9 Astronomy Discoveries That Changed Our Understanding Of The Universe

16th May 2024
9 Astronomy Discoveries That Changed Our Understanding Of The Universe

Over history, important astronomy discoveries have significantly expanded our knowledge about the universe. While every scientific discovery was important, some were just mind-blowing! For instance, did you know that you may carry stardust in your hair? How about an alcohol-spewing comet wandering through space?

As part of the celebration of International Astronomy Day, we invite you to dive into the most groundbreaking astronomical discoveries that will change your idea of how things really are!

Groundbreaking Astronomy Discoveries: The Moon Is Actually Colourful

One of the most stunning astronomy discoveries is about our natural satellite. Even though we can’t see this with the naked eye, the Moon‘s surface has different colours. Special cameras and computer programs can even enhance images made by telescopes to show the Moon in vibrant shades.

Colours of the moon
Colourful Moon. Credit: Sky&Telescope

Astronomers have described very faint hints of colours visible on the lunar surface through telescopes for centuries. For example, Mare Tranquillitatis (the Sea of Tranquility) was known for its blueish tint. Palus Somni (the Marsh of Sleep) area has a reputation for being slightly sandy. The Aristarchus Plateau is the most conspicuous of all the colourful regi of all the colourful regions. This enormous block of highland terrain rises above the volcanic plains of Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms). Peppered with a layer of dark pyroclastic glass, the plateau nevertheless has a strong yellow colour, sometimes described as “mustard”.

These colours actually have a great scientific value: they offer clues as to the mineral composition of the lunar surface.

Our Galaxy Is A Box Of Diamonds

our galaxy is a box of diamonds
Credit: Geology.com

Diamonds can be found not just on our planet. Scientists have found evidence they may exist in various corners of our Solar System, Galaxy, and even beyond! Diamonds could form in the atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune. Why? These gas giants contain hydrocarbons, which, under specific conditions, could transform into diamond structures.

Additionally, astronomers have spotted several potential diamond-rich worlds orbiting stars beyond our Sun in recent years. Among these astronomical discoveries is one intriguing candidate, BPM 37093, which sits approximately 53 light-years from Earth. It is a white dwarf star, evolved from a Sun-like star, now compacted into a small, carbon- and oxygen-rich entity. By studying its pulsating brightness, scientists estimate that up to 90% of its mass may have solidified into a diamond core, about 2,000 miles wide! Affectionately nicknamed Lucy, after the Beatles’ song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” this star could harbour a diamond core comparable to the Moon and weigh a staggering 100,000 times more than Earth!

Thus, the “box of diamonds” ceases to be simply a poetic statement about our universe.

Unbelievable Astronomy Discoveries: Your Hair Collects Space Dust

You have surely heard the romantic theory that the human body is made up of pieces of stars that once exploded in space. What if we told you that you could actually carry particles of space dust on yourself?

Space dust
Credit: IFLScience

Each day, our planet is hit by a shower of cosmic debris, much of which, however, slips into our atmosphere unnoticed. Some of these interstellar guests are meteors that leave behind huge meteorites upon impact. But the majority arrive quietly as space dust. Most of this cosmic powder comes from Jupiter-family comets, characterized by orbital periods of less than 20 years. Comprised of minuscule rock and metal particles, it can settle on various surfaces, often on our hair.

Next time you step outside, consider this: you might unknowingly collect some of this cosmic dust in your hair! Chances are, you’ve already brushed some away without ever realizing it. The point is that these particles are incredibly small and invisible to the naked eye, typically no larger than a few tenths of a millimetre.

Incredible Astronomy Discoveries: You Could Touch A Star Without Burning Your Hand

We are all used to the fact that a star is a huge hot ball of fire, aren’t we? But did you know that there is a group of fascinating stars in our galaxy that are uncomparably colder than the rest?

These stars are called brown dwarfs, and they are much colder than any known star. They’re often dubbed “failed stars” because they’re too small to sustain nuclear fusion in their cores (the process that fuels stars like the Sun). Also, brown dwarfs emit very little light and heat, making them difficult to spot.

A dwarf planet
A dwarf planet. Credit: NBC News

The coldest among brown dwarfs are the Y-type stars. Their surface temperatures hover just a few hundred degrees Celsius above absolute zero. To put it in perspective, that’s only slightly warmer than room temperature. 

