Space. The final frontier for humankind. With recent discoveries by astronomers around the world, still little is known as of yet regarding the mysterious works of our universe. However, what we do know about the universe is that any of these dangers might be the way the world will end with everything on earth.
Table of Contents
Although our Earth consists of an invisible protective shell known as our atmosphere, outside of this shell is a constant bombardment of radiation throughout space. Radiation is made up of rays, electromagnetic waves or particles that can be seen with special equipment or even felt. Formed from sources like the Sun, quasars, Galactic centers or even human-made through microwave ovens and cellphones, we are always subject to radiation. So which is worse you may ask? Non-Ionizing radiation is lower energy whereas Ionizing radiation is a much higher energy form of radiation; both are damaging.
All said, knowing Earth is relatively safe from these rays, astronauts must take some things into account when in outer space. Altitude is a significant factor when entering outside the atmosphere because atmospheric protection becomes less present passing through ionizing radiation more frequently. Solar cycles also raise a cause for concern when in outer space due to an increase in solar flares when the sun has numerous sunspots, and with limited protection solar flares can be fatal. Radiation is all around us on Earth and outer space; with individual susceptibility, it leaves a lingering fear of the invisible waves passing through us all the time and cautions even our most elite astronauts most face in space.
It’s likely we’ve all heard of asteroids and their potential threat to planet Earth. Asteroids are rocky bodies made up of different minerals just about everywhere, Even in orbit around the planets in our solar system. Some have even had their light of fame among astronomers for their sheer size, like Ceres, an asteroid in our solar system spanning 591.5 miles across. Although asteroid impacts are common, they are not as frequent in comparison to Earths earlier days, and they usually burn up due to Earth’s atmosphere before reaching our surface.
No matter how common, asteroids can still be a cause from concern when they come close to Earth orbit. Near-Earth objects also known as NEOs occur when they come dangerously close to our planet. NEOs become a concern depending on size, whereas little asteroids can cause minor damages and larger asteroids can produce catastrophic outcomes. Large asteroids could break up in the atmosphere creating a barrage to rain down on the planet. Teams of astronomers are always at work, mapping these NEOs and their paths in our solar system to predict hazardous impacts in hopes to ready the population; weeks, months or even years ahead.
Much like asteroids, comets bring along most of the same risks; however, a shroud of mystery surrounds them. With a different and elliptical orbit, this brings them close to our Sun, melting their contents, and forming unique features. Comets have a hard mineral comprised nucleus which can reach 61 miles in diameter. Gasses form two well know traits known as a comets Coma and an Ion tail. A Coma becomes formed from gasses around the nucleus as a mixture of water vapors, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. Much like the Coma, the Ion tail is made up of gasses and being blown away from our Sun and solar winds causing the iconic tail behind a comet.
Little is known about a comets origins in our universe, given their short lifespan possibly being only a few thousand years old. With that said, over 3,000 still prowl our solar system, and scientists estimate that number could be in the billions. Referred to as nurseries as a birthing place of these it I presumed that comets originate from either Kuiper Belt or the Oort Cloud. Beautiful, elusive, and mysterious posing a threat to not only our planet but all life on Earth should we cross paths with these glowing and brilliant interstellar objects as they soar through space.
Neutrons Stars, Pulsars & Magnetars
Neutron stars are stars formed when they’ve exhausted all their fuel, collapsing into themselves. When collapsing occurs, every proton and electron of the star is violently crushed into a neutron leaving behind a star with 1-3 solar masses. Observable variations of a neutron star include Pulsars and Magnetars all with immense energy and characteristics. A Neutron star is the densest object in the observable universe according to astronomers, which is the equivalent of crushing half a million times Earths mass into a single sphere roughly the size of Manhattan. Dense stars become discovered throughout the galaxy due to them starting their lives out as normal stars.
Most Neutron stars go undetected because they don’t emit their radiation unless given the right circumstances, such as Pulsars or Magnetars. Pulsars are rotating Neutron stars, observed with pulses of emitted radiation causing particles to accelerate, producing powerful beams of light. Magnetars are another type of Neutron star with a magnetic field a thousand times stronger than a regular Neutron stars field being a trillion times stronger than Earths. The crust of a Neutron star is locked together in its magnetic field and with any movement can cause a burst of electromagnetic radiation, some Neutron stars releasing more energy than our Sun has emitted in 100,000 years.
Gamma rays are waves that transfer through space and matter, varying in wavelength and frequency. Higher frequencies result in more significant amounts of energy with smaller frequencies resulting in lower power with wavelengths shorter in diameter than the atomic nuclei. The frequency of these is 1019 Hz, or ten quadrillion waves per second, making gamma rays the most energetic of all other wavelengths. Gamma rays come from radioactive atoms and nuclear explosions and also come from stars collapsing, giving off massive amounts of these rays.
