Friday, August 19, 2016

The Objects in Space That We Really, Really Can't Explain

Forget UFOs — there are a lot of objects and events in space that are identified, but still completely incomprehensible. From planets in our solar system, to inexplicable energy bursts from across the universe, here are some of the enduring mysteries of the space and time from I09 we call home.

The Color of Jupiter's Red Storm

You've probably seen amazing pictures of this massive, red hurricane that's been whirling across Jupiter's southern hemisphere for at least 400 years. We know it's a hurricane-like phenomenon, that you could fit 3 Earths inside it, and that it's cooler and higher than nearby clouds. Over centuries of observation, we've also discovered that it changes color, moving between a pale pink and a bright red. It's also shrinking. But why has it lasted for so long? Why does it change color? There are a lot of good theories, but we simply don't know the answers yet.

The Incredible Iciness of Saturn's Rings

The ultra-thin, icy rings of Saturn are another familiar part of our solar system are just as mysterious as Jupiter's red spot. We know what they're made of, and we understand some of the tidal forces that cause them to change shape. We're also pretty sure they formed 4.4 billion years ago, right around the time when most planets in the solar system were coalescing. But we still aren't sure how they formed, why they're made up almost entirely of ice, and why they are able to maintain such a perfectly flat shape as they whirl around the planet with its many moons. Are they the result of several destroyed moons? Leftovers from early solar system formation? We just aren't sure.

Hot Jupiter Messes

"Hot Jupiters," or massive gas giants in tight orbit around their stars, are one of the first types of exoplanets that astronomers began discovering in large numbers in our galaxy. What's puzzling about these broiling behemoths is how close they are to their suns. The substances you usually find in a Jupiter-like planet are found in the outer reaches of a solar system, so how did these Hot Jupiters even form at all? At first, scientists believed that they migrated slowly toward their present positions from further away, spiraling towards their suns as their solar systems formed.

But, as American Museum of Natural History astronomer Mordecai-Mark Mac Low told io9, that "has now been pretty conclusively disproven by showing that they have orbital planes almost randomly oriented with respect to the rotational axes of their parent stars." In fact, many Hot Jupiters actually orbit in the opposite directions of their suns, which is incredibly weird. Mac Low adds, "This suggests that interactions with other, now expelled, giant planets or passing stars must be required to knock them into such tight orbits." These smash-ups might also explain their weird rotational axes.

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Source: IO9

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