With the launch of the Kepler telescope and observatory in 2009, scientists’ knowledge of our universe has taken a quantum leap forward in a little more than five years. Orbiting our own planet, Kepler’s mission is a simple one: Search for habitable planets elsewhere in the universe. This orbiting telescope is so powerful that it is capable of discovering more than 1,000 new planets at a time. This has led to a major advance in terms of our understanding of the universe, and it has resulted in some pretty incredible theories that were unthinkable just a few short years ago. With that in mind, here are some mindblowing recent discoveries of the universe that will seriously mess with your head.
10. There Are More Stars Than Grains Of Sand On Earth
American astronomer, cosmologist, and astrophysicist Carl Sagan long had a theory that there were more stars in the universe than grains of sand on the Earth, one he created long before we had the ability to discover if he was right. Now, if you’ve ever been to the ocean and looked out across a single white sandy beach, which contains a nearly uncountable number of grains of sand, you would probably find this theory impossible to believe. However, mathematicians at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology recently developed an equation which proves that Sagan’s theory is likely correct, because there are literally billions and billions of stars in the universe. Exactly how many is not known, and probably never will be, but by taking what we have seen thus far, and extrapolating outward, it is very likely that there are in fact more stars in space than the incredible number of tiny grains of sand on our own planet.
9. Every Star Has At Least One Planet Orbiting It
The Kepler telescope we talked about earlier basically watches for the passing of objects in front of stars, which are most often identified as planets orbiting the star, just like Earth and the other planets in our solar system orbit the Sun. The data received to date from Kepler suggests that each star it has discovered also has at least one planet orbiting it. If you consider that there are hundreds of billions of stars in the universe, then you can quickly get an idea of how many planets may also exist out there in space. While the vast majority of them are uninhabitable (at least by any known life form), the sheer number of planets out there makes it mathematically impossible that there are not some worlds out there that could be capable of supporting life.
8. There Are Likely 40 Billion Earth-Sized Planets
Based on the number of stars, all with planets orbiting them, scientists estimate that are could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized and Earth-like planets in the known universe. Earth-like planets are ones orbiting a star in what is known as the habitable zone, or “Goldilocks zone”. This means that they are orbiting at the correct distance to support life; not too close to the star, which would make the planet too hot, and not too far away, which would make it too cold. Furthermore, astronomers working with Kepler have estimated that 11 billion of these Earth-like planets are orbiting stars very similar to our own Sun. Again, this makes the likelihood that we are alone in the universe almost mathematically impossible, and means we are likely not alone in the universe.
7. Possible Lights Have Been Discovered On Another Planet
Ceres is a dwarf planet that lies between Mars and Jupiter in our own solar system. It is a nondescript planet with nothing to distinguish it, except for two bright spots that have been discovered in one of the craters on its surface. Theories about what these bright spots might be abound, and it has not yet been proven exactly what is causing them. Some scientists theorize that they are ice volcanoes reflecting starlight, others believe that they may be salt patches. However, some scientists have wondered out loud if the bright spots, which are being observed from 29,000 miles away, may, in fact, be lights. Currently, NASA has plans to get closer to Ceres to check out the crater and find out what these bright spots might actually be. But from seeing a photo of the planet and the area in question, you can understand why someone might think that they may indeed be extraterrestrial lights.
6. The Universe Is Larger Than We Realized
All of the information contained in this list so far has been strictly for our own Milky Way Galaxy. That’s right, there are an estimated 40 billion potentially habitable Earth-like planets in the Milky Way alone. However, these scientists now predict that there may be as many as 200 billion galaxies in the universe. That’s 199 billion galaxies in addition to our own Milky Way, each potentially containing billions of stars of planets. This has led us to the belief that the universe is much, much bigger than anyone ever predicted. So big, in fact, that the chances of Earth being the only planet with intelligent life on it are currently estimated at 1 in six sextillion (that would be a 6, followed by 21 zeroes, if you were curious). Those are astronomical odds, and it literally hurts our minds to attempt to comprehend just how big the universe may be.
