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Astronomical Trivia

Unusual and Unexpected Facts about Space and the People Who Explore Space

Copyright 2017 – 2022, Jeff Napier

Astronomers estimate that there are at least 500 million planets in the Milky Way galaxy that could support life. They are the right size for a gravity like our own, probably have an atmosphere, and are at the right distance from their suns to have liquid water. What do you suppose the chances are, that on one or more of a half-billion suitable planets, other forms of intelligent life have developed?

Some small stars spin at over 38,000 rpm (revolutions

per minute) on their axes. This is more than ten times faster
than a lawnmower at full throttle. These are neutron stars. They were once ordinary stars that went supernova, and then collapsed into extremely dense matter. These are so dense that a piece the size of a basketball would weigh as much as the entire earth. A neutron star is small, typically about 180 miles (290 km) in diameter.

Twenty new stars form in the Milky Way galaxy every year.

Alpha Herculis is a star so big you could fit our entire solar system within it’s size, and have room left over for 25 more solar systems.

The Great Red Spot of Jupiter is by no means a permanent phenomenon. It is estimated to be between 185 and 350 years old. There were astromomical observations of a large spot as early as 300 years ago, but scientists don’t know whether it was the same spot. The Great Red Spot is currently approximately half the size as it was when first reliably measured. At it’s known largest, it was approximately 25,000 miles (40,000 km) wide, roughly three times greater than the diameter of Earth. Astronomers predict it may disappear altogether around the year 2040.

Great Red Spot of Jupiter

Winds around the edges of the spot can be as high as 430 kilometers per hour (267 mph).

The Little Red Spot, also known as Red Jr., still thousands of miles across, did not exist until 2004.

There is no surface on Jupiter. As one descends through the atmosphere and the pressure increases, the material, mostly hydrogen and helium, but also bits of methane, water, and silicon, becomes liquid.

Jupiter has 63 known moons.

The universe is about 26 billion light-years wide. What’s beyond that, no one knows.

The sun is shedding about 1 million tons of material per second.

The Milky Way galaxy is rotating once every 225 million years.

The star “Lucy,” also known as “BPM 37093,” is very valuable, being composed of between 32 and 90 percent diamonds – highly-compressed crystalized carbon. The star also contains vast quantities of oxygen. it is only 53 light-years away, so harvesting those diamonds should be easy. It was named “Lucy” after the Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Betelgeuse, also known as Alpha Orionis, is the most prominent variable star as seen from Earth. Variable stars cycle in brightness. Betelgeuse’s cycle is around 400 days, with a larger cycle of 2,100 days. The brightness changes more than an order of magnitude. The current theory is that it’s outer layer expands and contracts. This star is 640 light-years away, and is usually the second brightest star in the Orion constellation, and the ninth-brighest in the night sky. This red giant is also much larger than our sun. It is larger than the orbit of Mars, which exceeds the orbit of Earth.

Betelgeuse is a rogue star, moving through space at 30 kilometers (18 miles) per second or (108,000 miles per hour). It has a bow wave, like a ship moving through the ocean. This is caused by matter and energy being ejected through the star pushing other items in space out of its way.

Astronauts returning from long sessions in space can be up to two inches (5cm) taller, until the disks in their spines recompress.

The Milky Way Galaxy contains between 100 to 400 billion stars. If you can come close to understanding the magnitude of that, now understand that there are somewhere around 500 trillion other galaxies in the universe.

Earth is orbiting the sun at 29.7 kilometers (18.4 miles) per second.

The average density of the universe is one atom per

cube of nothingness measuring 27 inches (68 cm) on each side.

Outer space officially begins at 50 miles (80 km) above the

There are more than 200,000 quasars in the universe. They are all very far away, so you can’t see their light with the naked eye, but they turn out to be very bright. Hundreds of times brighter than entire galaxies. Quasars probably are complete galaxies in themselves. The theroy is that there is a black hole at the center of every quasar, and thousands, or millions of stars orbiting close in, and very fast. The energy as the stars approach the event horizon (where an item falls into the black hole faster to where its light can no longer escape), is massive.

Galileo Galilei did not invent the telescope. He became famous for using it, being one of the first to study outer space in detail. The inventor was probably Johannes Lippershey, born in Germany in 1570. He was a maker of eyeglasses.

Hans Lippershey

Rumor has it that two children playing in his workshop held one lens in front of the other, and discovered while looking through them that a weathervane on a nearby building looked closer.

There are now at least 5,000 man-made objects orbiting

the earth.

On May 10, 1879, making a deafening roar and giving

off tremendous light, a meteor weighing 431 pounds (195 kg) arrived in

Estherville, Iowa. It hit the ground so fast that it dug a hole

fourteen feet (4.25 meters) deep.

The universe is expanding at approximately 160,000 miles (258,000 km) per second.

There are a few people around the world who still believe that the American moon landings were faked. It would have cost Nasa much more, and been much more difficult to fake the landings than to just do ahead and land on the moon.

The mathematical probability of a person on earth

being hit by a meteorite is that one person will get bonked every

180 years.

One second after the sun sets where you are, the sun

will set approximately two blocks away, assuming you are at a typical latitude. So, nightfall is moving

at about two blocks per second or 750 miles per hour, which is

just about the speed of sound.

Diamonds have been found in meteorites, but they are

so small that they cannot be seen with a microscope. There may be

millions of tons of diamond dust in space.

One night in 1833 there were almost a quarter-million

shooting stars. Don’t you wish you were there to see it?

