THE COSMOS, composed of billions of planets and stars which stretch out over an incomprehensible span of space, serve to remind us that we are living in a world that is so much bigger than ourselves – a detail that we often forget in our daily lives. As we engage in meaningless small talk and engross ourselves in matters that only involve our immediate periphery, we tend to lose perspective and misperceive the world to be a lot smaller than it actually is. Hence, let us *Take a Break* from our often fickle lives, and spend some time focusing on the extraordinary – the spectacular mysteries of the cosmic universe.
Galactic plane rotation
Did you know that our solar system which is centered around the sun, functions within a larger galaxy that also spirals of its own accord and that this galaxy is contained within a larger universe of many galaxies? As if that were not mind-blowing enough, our solar system is said to rotate through the horizontal plane of our galaxy (this plane serves a function similar to the Earth’s equator which defines terrestrial latitude) in an up and down “wobbling” motion. This plane – called the galactic plane – was at the center of a major controversy this past December. In the eyes of many people, the phenomenon of galactic plane rotation lent credibility to the apocalypse predicted in the Mayan calendar for 2012. Many mistakenly believed that it was due time that our solar system would pass through the center of the plane and that this passage would yield disastrous results. However, as we now know, it actually takes about 30 million years for our solar system to travel one complete trip through the galactic plane and we will not be crossing through the plane for another few hundred thousand years! In addition, there is no proof that the center of the galactic plane is dangerous. It could very well be as harmless as the equator is on Earth.
First discovered in 2010, the Fermi Bubbles are basically two massive blobs that stretch above and below the galactic plane. What is interesting about this discovery is that previously it was believed that galaxies did not have anything protruding from them, but these bubbles have proven otherwise. Made up of high-energy gamma-ray and x-ray emissions, these structures are mammoth in size and extend 20,000 light years on each side. Scientists speculate that these bubbles might be the result of shock waves resulting from the large-scale consumption of stars by black holes at the center of our galaxy.
Although most galaxies are circular or irregular-shaped, the galaxy designated as LEDA 074886 and calculated by astronomers to be nearly 70 million light years away from Earth is unique in that it is shaped like a rectangle. The first galaxy of its shape to be discovered, scientists were confounded by its almost perfectly rectangular shape boasting the corners and straight edges you would expect only in a geometry textbook. Why or how it formed, nobody is sure. However, some hypothesize that this galaxy formed after a collision between two galaxies. This is extraordinary because although galaxy mergers are not completely unheard of, LEDA 074886 displays characteristics of two established types of mergers and therefore could begin to serve as an example of more complex types of hybrid galaxies. LEDA combines both the ellipsoid type of galaxy (which has little star-forming activity and is box-shaped) with the star-forming type of galaxy (which forms lots of stars but is not rectangular in shape) as it possesses both a rectangular geometric outline and an inner disk of star formation.* However, other scientists speculate that the galaxy is actually cylindrical in nature and that the point from which we are able to observe LEDA 074886 is a side view that skews our perception of this galaxy. Unfortunately, some predict that unless it merges with another galaxy of its kind, it will most likely lose its unique shape over time.
Dark matter and dark energy
A recent discovery called dark energy may even give us cause to renounce Einstein’s theory of gravity. A type of dark “stuff” recently discovered by astrophysicists in the cosmos said to account for more than 95% of the universe, dark matter and dark energy are causing some major head-scratching in the scientific world. Discoveries and hypotheses about dark energy are laying new groundwork for scientists trying to uncover the implications of this revelation for Einstein’s theory of gravity. Dark matter is unobservable by sight as it neither emits nor absorbs visible light or electromagnetic radiation. Nevertheless, dark “materials” can be scrutinized through the observation of their gravitational effects on the motion of galaxies and stars. Scientists postulate that dark matter may be composed of subatomic particles that are different from the ones we observe around us. Dark energy on the other hand fills up what we think of as space. Scientists are still baffled by the implications of this discovery; whether dark energy is simply a property of space, a new dynamic fluid that exists between normal matter in space, or a discovery through which many established theories on gravity and outer space will be overturned.
These phenomena, also known as massive star explosions, are blasts that occur in outer space after gigantic stars run out of fuel. Scientists are still unsure how exactly these occur, but there is one thing they do know for sure: the blasts are said to be so bright that they can outshine entire galaxies.