If you imagine you could touch the surface of a Y-type star, it would feel just slightly warm. It’s like touching a warm mug of tea or your own skin.

There Is An Alcoholic Comet In Space

comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy as seen from ISS. Credit: Dan Burbank

In 2015, French researchers from the Paris Observatory made a fascinating discovery about Comet Lovejoy. They found that as this comet journeyed through space, it left behind a trail rich in ethyl alcohol, the same compound found in alcoholic beverages.

But that’s not all. Their analysis revealed the presence of 21 different organic molecules within this cosmic cocktail, including a type of sugar. This revelation was truly groundbreaking as it hinted at the potential for comets to harbour the building blocks of life on other planets! Who knows, maybe soon alcohol could help scientists make one of the most prominent astronomy discoveries.

Scary Astronomy Discoveries: Milky Way Is A Galactic Cannibal

It is hard to believe, but our Milky Way galaxy isn’t just drifting peacefully through space—it’s on a collision course with the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy.

Astronomers long ago noticed that galaxies often collide and merge, reshaping them cardinally. When this happens, it’s not like two cars crashing — it’s more like a graceful interaction, like a dance between celestial giants. This means that even though stars are far apart within galaxies, their gravitational forces cause them to interact in significant ways during collisions.

In this image, representing Earth’s night sky in 3.75 billion years, Andromeda (left) fills the field of view and begins to distort the Milky Way with tidal pull. Credit: NASA/ESA

What will the collision between our Milky Way galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy look like? As they draw closer together, their gravitational pull will distort their shapes, stretching out their spiral arms and warping their structures. In the end, the merger will result in a new, larger galaxy with a different structure and composition than either of its predecessors. Astronomers have already dubbed this single, larger galaxy “Milkomeda” or “Milkdromeda.” They add that this event will appear as one of the most dramatic events predicted in the future of our cosmic neighbourhood. It will occur in about 4 billion years, which might seem like a long time, but in the grand timescale of the universe, it’s just around the corner.

Our Universe Is A Great Ordered “Spiderweb”

The universe isn’t just a random scattering of stars and galaxies—it’s structured on a vast scale by a cosmic web of dark matter and galaxies interconnected by vast filaments of gas. In fact, it resembles a giant spiderweb (or figuratively the web Internet).

Universe web
Credit: Big Think

Through observations of this cosmic web, astronomers have gained insight into the universe’s intricate architecture and its evolution over billions of years. By studying how galaxies are arranged within this web, scientists can piece together the story of cosmic evolution — how galaxies form, grow, and interact with each other over time.

Making Facebook Friends With Aliens Could Be Real By 2040

Credit: SETI Institute

There are predictions that by 2040, with the aid of the remarkable Kepler telescope, we might finally make contact with some form of intelligent extraterrestrial life. However, bridging the gap to reach these potential alien beings is a complicated challenge.

First of all, the vastness of the universe presents a formidable barrier. Even the closest star system, Alpha Centauri, lies a staggering 4.367 light years away from us. To put that into perspective, our recent space shuttles, ill-suited for interstellar travel, would require roughly 165,000 years to make the journey. Even our fastest unmanned spacecraft, such as NASA’s New Horizons, would need 78,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri.

Secondly, even if the contact happens, it will not be personal. Many scientists concede that our best hope lies in establishing communication with intelligent life on distant planets, perhaps through technological means like radio signals. 

That’s why, becoming “Facebook friends” with aliens might be more feasible than physically venturing beyond our own cosmic neighbourhood.

Black Holes Wear An Invisibility Cloak

Black holes, often featured in science fiction and academic discussions, were once just theories. Recently, scientists like Stephen Hawking have found ways to detect them. However, their invisible nature complicates everything because they absorb everything, even the light necessary to see them.

Black hole
Credit: NASA Science

But there are still ways to find them. One way is through the presence of gravitational waves, first predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago. These waves show ripples in space caused by gravity, including the gravitational pull exerted by black holes. Another way is by observing the activity happening at the “event horizon” of a black hole. This is the point where everything gets pulled into the black hole.

Anyway, the inability to definitively detect black holes makes it somewhat easier for everyone to believe in their existence — at least until humanity finds more accurate ways to explore them.

In the vast expanse of space, our journey of exploration is endless, with the most remarkable astronomy discoveries yet to come — so stay curious!

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