15 Unsolved Mysteries from the World of Astronomy
We’re pretty little in terms of the universe. We’ve done a decent job of looking at the sky and working out how the hell it all works — incredibly complicated combinations of math, science and extremely confident assumptions have got us to a point where we feel like we have a pretty good grasp of how this whole universe thing works.
Well, unless you look too closely. Once you start peering at all the details, a few cracks start to show, then bigger and bigger chasms in our understanding of everything. And it makes sense — we’re tiny insignificant specks on one rock orbiting one star in one of trillions of galaxies. It would surely be insane to imagine we could truly comprehend how everything functions.
So, there are plenty of things we don’t quite understand — exceptions to the rules we’ve worked out, gaps in processes we almost kinda sorta not-quite know and whiteboards in astrophysicists’ offices with giant fucking question marks covering them. Some of these answers will only be found by, say, being sucked into a black hole or experiencing the heat death of the universe. Others, though? A big load of math. Not quite as exciting, perhaps, but less deathy.
Was the Wow! Signal Sent By Extraterrestrial Life?
A narrowband radio signal picked up in 1977 from the direction of Sagittarius seemed to have no natural origin, and remains the most likely piece of extraterrestrial communication we’ve ever spotted.
Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?
There not being anything seems way more likely than all of this shit existing, so why is anything anywhere? Physicists and philosophers alike have struggled to answer this, the fundamental problem of metaphysics, and it might be unanswerable.
Is There a Multiverse, and How Would We Ever Be Able to Know?
The hypothetical idea of the multiverse, where everything that exists or could exist does so in a parallel universe, is untestable — will anyone figure out how to try to find out if it’s true? And will that even be possible?
Does Our Solar System Have Non-Dwarf Planets Beyond Neptune?
Since Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet, and claims of “Planet X” led nowhere, the search continues for further planets. Some astronomers think it’s likely there are giants out there with such huge orbits they’re incredibly hard to spot.
Why Is the Sun’s Corona So Much Hotter Than Its Surface?
The corona — the plasma that surrounds the sun — is vastly hotter than the actual solar surface. It doesn’t make sense. So far, no theories on it have panned out, but a NASA solar probe is looking into it.
Inside a Black Hole, Does General Relativity Break Down?
There are thoughts that inside a black hole, due to either torsion, quantum effects or some other, as-yet-unknown forces, the most basic rules of the universe cease to exist, and the whole way space, time and spacetime work just goes all shithouse.
Will the Black Hole Information Paradox Ever Be Satisfyingly Solved?
Obviously the unitary of quantum mechanics doesn’t allow for the destruction of quantum state information. So, given that nothing escapes from black holes, and they can evaporate into Hawking radiation, what happens to that information? OH NO YOU’VE GONE CROSSEYED
Every Galaxy Is Centered Around a Supermassive Black Hole: But Why?
There are trillions of galaxies, all with black holes at their centers. The one in our galaxy is 4.3 million times the mass of our Sun. Why are they there? Do they pre-date the galaxies surrounding them? IT’S SCARY
What’s the Deal with the Final Parsec in a Black Hole Merger?
Right, last black hole one: What we know about how black holes merge suggests that closing the final one-parsec gap between them should take longer than the universe has existed. But it’s happened. So, you know, what’s going fucking on?
What Actually Is Dark Matter?
There’s shitloads of it about — it outweighs actual “stuff” in the universe by a factor of six — but it’s, well, what the fuck actually is it? We don’t know, and that should probably kind of worry us.
If the Universe’s Expansion Is Accelerating, Where Will Everything End Up?
The universe appears to be expanding faster and faster. Where will this naturally conclude? Will we have a Big Rip, as it tears itself apart and everything stops existing? Will it somehow reverse, leading eventually to a Big Crunch? Or will everything just ‘splode?
Is the Universe Infinite?
The universe is expanding, but fuck knows how big it is. Or what’s beyond — is it infinite? Is infiniteness physically possible? Can something be both infinite and expanding without that descending into gibberish and one infinity being bigger than another?
Has Someone Been Messing with Saturn’s Moons?
At least three of Saturn’s moons have equatorial ridges — big mountains going right around their equators, making one of them, Pan, look like a big-ass ravioli. No one explanation makes sense for all three of them. What’s going on?
Where Do Extragalactic Fast Radio Bursts Come From?
Fast radio bursts are regularly detected by astronomers, emitted somewhere outside our galaxy in a hugely powerful way, involving as much energy per millisecond as our Sun emits in days. That’s unsettling as shit, and someone needs to own up.
Do We, Maybe, Not Know Anything?
There is a hefty discrepancy between how the galaxy should rotate based on everything we know and how it actually rotates. So, do we actually know anything? How does the universe work? And who left the fucking toilet seat up?