5. Black Holes Exist, And They’re Invisible
Although they have been the subject of a litany of science fiction books, comics, films and academic symposiums, black holes have only recently been detected in reality. The truth is that black holes have long been only a theory of physicists. This is because in reality, we now know that black holes are invisible because they swallow everything in their path, including the light necessary to see them. However, scientists, including renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, have recently found ways to detect black holes and prove their existence. One way is through the presence of gravitational waves (first predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago) that show ripples in space caused by gravity, including the gravitational pull exerted by black holes. The other method is through searching for the activity that occurs at a black hole’s “event horizon,” the point at which everything is sucked into the void. The fact that we can not definitely detect the presence of black holes makes believing in them a little easier for everyone.
4. There Is Water On Mars
Is there life on Mars? Has there ever been life on Mars? Is the Red Planet capable of hosting any life in the future? The answer to these questions got a little clearer in 2015, when NASA announced that they had images which showed clear evidence of flowing water on Mars. Actual liquid water has been detected flowing down the side of mountains on Mars in periods of warm weather, disappearing when it gets cold and the water freezes. This was considered a major breakthrough, as water is a fundamental building block of life, and would need to be present in order for there to ever to have been life on the Red Planet. It may not be intelligent life (and in all likelihood, it isn’t), but water can support certain types of algae, fungus or other simple organisms, even on Mars. Until very recently, conventional wisdom was that Mars was a barren, dead planet. Now, that theory is out the window.
3. There Is A Planet Made Of Diamonds
It is known as planet PSR J1719-1438b, and while that moniker may sound boring, this planet is pure bling, because it is literally made of diamonds. To be exact, it’s made of crystalline carbon, which is the same material that you can find in diamonds here on Earth. Scientists have long theorized about the existence of planets made completely of carbon, or diamonds, before discovering that they were entirely correct. Situated well outside our own solar system, the conditions in this particular spot in space were just right for the entire interior of PSR J1719-1438b to harden, crystallize, and turn into a planet-sized diamond. The theory is that the planet started off as a star but cooled to the point where it formed into a massive chunk of carbon, just like a diamond, only the size of a planet. Now that would certainly be a sight to behold.
2. There Is Lightning In Space
Lightning and electrical storms have been detected in places other than Earth, notably on the planets Mars and Saturn. However, scientists have also detected lightning in the vast reaches of space, and it is much more powerful than on Earth, by as much as a factor of one trillion. First detected near Galaxy 3C303, this massive jolt of lightning is believed to have been caused by a black hole, whose magnetic field is so strong that they are able to produce lightning in deep space. This was considered a major breakthrough, as nobody had previously theorized that lightning or electricity could exist outside a planet`s atmosphere. It proved, once again, that space and the universe is a violent and potentially destructive environment.
1. First Contact Is Predicted By 2040, But We’ll Never See It In Person
Given the breakthroughs achieved by the powerful Kepler telescope, many astronomers and scientists are going so far as to predict that we will discover some form of intelligent alien life in the universe by the year 2040. This may sound far-fetched, but many credible scientists claim it is only a matter of time before we detect intelligent life and activity out there in space. However, actually reaching that potential alien race is another matter. The universe is so big and far-reaching that it is unlikely we will ever be able to travel outside our own tiny solar system. Consider the fact that it would still take 4.367 light years to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to ours. Since humans can’t travel anywhere near that fast, our current Space Shuttle (not ideal vehicles for deep space travel) would realistically take us roughly 165,000 years to get there. Even faster unmanned spacecrafts, like NASA’s New Horizons, would take 78,000 years to arrive at Alpha Centuari. That should give you an idea of the size of the task ahead of us. The distances between Earth and the rest of the universe are so great that it would be extremely difficult for mankind to venture beyond our own little corner of the universe. Many scientists agree, the best we can hope for is to be able to contact intelligent aliens on distant planets. Maybe we can be Facebook friends or something.