Humans’ understanding of the cosmos is expanding exponentially, yet it’s a drop in the ocean of the wonders yet to be discovered. As the first-ever images of a black hole are released, other newly discovered phenomena are taking a back seat, but are no less thrilling to physicists and astronomers. These four are worth everyone’s attention.
Earth’s Homemade Radiation Shield
The atmosphere is protected from cosmic radiation by the Van Allen belts — dual layers of electrically charged particles circling the globe and held in place by its magnetic field. While humans today are getting a bad rap for causing harm to the environment, their heavy use of radio signals over the last century — including those generated by nuclear testing — is beefing up the Van Allen Belts’ shielding effect and making Earth a safer place.
The Silent Supernova
Hollywood won’t like this, but stars can die a relatively boring death. The concept of a dying star collapsing and exploding in a final blaze of glory has been fodder for more than one science fiction epic. But while based in fact, researchers have now confirmed they can just slip into the darkness, creating one of the Universe’s most powerful phenomena — black holes — without a final curtain call.
Planets As Hot as the Sun
The concept that stars — called suns when they sit at the center of a solar system — are the hottest bodies in the Universe has been called into question with the discovery of Kelt-9b. Identified by astronomers at Ohio State and Vanderbilt Universities, the massive gas giant has a daytime temperature of nearly 8,000 degrees Fahrenheit — only 2,000 degrees cooler than Earth’s sun and hotter than many known stars.
Earth’s Aging Galaxy
Astronomers have discovered a cluster of white dwarfs at the center of the Milky Way. It’s a literal graveyard of once-bright celestial objects that seeded Earth’s galaxy more than 10 billion years ago and proves that among the 100 billion known galaxies in the Universe, the Milky Way may be among the oldest.
Cosmic phenomena are sometimes hard to appreciate because they can’t be seen, but every discovery is a new window into Earth’s past, and that’s the key to helping researchers better understand its future.