Top 10 Facts about Space

  Top 10 Facts about Space

A reality we have come to accept is that relative to us almost everything in the universe is incomprehensibly distant.  Presuming we're not alone, even if interstellar communication could be established it would still take years, decades, centuries, or more for information to be transceived.  The universe may be crowded with isolated specks of life, all willing was yet unable to overcome the socially impeding physical laws of the universe.  But not every region of the universe is equally dispersed.   

1-Globular clusters

A good example of this is globular clusters,  abnormally dense spherical regions of stars.  Each cluster can contain many hundreds of thousands of stars and the Milky Way is currently orbited by more than a hundred such clusters.  While the closest star to the Sun is over  4 light-years away, a typical distance between stars in a globular cluster is only 1 light-year.  Near the center, stars may only be separated by a few astronomical units (AU) which are the distance between the Earth and the Sun.  Intelligent beings inhabiting a planet orbiting a star inside a globular cluster may find interspecies and interstellar communication to be the norm.  The night sky would be illuminated by thousands of nearby stars.  This is one of the reasons why in 1974, a  radio message encoded with information about humanity and Earth was beamed towards the globular cluster known as Messier 13.  But given that M13 is 25,000 light-years distant, we  have to wait for another 50,000 years until we don't receive a reply.  However, some argue that the close proximity of the stars may inhibit stable planetary orbits, thus rendering the development of life improbable.  As of the making of this list, only one exoplanet has been detected inside a globular cluster. 
2- Morgan–Keenan

Much like all other celestial orbs of stuff,  stars are classified according to various classification systems.  The current system is known as the Morgan–Keenan classification and categorizes stars based on their temperature and luminosity.  A famous representation of this system is  the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram.  It charts the properties of some 23,000 stars with luminosity on the vertical axis and temperature on the horizontal.  The Sun would land here, making it a fairly  average G-type main sequence star.  At the very top, we find hypergiants and by the volume, they are the largest stars in the universe.  At the bottom, we find white dwarf stars, incredibly dense but voluminously small.  In some 5 billion years the Sun will first expand into a red giant before condensing back into a white dwarf.  But what happens next?  Are these Caucasian Tolkien creations doomed to roam the galaxy for all eternity?  Well, not for eternity but almost.  Once the Sun has evolved into a white dwarf it will begin to cool down.  This cooling process will continue for more than a quadrillion years.  To put that in perspective, I can't put that number in perspective.  Though some stars may actually dim the lights in just a few trillion years so stay tuned for that.  After an indeterminate and incomprehensible amount of time, the Sun will eventually devolve into a black dwarf.  A star that emits no light nor heat.  Just a dense and dark gravitational mass.  Perhaps still orbited by equally dark and lifeless planets.  But as the universe is only 13.8 billion years young, black dwarfs are purely theoretical and do not yet exist but even if they did,  they would be extremely difficult to detect.

When talking about the severely a deficient  budget of NASA it is often compared to the  vastly superior budget of the US military.  US military spending frequently exceed 50%  of the total discretionary spending of the  federal government while NASA has been hovering  around 1.5% for the past couple of years.  If you're a space enthusiast and you ever  find yourself in a situation  where you need to fake some tears,  just picture this graph.  Works every time.  I don't know if the US military needs $600  billion dollars every year.  Perhaps they do.  Perhaps that money is put to good use and every dollar is essential.  However, I do know that, if they wanted to,  they could build two Hubble telescopes just for fun.  Because they did.  In June of 2012, NASA announced that they had been given two space telescopes by the US intelligence agency known as the   National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).  The NRO primarily builds and operates spy satellites for the US government and while the two optical telescopes were built with the intention of observing the Earth they could easily be repurposed for astronomical observations.  These two pristine telescopes have been collecting dust since the millennium shift and are in the same class as the Hubble Space Telescope.  But even though NASA avoids the cost of building  two Hubble-equivalent telescopes they still  have to pay for various instruments and electronics  as well as the launch of the rocket so it  will get quite expensive regardless.  And with such a minuscule budget this means  that the telescopes will continue to collect  dust for quite some time.  If everything goes according to plan one of  the telescopes may be launched into orbit by 2024.  But given that this is NASA we're talking  about a good rule of thumb is to only trust  their estimations when it's about celestial mechanics.

