10 Unanswered Questions about the Universe

10: DO PARALLEL UNIVERSES EXIST? The term ‘multiverse’ was coined in 1895 by the American philosopher William James. It refers to the idea that our universe is only one of many. Numerous prominent scientists believe that parallel universes exist, including Stephen Hawking, Max Tegmark and David Deutsch. However, there is no way to prove their existence, with many scientists arguing that alternate realities are nothing more than speculation. Without any possibility of being able to travel to these potential parallel universes, its unlikely that humanity will ever find an answer to this question. Sources: Space, Science Alert, Scientific American.

9: WHY IS THERE MORE MATTER THAN ANTIMATTER? The Big Bang produced both matter and antimatter, the latter of which has the same mass as the former but is opposite in many other properties, such as charge. However, for some inexplicable reason, the universe contains considerably more matter than antimatter. It is this imbalance that actually allowed the universe to exist as we know it. Had there been an equal amount of both, matter and antimatter would have canceled each other out, causing the total annihilation of both. Sources: Particle Adventure, New Scientist, Physics of the Universe.

8: WHY IS THE SUN’S CORONA SO HOT? Contrary to what you would expect, the sun’s outer atmosphere, its corona, is actually millions of degrees hotter than its surface, and nobody knows why. The corona, an aura of plasma surrounding the sun, extends approximately 500 kilometers above the star’s surface. It is difficult to observe but can be seen during a total solar eclipse or using a coronagraph. One hypothesis is that the corona’s surprising heat is caused by the sun’s strong magnetic field. This energizes the atoms in its atmosphere to the point that it causes super ‘heat tornados’. Sources: NASA, Scientific American, Space Place.

7: WHAT CAUSES GAMMA RAY BURSTS? Gamma ray bursts have a reputation as the brightest events in the universe. They release more energy in a matter of seconds than the average star will do during its entire lifetime. These bursts were first recorded in 1967 but, despite thousands being observed since then, no one has ever been able to conclusively verify their source. One of the biggest complications for the study of gamma ray bursts is that they have only ever been recorded in very distant galaxies, about which we know very little. One of many potential theories for their origin is that they’re caused by gigantic collisions between black holes and neutron stars, but current technology is insufficient to confirm this. Sources: NASA, Universe Today, the Astrophysical Journal.

6: WHAT’S GOING ON WITH JUPITER’S GREAT RED SPOT? Speculated to have been raging for almost 400 years, Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot is actually a gigantic hurricane-like storm. It has gusts of over 300 kilometers an hour and covers an area big enough to engulf three Earths.

Such storms aren’t all that unusual, considering the turbulent atmosphere of gas giants. However, the persistence of this storm – not to mention its fluctuating size and changing color – has perplexed scientists for years. Part of the problem is that the clouds in Jupiter’s atmosphere obstruct clear observations of the spot. Sources: NASA, the Atlantic, Science Daily.

5: WHAT IS DARK MATTER? Approximately 27% of the universe is made up of dark matter, yet astonishingly scientists don’t actually know what it is.

This is because dark matter is not directly observable with current instruments, as it is completely invisible. Scientists are, however, certain of its existence, because they have observed its gravitational effects on galaxies and galaxy clusters. Scientists at the CERN Hadron Collider are currently conducting experiments, hoping to generate and study dark matter particles that could potentially provide the key to this puzzling mystery. Sources: NASA, New Scientist, CERN Press Office.

4: HOW CAN THERE BE A RECTANGULAR GALAXY? Galaxies are usually shaped like disks or ellipses. Scientists were therefore astonished when in 2012 astronomers discovered a rectangular galaxy.

LEDA 074886 is over 70 million light years away and, so far, no other galaxies of its shape have ever been discovered. Various explanations have been put forward for the unusually shaped celestial body, such as the notion that it could have been formed by multiple galaxies crashing into each other. But so far there is no definitive evidence to suggest this. Sources: Space Answers, Universe Today, National Geographic.

3: COULD OTHER PLANETS SUPPORT LIFE? With at least 100 to 200 billion planets in the Milky Way alone, there is a strong likelihood that the universe could be home to other planets capable of supporting life. Physicists have already discovered a number of Earth-like planets that show potential, for example Gliese 581 d.

Gliese 581 d is approximately 20.4 light years away from Earth in the constellation of Lybrand is believed to have liquid water on its surface. With 6.98 times the mass of Earth, it has been classed a ‘Super-Earth’. Since its discovery in 2007, scientists have debated whether this planet could support life, with observations unable to conclude whether its composition is indeed suitable. Sources: Astronomical Database, Astrophysical Journal, New York Times.

2: WHY IS BOӦTES [Boo-oh-tars] VOID SO SPARSE? In 1981 astronomer Robert Kirshner and his team discovered an area of space approximately

700 million light years from Earth. The area measures 250 million light years in diameter, which is 0.27% of the observable universe. While you would expect a space this big to contain approximately 10,000 galaxies, this area mysteriously contains only 60.No one knows why this area, known as Boötes Void, is so empty. Theories suggest that it could have come into being when numerous, smaller voids collided, or even that it was created by hyper-evolved extraterrestrial civilizations. Sources: io9, NASA, Atlas of the Universe

1: HOW WILL THE UNIVERSE END? For years, physicists have speculated how the universe could end but, of course, no one could ever know for certain. One theory is the concept of ‘the Big Crunch’. This would occur if there isn’t enough dark energy, the mysterious form of energy that acts as a counter-force to gravity, to prevent the entire universe from collapsing in on itself.

Another idea is that the universe will continue to expand for such a long time that all stars burn out and all planets die, until they are left floating in space at temperatures barely above absolute zero. This hypothesis is known as the ‘Big Chill’. Sources: NASA, Universe Today, New Scientist.

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