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The universe is certainly a strange place … perhaps more strange than you know! From the pages of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, here are some fascinating pieces of trivia about our solar system and beyond!
24 Strange Facts About the Universe
The slowest-spinning object in the known universe is the nearest planet, Venus. A person could walk faster than it rotates.
The density of every neutron star is equivalent to what you would have after crushing a cruise ship until it’s the size of the ball in a ballpoint pen.
The longest star name still in common usage is Libra’s Zubeneschamali. The shortest is the Sun.
Mid–19th century scientists found that sunspots increase and then fade out in an 11-year cycle. Other scientists knew that compasses strangely fluctuate in the same 11-year period, yet it was years before anyone put these ideas together and realized that the Sun intimately affects our world through magnetism.
The large dark blotches on the Moon, called mares or seas, are all named for weather events (Ocean of Storms) or emotions (Sea of Tranquility).
There’s a separate “Earth” inside our planet: Earth’s core is not liquid iron as was once believed, but a solid ball the size of Pluto—and it spins faster than the rest of our world.
The Sun’s energy output every second is equivalent to the explosion of 91 billion 1-megaton hydrogen bombs.
Astronomer Percival Lowell obsessively hunted for a ninth planet, “Planet X,” in vain. However, it was discovered from his observatory in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, and this is one reason that the name “Pluto” was chosen to honor Lowell. The first two letters are his initials.
The rocky celestial body with the shortest lifespan is Mars’s moon Phobos. The closest moon to any planet, it will crash into the Martian surface in 10 million years.
The first person who said that our planet moves was not Copernicus or Galileo. It was Aristarchus of Samos. This bearded genius was ignored for 18 centuries.
On a scale model in which Earth is a dust mote, the Sun would be 1 inch away and the size of the period at the end of this sentence. The nearest star would be another period 4½ miles distant.
The most common object in the universe (possessing mass) is the neutrino. These tiny particles are more numerous than anything else by far. A trillion neutrinos fly through each of your fingernails every second.
The universe is expanding, but no one knows how far. It has no outside or edge. The extent of the known universe is 38 to 47 billion light-years in every direction.
When observed in desert skies far from any other city, there seem to be millions of stars visible to the naked eye. (The naked eye limit is about magnitude 5.8.) However, the actual number is about 2,600. You could count every star in 20 minutes at a leisurely rate of about two per second.
The nuclear fusion that produces the Sun’s heat and light occurs in its innermost quarter, a tiny “sun within the Sun.” The surface we see is merely where the energy escapes.
The largest storm in the known universe is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a hurricane that is three times the width of Earth and floats 5 miles above Jupiter’s surface.
Galileo was the first person to see Saturn’s rings, but his telescopes were so poor that he believed to his dying day that the rings were attached handles, like those on a teacup.
In addition to white, stars are colored red, orange, blue, violet, yellow, brown, and even black. The single missing hue is green.
The fastest-twirling objects in the universe are pulsars (tiny stars). Since 1982, some 200 have been discovered. The fastest-spinning of these turns 716 times per second. (The second fastest spins 614 times per second.) From a pulsar’s surface, other stars would appear not as dots but as white lines in the sky.
The first of a new type of celestial object—asteroids—was discovered on January 1, 1801.
Neptune has the strongest winds in the solar system. Its air howls at 1,300 miles per hour, four times faster than Earth’s fiercest tornadoes.
The universe’s second most abundant element, helium, is the only one that never freezes solid.
Half of the Moon is composed of a single element, the same one that makes up two-thirds of your body weight: oxygen.
After the Moon is struck by a meteoroid or falling spacecraft, it vibrates for hours.
What were you surprised to learn? Let us know in the comments!
Bob Berman, astronomer editor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac, covers everything under the Sun (and Moon)! Bob is the world’s most widely read astronomer and has written ten popular books. Read More from Bob Berman