 4- Vulcan plate

In the Star Trek universe, there's a planet called Vulcan which, logically, is the home of Vulcans.  However, prior to the conceptualization of  this fictional alien species and their homeworld,  there was a very real astronomical  search for a hypothetical planet called Vulcan.  In previous episodes, I've talked about the  French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier and his discovery of the planet Neptune.  Well, after his discovery of Neptune in 1846  Le Verrier decided to tackle the puzzling  discrepancy between the observed and theoretical  motion of the inner-most planet Mercury.  After studying the planet for over a decade,  he published a paper in which he hypothesized  that Mercury's anomalous orbit was caused by one or multiple undetected celestial bodies between the Sun and Mercury.  Then in late 1859, an amateur astronomer claimed to have observed the transit of this hypothetical planet.  Le Verrier was now convinced of the planet's existence and subsequently announced its discovery in early 1860.  As news of the sighting spread across the globe this Sun-grazing planet was aptly named  Vulcan because in Roman mythology Vulcan is the god of fire.  While many doubted the existence of Vulcan,  Le Verrier's previous discovery of Neptune lent credence to his claim and sporadic sightings of intramercurial planets would continue throughout the 1800s.  But as no one could seem to provide any concrete evidence of Vulcan's existence, more and more began to question the validity of these sightings.  Then in 1915, Albert Einstein published the theory of relativity which perfectly explained the motions of Mercury and consequently eliminated the possibility of an intramercurial planet.  The supposed sightings had likely been confused with comets, sunspots, Vulcan starships, or other celestial phenomena.  As for Le Verrier, he died in 1877 still convinced of having discovered a planet named Vulcan.
5-Space  Shuttle  

If you've ever seen the launch of a Space  Shuttle you'll know that an iconic component  of the launch vehicle was the enormous rust-colored fuel tank.  But the external fuel tanks attached to the two initial Shuttle flights,  known as STS-1 and STS-2,  featured a more consistent white coating.  It would be easy to assume that this was a  mere aesthetic decision but it was actually intended to protect the tanks against ultraviolet light.  Once this "white privilege" was deemed unnecessary,  future tanks were simply left unpainted.  This also had the added benefit of shaving  off some 270 kg.  That's 270 kg of paint.  Sure, the tanks may have weighed 35 tonnes  but given that each mission cost about $450,000,000,  or some $18,000/kg, they saved nearly $5,000,000  by not "whitewashing" those fuel tanks.  Well, I guess they did "whitewash" the tanks given that they washed off the white paint.  So they "whitewashed" the tanks by needlessly making them white only to white-wash the tanks by reverting back to their non-white state.  Or perhaps I should just avoid anthropomorphizing the painting practices of fuel tanks.
 6-Venera 14 

In 1981, the Soviet Union launched a probe named Venera 14.  The probe was headed for Venus and its mission was to land on the Venusian surface to take some photographs and to gather data.  In 1982 it made a successful descent and this is one of the photos it managed to relay back to Earth before it succumbed to the extreme  Venusian climate.  Before any photographs could be taken however,  the system would automatically eject the lens cap protecting the lens of the camera.  An ejected lens cap can be seen resting on the ground in this photo taken by a preceding identical probe named Venera 13.  But in the Venera 14 photo, the ejected lens cap landed here.  The precise location at which this spring-loaded metal arm was intended to strike the ground to measure the compressibility of the soil.  Instead, Soviet scientists back on Earth received data on the compressibility of a lens cap. 


