10 weirdest things in the universe

Posted on | Tuesday, November 24, 2009 | No Comments

We'll start at 10 and work down the 10 weirdest things in the universe according to askmen.com.

No.10 - Nebula

Big, dirty clumps of dust, gas and plasma; that might sound like something you’d find under your bed, but in fact it’s what makes up nebulae. These light-years-wide clouds are galactic factories drifting across space while baby planets and infant stars spin out of them in their cooling edges.

Smart dudes with really big telescopes have found all sorts of beautiful nebulae scattered across the cosmos. They come in fun shapes like horse heads, crabs or pillars, unlike the things under your bed that come in shapes like dirty socks or crusty tissues.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: So-called “dark nebulae" are the Goths of the universe -- clouds of vapor that drift aimlessly and grow so dense in places that they block out all light behind them.

No.9 - Supernova

When stars run out of fuel, they don’t just flicker off and die -- they detonate into gargantuan explosions that shed layers of gas far off into space. That material eventually coalesces to form new stars in a billion-year, galactic-level cycle of birth and death. Luckily, we’re left to admire their stunning beauty from a nice, safe distance.

But not for long! Our sun is a ticking time bomb biding its time until it blows and ends life as we know it in a cataclysm of molten plasma and gas. And billions of miles away, alien astronomers will simply check it off as another supernova in a backwater little solar system in the Milky Way.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: Members of the fledgling rock group Supernova used the citizens of America to choose a lead singer on the reality show Rock Star: Supernova. Soon after the cameras stopped rolling, however, the band ran into legal trouble and had to change its name. Oops.

No.8 - Cosmic microwave background

The universe is huge (newsflash), and all across it scientists were finding “radio noise” that they couldn’t explain. Then, one think-outside-the-box man figured out it was radiation left over from a very big, very old explosion -- namely, the Big Bang.

It’s out there, everywhere, the clearest evidence supporting a theory that lies at the very heart of our most fundamental questions on existence. Heavy stuff.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: Scientists used this patchwork of decaying energy to measure the temperature of space. It turns out it’s a frosty -454 F out there.

No.7 - Dark energy

It was only a few years ago that scientists discovered the universe was expanding at an accelerating pace -- a fact that caught them completely off guard. Further research showed the rate of expansion has been slowing down and speeding up throughout time. The only possible explanation was a mysterious, invisible form of energy they dubbed "dark energy."

Experts in the field try to explain it to laypeople like us as a patchy magnetic field that stretches across the universe and slows its expansion more in some places than others. We’re just supposed to nod knowingly and hope it won’t kill us.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: The model of an accelerating universe means the inevitable and proverbial "end of the universe" might happen sooner than expected. It’s called the Big Freeze, a theory stating that as the universe keeps expanding, everything will eventually get so far apart that it will freeze and drift off into oblivion. At least we had a good run...

No.6 - Dark matter

Scientists with a lot of time on their hands decided to take an inventory of the universe and figure out how much it weighed. When they tallied everything up -- all the stars, the comets, our Uncle Vern -- the numbers just didn’t add up. Then stereotypically named Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky hypothesized that a bulk of space is made up of a mysterious substance that can’t be seen or measured by our current technology.

He stood, presumably looming over a lectern in front of a crowded astronomy convention, paused dramatically and deemed this invisible stuff "dark matter."

In the years since, we’ve figured out ways to actually measure the stuff and prove that old Fritzy wasn’t talking out of his black hole.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: Dark matter is out there, but it’s just really hard to see -- unless you apply the virial theorem to the Coma cluster of galaxies and see that their kinetic energy should be at least half of what it is! Or, just take their word for it.

No.5 - Neutrinos

There are some pretty weird things going on deep within the fiery bellies of burning stars. The heat and pressure cause all sorts of particles to fly around and smash into each other. Out of that stellar soup leak some of the smallest things known to man: neutrinos. They radiate out from the sun and spread across the universe.

So, with billions of suns out there, there’s a lot of neutrinos flying around. In fact, right now countless neutrinos are passing through your body. Don’t fret -- they’re so small they can pass through miles of lead unhindered, so your spleen isn’t in any danger.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: The crew of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise found neutrinos particularly handy, using them for everything from force fields to deep space communication. In other nerd news, we just admitted to watching Star Trek.

No.4 - Quasars

Not just a great Scrabble word, quasars are among the most powerful things in the universe. They are a form of massive black holes found at the center of some of the oldest galaxies that fringe our universe.

A lot of stuff gets sucked in and squished infinitesimally small (we’re talking meteors, planets, the occasional star), and an insane amount of energy is released. It slowly radiates out into space and, billions of years later, it gets picked up on Earth as radio waves.

Tsk, tsk, quasars. That amount of heat loss is unconscionable in today’s reality of environmentalism.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: Things like quasars constantly bombard Earth with radio waves. That might sound dubious until you consider that it would take eons to collect enough energy from those waves to power your laptop for even this long.

No.3 - Neutron stars

When a star dies, it collapses inward, literally squishing its electrons and protons so tightly they fuse together to form neutrons. Imagine something as huge as our sun being compressed down to an object just 10 miles in diameter.

The resulting neutron star is the densest known thing in the universe. How dense? One sugar cube of neutron star material would weigh 100 million tons, and likely make your Starbucks very, very hot.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: The famous Crab Nebula contains a neutron star. This glorious chunk of galactic eye candy is the remnant of a giant supernova that could have been seen from Earth as early as 1054, if we weren’t all just diseased, superstitious goat herders back then.

No.2 - Pulsars

If you thought neutron stars were cool, you’ll also love their close cousin: the pulsar. These dead stars spin around unimaginably fast and emit massive doses of radiation in short bursts so consistent they can be used to set clocks here on Earth.

They have a magnetic field one trillion times stronger than Earth’s. That kind of strength, coupled with the speed at which the little guy is spinning, mean that the radiation pouring off it is systematically tugged away from us at amazingly precise intervals. Warning: Trying to think about this too hard may cause your head to explode.

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: Some scientists suggest these are actually a type of galaxy-to-galaxy Morse code device, but these people are shunned at telescope parties and gossiped about at the lab constantly.

No.1 - Black holes

Have you ever really stopped to consider what black holes actually are? These aren’t imaginary things made up by science fiction writers; they’re old stars that have cooled so much and grown so incredibly small and dense that their gravity attracts everything around it -- including light. Where does all that stuff go? To Heaven? Maybe Pittsburgh?

"Black" hole is a bit of a misnomer, since any light that comes near them is sucked away. Technically, they should be called "invisible" holes (which is a cooler name, anyway).

If you think that’s the weirdest thing in the universe: It has been theorized that our future sons or daughters could use a black hole’s gravitational whirlpool to slingshot off into deep space at nearly light speed -- perfect for when the Blorgzak’s Donuts on Ryjax-4 puts out a fresh batch of crullers.


* http://en.wikipedia.org
* http://memory-alpha.org
* http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov
* www.space.com