Outer space oddity

Outer space oddity
| Opinion > Geek World

Space is romantic, gothic, omnipresent and… odd. It’s really very strange indeed. From dark matter to space cartwheels and impossible planets, space has offered us more beauty and puzzlement than a bag full of fairy wings.

I happen to be an especially big fan of this one as I have quite a soft spot for earth’s tornados. Picture a tornado on earth: Large, ominous, spiralling to who knows where. Now imagine that in space… with enough bright colours to make a cybergoth go haywire. Yes indeed, a rainbow-coloured interstellar jet of dust and gas particles moving through space. For the nerdkins who want the infinitesimal scientific details about this cosmic beauty, the space tornado works something like this:

High-energy particles spewed out of a young star (not to worry, it’s warm and safe in its stellar nursery) plow through interstellar clouds which create our lovely spiral structure – which looks like a tornado. These particles (usually protons or electrons) are so energised and move so fast (100 miles per second to be exact) that when they collide with clouds of dust and gas the collision creates heat, a whole aura of heat around the clouds – which can be detected.

But why is it multicoloured? For the reason that the base of the space tornado has more excited particles than the head of the space tornado which is closest to the young star, and which is where the particles are coming from.

The universe apparently wouldn’t fail gym class (as yours truly did) as it shows its gymnastic ability in cartwheeling. Before you ask; yes, this phenomenon also happens to be multi-coloured.

Cosmic cartwheeling happens when two spiralling galaxies make a head-on collision. How giant is that? Two galaxies! Crashing together!

The circular orange light in the midst of the blue spiral (see picture) is the result of an intruder galaxy that happened to be passing by. Unlike a casual collision with a stranger while you’re carrying your groceries, this one is catastrophic. Not only are the two galaxies involved severely damaged, destroyed, ruptured and annihilated, they also send ripples of energy like when one throws a stone into a lake. At 200,000 mph it can be best described as a cosmic tsunami.

Despite this, probably the oddest thing of all is that out of such devastation, creation still finds its way in. Such a collision creates a firestorm of new star creation.

The weird object is affectionately called Sedna which means ‘Goddess of the Sea’ in the eskimo mythology of the Inuit. It also, confusingly, happens to be the recently demoted non-planet Pluto. Now Sedna can be called the most distant known object in the solar system.

When it was discovered, the guys in the long white labcoats were damn near sure that Sedna had some unseen satellite. Alas, recently the Hubble Telescope disproved this. The guys in their coats were absolutely flabbergasted.

‘Why,’ you ask, ‘is such a thing so strange?’ It’s odd because any object orbiting the sun without a satellite can spin on its axis in a matter of hours, yet it takes wimpy old Sedna 20 earth days to spin on its axis. No companion, no satellite, and still slower than highway traffic.

As a fan of all things dark – be it dark corridors, dark cathedrals or dark chocolate – dark matter and dark energy have got to be my favourites. About 23% of the universe is dark matter, and a whopping 73% is dark energy. Conclusion? God was probably a bit of a goth. Why else would we have dark energy, dark matter, and when it comes down to it, dark gothic cathedrals?

(Note from the eds – because the people wanted to build UP to God, so they created architectural constructs like flying buttresses to make the building swoop upwards. And that created an interplay of light and darkly strange shadows. And they loved putting knobbly bits on churches so it looked less like the average hovel and more like a really special cathedrally thing. But yes, God was a bit of a goth.)

The atoms that make up you, me, your pet salamander and your favourite faux-fur coat only make up a measly 4% of the universe. (If you wanna sound cool, regular matter is called baryonic matter, so go tell your pet salamander next time you feed him.)

The question of what these dark entities really are remains open. We still just don’t know what dark matter and energy is. It’s odd. That’s why it’s in this article. We know it’s there, though it cannot be seen. Sound ominous? It’s not dark for nothing. Dark energy and matter is probably the reason why our universe is expanding; the expansion of which still baffles scientists today.

Also known as neutron stars, these dead buggers are a dense compression of a once-large bright star after it dies during a supernova. These gigantic stars do not die with a whimper; if they have enough mass and the conditions are right, their very core implodes, resulting in the walking corpse that is a neutron star.

If you’re thinking this is sounding more and more like the ‘Night of the Living Dead’, wait till you hear what a neutron star does. It sucks the life out of its companion. Ooh, space is SO goth! With its immense gravity, a neutron star sucks out dust and gas from a normal star.

Space tornado

Space cartwheeling

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