stargazers gave modern researchers ample reason to believe they were describing a supernova. This celestial explosion became quite famous in scientific circles, mostly because no one could find any trace of it.

In 2021, approximately 900 years after the mystery of the missing supernova began, the origin of the so-called “Chinese Visiting Star” was finally revealed. Ancient accounts state that the light appeared between the Chinese constellations of Huagai and Chuanshe. In this region were a star and a nebula thought to have formed when two white dwarf stars merged. Such an event is known to trigger supernovae, and the location, description of light, and age of the nebula match the events of 1181.[6]

4 That time when Betelgeuse blinked

Stargazers are very familiar with Orion. This star constellation is also known as “the hunter”, and Betelgeuse is the red supergiant that marks Orion’s eastern shoulder. The star is among the brightest in the night sky, so astronomers were quick to notice when it suddenly dimmed in September 2019. For a while, the dimming continued, and by February 2020, Betelgeuse had dimmed by an unprecedented 35 percent.

Although the star regained its former glory, the experts were at a loss. No one could explain why the red giant “blinked”. Putting their best guesses on the table, the researchers theorized that the dimming was the result of a cloud of dust or a drop in temperature. During the multinational effort, researchers reviewed observatory data and satellite imagery and realized both theories were correct.

Betelgeuse ejected a huge cloud of gas from its interior, but it wasn’t until the star’s photosphere began to cool that the gas condensed into dust. This dusty atmosphere temporarily obscured the star’s light. [7]

3 Photograph of the Lunar Fireball

In 1953, Dr. Leon Stuart of Oklahoma photographed an event on the moon. He believed that the huge fireball he caught was a plume of vaporized rock. If true, it would make him the first person to witness and document a lunar impact. It became known as the “Stuart Event,” but no one, not even astronauts or space probes, could find the crater.

Still, the photo proved that something had happened on the moon in 1953. In 2003, NASA researchers analyzed the image and calculated that the object would have left a fresh-looking crater up to 2 kilometers in diameter. Taking cues from the lunar landscape, they searched a roughly 22-mile (35-kilometer) grid using photos taken in 1994 by the Clementine spacecraft orbiting the moon.

Incredibly, the NASA team found Stuart Crater. It was smaller, measuring 0.93 miles (1.5 kilometers) in diameter, but it was fresh, had the right appearance, and was in the center of the famous photo. The size of the crater also matched the estimated energy of the impact, which would have been 35 times stronger than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.[8]

2 Impossible Twin Galaxies

No two galaxies are alike. With this rule in mind, scientists were delighted to discover identical twin galaxies in 2013. The pair even sat next to each other, making it immediately obvious that they were eerily similar. The unusual phenomenon became known as the Hamilton object.

Neither theory made sense until someone suggested, in 2015, that gravitational lensing might be responsible. This rare phenomenon is crazy. When large celestial bodies line up, they can actually bend light and space-time in such a way that when astronomers view the objects through telescopes, they appear closer than they really are. Very often they produce mirages themselves. The result? The illusion of two identical objects sitting next to each other.

When the researchers took a closer look at the setting that could cause the Hamiltonian object, they discovered that between Earth and the “twins” lies a massive cluster of galaxies. The latter causes a double effect, but in reality, the Hamiltonian object is a single spiral galaxy.[9]

1 The origin of the Wow signal

In 1977, a legendary mystery was born. Astronomer Jerry Ehman picked up radio waves from space that were unlike anything he’d ever seen before (or anyone else, for that matter). He wrote “Wow!” next to the printed signal, and the name is stuck. Even today, the Wow signal is touted as proof of extraterrestrial contact or, at the very least, an unsolved mystery. True, the origin was already revealed in 2017.

Researchers from St. Petersburg College suspected that comets might be to blame. Specifically, a pair called 266P/Christensen and 335P/Gibbs. Both were shrouded in clouds of hydrogen gas. This detail is important because hydrogen naturally emits 1420MHz. This was the same radio frequency that the “alien” signal was broadcasting.

The telescope that picked up the Vau signal was pointed at a specific group of stars in the constellation Sagittarius, and both comets were confirmed to be in the area at the time. A closer look also revealed that 266/P Christensen is likely the comet that sparked the 40-year-old mystery. When his radio signals were compared to those of the Vau signal, they matched.[10]

Jana Louise Smith

Jana earns as a freelance writer and author. She has written one book on the challenge and hundreds of articles. Jana likes to hunt for bizarre facts from science, nature and the human mind.

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