1. Gamma-Ray Bursts
The brightest illuminations in the universe, these mysterious explosions occur at least once a day in space, and can last anywhere from a few milliseconds up to an hour. Produced on Earth only when a nuclear bomb explodes, short gamma-ray bursts can form in space when two neutron stars merge to form a black hole, and long GBRs occur when a very large star collapses and explodes as a supernova.
2. Don’t Call Me a Constellation
Contrary to popular belief, the Big Dipper is not a constellation at all, but an “asterism,” a small pattern of stars not part of the original 88 constellations (e.g., Orion, Aquarius, Leo, etc). Unlike constellations, which are internationally defined patterns of stars in relatively close proximity, asterisms can contain stars that are much farther apart and that actually belong to different constellations.
3. Comet Tails Point Away From the Sun
A comet is an icy mass in the solar system that, as the sun warms it, displays a luminous cloud of particles around the nucleus and tail. Did you know that a comet’s tail always points away from the sun, no matter its direction, speed or trajectory? That’s because solar winds, which move faster than any comet, push the particles of a comet’s tail in the opposite direction of the sun.
On Earth, sound travels in waves that vibrate air molecules. But in the vacuum of space, where there is no air, sound does not exist. Imagine a Star Wars space battle without the whir of an X-Wing, the ominous roar of a TIE Fighter, and the distinctive blare of a blaster cannon. Sometimes we must excuse scientific inaccuracies in film in the name of awesome space battles. But for a rare example of a sci-fi classic that stays true to the silent-space phenomenon, check out Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
5. Snow On Mars?
NASA has collected data that shows snow falling in the upper atmosphere of Mars. Though the snow vaporizes before it reaches the surface, scientists postulate that the snow may eventually reach the ground as winter approaches.
6. Rust Damage
Mars’s red hue can be attributed to iron oxide, or rust. The soil on Mars is rich in iron, and its reaction with the planet’s atmosphere has made the surface appear red, just like rusty iron on Earth. That layer of red soil, though, is at its deepest point just a couple meters thick.
7. Weight Gain
The earth gains between several dozen and several hundred tons per day—about 10,000 to 100,000 tons per year—due to meteorites, meteoric dust and cometary dust. Though scientists evidently disagree on the exact amount of weight gain, they are certain that the Earth will not be shedding any tons in the foreseeable future. Don’t blame it all on our increasing human mass.
8. Full Moon Heat
The sunlight reflected by a full moon actually plays a role in warming the earth’s atmosphere. Studies have shown that a full moon raises the temperature of Earth’s lower troposphere—the space from the Earth’s surface to 3.5 miles above it—by about .03 degrees Fahrenheit. One theory poses that the moon both reflects the sun’s infrared radiation and ejects its own radiation, thereby causing this seemingly minute but statistically significant gradual warming. When scientists study global climate change, they now take into account the phases of the moon as a variable affecting weather patterns.
9. Shrinking Hearts
According to astro-biological research, astronauts’ hearts shrink, grow stiff, and pump less blood in outer space. When an astronaut’s body is first exposed to microgravity, blood travels away from the lower body and toward the heart and head, enlarging the heart temporarily. When the body interprets this change as an increase in blood volume, thus expelling the excess fluid through urination, the heart shrinks in order to pump less blood. Once astronauts return to Earth, where the heart must pump blood against the force of gravity, they often experience dizziness and lightheadedness, and have difficulty concentrating.
10. The Stradivarius and Sunspots
Antonio Stradivari, the famous Italian violin maker from the 17th and 18th centuries, may have sunspots—or a lack thereof—to thank for his famously superb-sounding violins. In about a 70-year period during that time, known as the Maunder Minimum or Europe’s “The Little Ice Age”, decreased sunspot activity led to consistently lower temperatures on Earth. This cooler period saw slower tree growth, producing a rarely dense timber that made for optimal violin material. Today, a Stradivarius violin made in this “golden period” can be worth several million dollars.
11. Bodily Exposure to Space Demystified
There are many myths about what happens to your body when it is exposed to the vacuum of space. And yes, the actual outcome is pretty grim. But not quite to the degree of eye-bulging, body-swelling and blood-boiling seen in Total Recall. Well, there is some of that, actually. Based on NASA experiments conducted in the 1960s to simulate the experience, it goes a little something like this: Upon exposure, your body undergoes a series of increasingly severe conditions over the course of about 90 seconds. First, gases expand in the lungs and digestive tract in reaction to the lack of external pressure. If you don’t immediately exhale upon exposure, bubbles of air will form in the circulatory system and could kill you. Then, because water converts to vapor in the absence of atmospheric pressure, the moisture in your mouth and eyes will boil and the moisture in your muscles and soft tissues will evaporate, causing swelling. After about ten seconds, brain asphyxiation will cause some dementia and the lungs will expel oxygen from the blood, quickly accelerating hypoxia and its common corollary, loss of vision. At this point, your mouth and nose will be freezing from the cooling of evaporation, your skin will be blue from cyanosis, and you’ll withstand a pretty nasty sunburn from UV rays, but the brain and heart will continue to function for about 90 seconds. Theoretically, administering pressurized oxygen before this 90-second threshold could make for a complete recovery with only minor injuries.
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