If disaster strikes and astronauts and cosmonauts  aboard the International Space Station should  be forced to make an emergency evacuation, they  would have to board one of the two Russian made  Soyuz capsules, each with a capacity  of three, and descend back to Earth.  All crew members are trained for these circumstances  so it shouldn't be much of an issue but one  problem with returning home after an extended  stay on the ISS is that the human body requires  time to readjust to Earth's gravity.  If the capsule should happen to land in a  difficult to reach location, the crew will  have no choice but to wait until further assistance  arrives or till their bodies will allow them  to seek help by their own accord.  First of all, the crew will likely find it difficult   to stand and walk for at least a couple of days.  This is astronaut Scott Kelly after spending a year  in space and returning to Earth in March of 2016.  SCOTT KELLY:  I feel like Jar Jar Binks.  Crew members may also lapse in and out of consciousness for short periods of time as the circulatory system would struggle to provide an even flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain.  A day after returning home in 2006, astronaut  Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper collapsed twice while addressing a crowd for this exact reason.  As a direct result of this incident,  astronauts attending conferences shortly after returning from space are now required to sit.  Now, if you should ever find yourself in the vicinity of an emergency landed Soyuz capsule,  as one does,  you'll actually find instructions printed on the side of the craft on how to open the hatch and assist the crew inside.

8-Before adventure 
In 1959, before any human had yet to venture  out into space, officials at NASA discussed  whether to label such individuals as   astronauts or cosmonauts.  Both terms are derivatives of Ancient Greek  and the suffix -not initially meant sailor.  The prefix Castro- means star while cosmo-  means universe.  So astronaut translates into star-sailor while  cosmonaut translates into universe-sailor.  Even though cosmonaut would be a more accurate  description of this profession, astronaut emerged as the term most favored by Americans.  But once the Soviet space agency sent the  first human into space, they chose to use  a a term that translates into cosmonaut and  due to the competitive nature of the space race,  neither country was prepared to adopt  the terminology used by the other.  So instead of Soviet astronaut or American cosmonaut, the Soviet term was Anglicized while the American term was Cyrillicized.  Another reason is that both astronaut and cosmonaut are titles of a profession and not direct synonyms for any person who ventures into space.  Thus, the agency responsible for sending people into space is also responsible for titling that profession.  And while other such titles do exist, such as spationaut for French,  taikonaut for Chinese, and vyomanaut for Indians, an astronaut is by far the most common.  Except when in reference to Russian cosmonauts. 

 9-tiny copper   

In the early 1960s, the US military launched some 480,000,000 tiny copper needles into orbit.  This was done in the belief that this orbital ring of needles could serve as an artificial ionosphere facilitating military communications by reflecting radio signals back to Earth.  This would allow for global communications without the need for undersea cables.  The project has initially deemed a success but as the needles dispersed over time the signal strength gradually diminished.  The project was eventually scrapped in favor of communications satellites so this swarm of needles was simply abandoned under the presumption that they would burn up on re-entry within a few years.  But not only does a significant percentage of the needles remain in orbit some five decades later, but they have also now coalesced into clumps of metal due to contact welding.  39 of these clumps are currently being tracked but more are believed to exist.   

 10-The eight planes 

The eight planets of the solar the system is currently orbited by 175 moons  but how many moons do the Earth have?  One.  The Earth has one moon.  It's this one, you may have seen it.  But since 2010 you could say that Earth has two companions in the form of the Moon and something known as a trojan.  In 2010, a 300-meter wide asteroid known as  2010 TK7 was found to orbit in close proximity  to the Earth around a region in space known as a Lagrangian point.  A Lagrangian point is one out of five points  in a two body system wherein the forces exerted  by the two celestial masses, in this case  the Sun and the Earth, create a sort of  gravitational and centripetal equilibrium.  This is what the strange the orbit of 2010 TK7  looks like as it guides the Earth around the Sun.  The the easiest way to imagine this is that the  asteroid orbits an invisible point in space  known as L4 while simultaneously orbiting  the Sun.  Although astronomers insist upon this being  the first and, as of yet, only Earth trojan,  Windows users around the globe beg to differ.  While our weak the excuse of a planet has only  managed to attract a single trojan  the God of the solar system, Jupiter,  has likely attracted millions.  In fact, the classification trojan stems from  the fact that the asteroids around the  L5 and L4 points of Jupiter are named after characters from the Trojan War of Greek mythology.  It's been hypothesized that when Earth was still just an infant, a large planet named  Theia, found itself in an orbit around the  L5 or L4 point, much like 2010 TK7.  However, due to Theia being as large as Mars its orbit quickly destabilized and the planet eventually impacted the Earth which may have resulted in the formation of the Moon.