Bursts of gamma rays are highly energetic explosions theorized to be caused by supermassive stars collapsing. These rays have the potential to destroy most living things on Earth which is not good news. Thankfully our atmosphere eats most of these rays before than come into contact and cause severe damage. Some affect’s gamma rays cause include killing living cells, gene mutations and cancer along with healing properties of focused rays even killing cancer cells. Without the protection of our atmosphere, these gamma rays make the universe an even less welcoming place for humans to live.
A supernova is the biggest explosion ever observed by humankind in the known universe. Bright, powerful and beautiful this super explosion is caused by the death of a star, creating and destroying in its wave of power. These occur when a star five times bigger than our Sun, burn large amounts of nuclear fuel within their core. Producing incredible amounts of energy preventing it from collapsing into itself, fighting against two opposite forces the gravity tries to condense the star but the nuclear fuel bursts outwards. When this massive star runs out of fuel, it cools off causing the pressure to drop.
At this point, gravity has won the battle, and the star collapses into itself with about one million times the mass Earth as an equivalent in fifteen seconds. After this collapse, a dense core, and a cloud of hot gasses are left behind forming nebulas as we know them. They are leaving behind the densest objects in the universe known as black holes, although only theories about their formation persist. If a nearby star went supernova, it would spell trouble for all life on planet Earth exterminating nearly everything in the blink of an eye.
Dark Matter & Dark Energy
Dark matter or dark energy is known, yet the unknown. We know more about what dark energy and dark matter is more than what’s known about its effects which can be difficult when trying to understand it. We know how dark matter affects the expansion of the universe because it makes up all space. Empty space can contain energy known as space itself and as the universe expands so does dark energy making up roughly 68%, and dark matter makes up about 27%. The Earth, the Moon, and all observable matter and energy make up less the 5% making everything you know and observe the minority in comparison.
When you see dark matter and dark energy as a property of space and not just empty, you’re a step closer to understanding the little we know. Many of these unknowns can be scary to some due to its constant expansion and elusive persona, making distances across the universe unimaginably vast. Not to be mistaken for antimatter, it does not possess unique types of gamma rays produced when antimatter annihilates the matter. It is far better to know than not, and when a property surrounding everything we know can’t be studied, it can be nerve-racking not knowing its potential effects with expansion.
A solar flare would define as a sudden, rapid, intense variation of light that occurs when high magnetic energy has built up in the solar atmosphere and suddenly released. Upon release of a solar flare, electrons, protons, and heavy nuclei heat up and shoot up into the solar atmosphere. These flares release as much power as millions of 100-megaton hydrogen bombs exploding all at once, with Dangerous power. First observed September 1, 1859, two independent scientist Richard C. Carrington and Richard Hodgson viewed a massive flare in white light while observing sunspots. Sunspots are widely known as indicators as a precursor to these flares with a visible emission of x-rays.
Solar flares typically consist of three stages during their release. The first being the precursor stage, in which magnetic energy becomes released as a part of this chain reaction.- The second stage being the impulsive stage, where protons and electrons become accelerated where hard x-rays, radio waves, and gamma rays are all sent flying through space. The third stage is known as the decay as the gradual build-up of x-ray as well as their decaying along this stage. We all know these solar flares can be dangerous outside of the Earths sheltering atmosphere; however if big enough; some have the power to damage our atmosphere leaving us susceptible to these harmful rays.
Galactic cannibalism occurs when two galaxies collide with one another resulting in the consumption of one into the other. Galaxies are tightly packed together in the universe moving through space inevitably on paths to collide with another galaxy. When these come in contact, their gravitational forces pull each other in pulling chucks in unless one with a greater pull meets a smaller of the two. In these situations, the more massive almost always wins, causing more distortion to the smaller less fortunate galaxy.
Our Milky Way galaxy has a neighboring galaxy named Andromeda twice the mass of ours over 2.5 billion light years away that could one day collide in the distant future. Very distant future. Our Milky Way comprises of two parts: a disk and a halo. The disk consists of primarily young stars formed in the Milky Way. The stars that make up the halo comprise of ancient stars that scientists presume were birthed in neighboring system arms being pulled into the Milky Way. Although Andromeda is far away this is a dangerous and violent occurrence that we have likely not seen the last of in our galaxies lifetime.
Supermassive Black Holes
Yes, you heard that right. As if a black hole wasn’t scary enough, the universe finds a way to surprise us with something newly terrifying. A supermassive black hole located at the center of every galaxy and even our own. Scientists believe their size is a direct correlation to the galaxy they exist within. Black holes remain highly elusive due to their mathematical complexion and more blatantly attributed to our inability to observe them. A black hole is a point in space where gravity has become so powerful not even light can escape its grasp.
Although its unclear to scientist how these supermassive black holes spawn, one theory is they form when hundreds or thousands of smaller black holes merge. Once they develop, they can form whole galaxies of their own. Having one of these at the center of our galaxy spells bad news for us especially when it’s million potentially billions of times bigger than our Sun. However, we remain out of our galaxies supermassive black holes danger point for potentially millions or more years.