#3. A Cold Star
Here's the very first lesson you learned about the cosmos: The sun is hot. Even before you knew what the sun was, or what a star was made of, you knew that.
When you get into the science of it, you realize that you were even more right than you thought: The surface of the sun is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and several thousand times hotter than that at the core. So, yeah, the one thing we know about stars is that you don't ever want to try to land on one, unless you want to instantly burst into flame.
Though you could pretend you were that Nazi guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But, scientists have recently discovered that's not always the case. Five months after discovering a star only about 20 degrees hotter than a cup of McDonald's coffee, scientists stumbled across a star they believe is even colder. WISE 1828+2650 is only 80 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning if we ever went there, we could romp around on the surface in a space helmet and shorts.
You could be the first prostitute to work a star.
How is This Even Possible?
WISE 1828+2650 is part of a small group of cold stars known as brown dwarfs. These little buddies begin their lives just like normal stars, but don't have the required mass to take off. In fact, these stars are so small that they don't have enough mass to undergo hydrogen fusion, which in a normal star is what releases all that energy in the form of heat. And yet, these lumps of uselessness are still considered stars because no one has the heart to tell them otherwise.
No, you're doing great, little guy. You're an awesome star because you try!
#2. A Star 1,500 Times Bigger Than Our Sun
The hardest part of understanding anything about space is trying to grasp a sense of scale. For instance, if you've seen models of the solar system, none of them really convey how much bigger the sun is than the Earth.
"Y'all ain't shit."
Our sun is 109 times larger than the Earth, and if you lumped the mass of all of the stuff in our solar system together, 99 percent of it would be sun (and that's including that fat cow, Jupiter). In fact, despite what you were told in elementary school, our sun isn't some small chump compared to other stars. To recap, our sun: it's big.
But now imagine a star that is as big compared to the sun as the sun is to the Earth. Now imagine one five times bigger than that. We can't show it to you to scale, because it'd be a big yellow circle and our entire solar system would be too small to even show up as a pixel on your monitor.
That's the star VY Canis Majoris. It's a red hypergiant roughly 1.7 billion miles in diameter, which means it's so big it takes eight hours for its own light to travel from one of its sides to the other.
How Is This Even Possible?
Yes, we said "red hypergiant." Despite that incredibly awesome name, it's just a really big star. Not just big in size, but big in brightness, as in millions of times brighter than our sun.
As for how this particular hypergiant got that big, no one knows. It's so far away (4,900 light-years) that scientists haven't had much chance to study it. But they'd better hop to it, because we only have about 100,000 years before the whole thing BLOWS UP AND KILLS US. (Or just blows up.)
In the realm of size, we don't actually exist.
But when you start talking about truly huge shit in space, it only gets more mind-boggling from there.
#1. The Gargantuan Blob from the Beginning of Time
We're taught in school that we're all time travelers of sorts. We're told that the sunlight all around us originated over eight minutes ago, and that just by looking up into the sky we're glancing into the past. What you probably didn't know is that as telescopes get stronger, the images that are coming back are getting freakier.
Like this thing:
Via National Geographic
The blob isn't composed of Jell-O (surprise!) but of gas -- we think. And it's fucking huge -- it is a galactic cluster roughly 200 million light-years wide. As in, light from one end would take 200 million years to reach the other.
For comparison, our entire galaxy is only 100,000 light-years across.
And by the way, the light from this thing took roughly 12 billion years to reach our retinas, meaning that it is essentially a chunk of whatever the hell blew off of the Big Bang. To find it, researchers used a specific filter on their telescopes, which was able to detect the core at the center, then the three jellyfishy tentacles extending out into space.
Inside each of those appendages are galaxies and gas bubbles, some 400,000 light-years wide. The galaxies are all clumped together, four times closer to each other than most other galaxies in the universe. All of that is pretty impressive for something with the rather sad scientific name Newfound Blob.
Creativity is not traditionally an astronomer's burden.
If you would like to learn more about some of the more horrific aspects of astronomy, Jacopo asks that you pick up a copy of his latest book, "Go @#$% Yourself!" -- An Ungentlemanly Disagreement, by Filippo Argenti.
For reasons why space isn't all it cracked up to be, check out 6 Reasons Space Travel Will Always Suck and 7 Horrible Ways The Universe Can Destroy Us Without Warning.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover why aliens like to probe people.
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