Humanity has been looking out into space for thousands of years, and the most important thing we've discovered over that time is that everything is crazy weird out there, and it just keeps getting weirder. Here are some of the more baffling and often terrifying things that astronomers have found in recent years.
If anything is going to replenish the public's waning interest in space exploration, it's probably this: Below is a photo of Sagittarius B2, a huge cloud a few million times the mass of our sun, floating around near the center of our galaxy. Scientists have discovered that it's basically a giant river of raspberry-flavored rum.
Jesus is a wine lover, but God has distinctly trashier tastes.
No, really. Sagittarius B2 contains about 10 billion billion billion liters of alcohol. That's enough booze to get Galactus to make a pass at Ursa Major, but the cloud is also packed full of molecules called ethyl formate. This chemical, said to smell of rum, is the same chemical that gives raspberries their flavor.
Not only did God apparently decide to "Irish up" the Milky Way, but this also represents the next best thing to finding life outside our world. Alcohol is an organic compound, so if scientists could learn more about how it manages to form in space, they might be able to figure out how life formed. And they can get blitzed doing it.
Gravity does some weird things to the universe, and we don't just mean scary things like galaxy-swallowing black holes. The power of gravity also bends light, which means that the objects astronomers are looking at might not actually be where they appear to be. Scientists call this bizarreness gravitational lensing. Here's a particularly weird-ass example:
Via NASA, ESA, J. Rigby (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
Ants are so totally fucked.
What you're looking at here is a blue thing that's actually directly behind the red thing. Due to gravity bending the light around it, it looks like that red dot is wearing the blue one like a bracelet. Astronomers are pretty excited about this effect, because it means that they can study things that are directly behind gravity sources, like large galaxies, without having to send a fleet of warships into space to destroy the obstruction, which is often cost prohibitive.
The trippy thing about this effect is that the gravitational lens can actually make multiple copies of objects in the sky, so you really have to know what you're looking for. In the next image, the objects marked "lensed galaxy" and "lensed quasar" are actually the same galaxy and the same quasar. They've just been cloned by gravity effects so that they look like they're ganging up on us.
The other cool thing is that by manipulating this effect, we can actually tell where invisible but terrifying objects like black holes are, which means it's our only chance against most of the later stuff on this list.
Believe it or not, the below is not a cartoon image of the galaxy where My Little Pony takes place. This is the Trifid Nebula, a giant gas cloud that happens to look exactly like a sparkly space unicorn. You can even see the long, flowing mane and kind of make out the side of its snout as it turns its gaze away from us like the stuck-up bitch that it is:
Via NASA Hubble
Shit, how do you spell a unicorn noise?
That is of course just an example of pareidolia (the sciency term for our tendency to see patterns in random smudges, like Jesus in a piece of toast, or a unicorn in a gas cloud). And the vast randomness of space is full of this crap, like this nebula that formed into a giant terrifying ghost hand chucking a Molotov cocktail:
Via NASA/CXC/CfA/P. Slane et al.
"I'm about to loot the balls off of Sagittarius."
Or the Mickey Mouse logo they found branded on the side of Mercury:
Via NASA / Rex Features
But at least it wasn't on the backside of Pluto. OOOOOOOHHH!
Or in this other space cloud, which looks just like a giant, radioactive bee:
Via Leahy and Perley (1991)
Made entirely out of bees.
Just kidding: That one actually is a giant, radioactive space bee, and it's coming this way. The biggest folly would be to resist it.
Though we'd still have a better chance against it than ...