If you could shoot a gun at the sun, it would take the

bullet 20 years to get there.

If you could get in your car right now and start

driving nonstop to the moon at 55 miles per hour, you would get

there in a little over six months (27 weeks). If your car could

get 20 miles per gallon on this trip, you would need 12,500

gallons of gas.


bet you don’t know what an orrery is! It is one

of those things you see in museums that model the solar system.

The sun and the planets are made out of various size balls held

on wires, and

they circle around like the hands of a clock.

Orreries are hopelessly out of scale. In reality, if

the sun were three feet (1 meter) in diameter, the earth would be the size

of a pea. The pea would be circling the three-foot sun on a wire

100 feet (30 meters) long. This whole thing, with the pea-size earth, and

with all the other planets would be over ninety

miles (145 km) in diameter.

When astronauts landed on the moon, their instruments

noticed that because of the impact of their landing, the moon rang

like a bell for fifty-five minutes.

There are now 843 pounds of moon rock on earth.

Roughly as much as would fill the trunk of an average size car.

Solar flares can reach more than 100,000 miles away

from the sun.

On the sun there are hurricanes bigger than 100


During major sunspot activity, compass readings can be

inaccurate by as much as ten degrees.

All of the radio waves from space ever studied equal

less than the power of a single snowflake hitting the ground.

There is probably a black hole at the center of our

galaxy, the Milky Way.

Scientists estimate that the universe is 15 billion

years old. By looking far out into space, they can see the past

in other places, because light takes time to reach us. An event

that happened on the sun nine minutes ago will just be now

visible to us. Astronomers have recently discovered a place so

far away that it dates back to almost the beginning of the

universe. What we see today happened 14 billion years ago.

Helium was discovered in spectral analysis of the sun

14 years before anyone realized it also exists on the earth.

Earth’s Sun, 864,575 (1,391,398 km) wide, 93 million miles (149 million km) away

Let’s set the record straight on binary stars. For the past two centuries, scientists have estimated that most ‘stars’ we see are actually “binary stars” or star systems consisting of two or more stars orbiting each other. Modern astronomy has shown that is exactly true for the bright stars we see in the sky. Most points of light are actually binary or trinary star systems. But eighty percent of the stars that make up the Milky Way galaxy are red dwarfs. These are typically one-fifth the size of our sun, and emit much less light. Most red dwarfs are solitary stars.

One of the most successful astronomers, Milton

Humason, was best known for measuring the speed at which stars

are moving away from each other. He was never formally trained as

an astronomer. He was a donkey driver who used to stop by the

Mount Wilson observatory in California on his journeys. He was

curious, and since the astronomers there realized he had a lively

mind, they were happy to answer his questions. Eventually, they

gave him a job.

Pluto might have originally been a moon of Neptune.

If we were to attempt manned exploration of the

nearest star system to earth with the same kind of rocket that we

used to get to the moon at its top speed of 25,000 miles per

hour, it would take one billion years to get there.

“The materials that make up life are everywhere

[in space]. Water is one of the most common molecules in the

universe, and the light elements – carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen –

are ubiquitous. Many experiments have shown that from these very

simple materials you can create the organic molecules for life.

It almost, then, becomes a statistical matter: You put the right

materials together with an energy source, and things are going to

regurgitate and percolate. Eventually the chemistry becomes

complex to the point that it begins to control its own future.

Then a self-replicating molecule comes into the picture. It is

virtually unimaginable that all those stars resembling the sun

could form and leave an environment around them so clean there’s

nothing left to coalesce into smaller ‘coaly’ bodies. So there

must be planets around. Many stars will have planets too close,

too small, or too far away from them. But those with planets at

the right distance will have liquid water on them, and once you

have liquid water and all the other stuff, life is going to

happen.” – Bradford Smith, world-famous astronomer, in an

interview by OMNI Magazine

Io, one of the moons of Jupiter has spit out a huge

cloud from a volcano that is much bigger than Jupiter itself.

The gravity of Jupiter is much greater than on earth. There, you’d weight eight times as much. Even lifting an arm would be difficult, because it weight over 100 pounds (45 kg).

Jupiter is the opposite of Earth in terms of heat. There is heat in Earth’s core, but most of the heat we feel is sent to us from the sun. On Jupiter, most of the heat comes from the center of the planet.

If we could or grab the moon, pulverize it and sink it

in the Pacific ocean, according to one scientist, the axis of the

earth’s rotation would shift and the seasons would even out.

Winters and summers would be the same, sort of like California.

The only problem with this idea, is the public is used to the

moon. Poems would have to be rewritten, songs would have to be

sung differently to account for no moon.

99.8% of all the mass in the solar system is in the sun.

The biggest known star in the universe is R136a1. It is 9,000,000 times brighter than the sun, and 265 times larger.

The earth circles the sun at 66,000 miles per hour,

roughly 86 times faster than the speed of sound through air,

roughly 1/10,000 of the speed of light. In one year, the earth’s

total movement around the sun is about 84 percent of the distance light

moves in one second.

The sun is 93 million miles away from us. This is

approximately 1/60,000 of a light-year. Approximately nine

light-minutes. The moon at one-quarter million miles distance, is

1.25 light-seconds away.

The sun is a little less than one million miles in


After hydrogen and helium, the third most common element in the sun is oxygen.

A light-second, the speed that light travels in one second, is 190,259 miles.

The heat of an arc welder is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit,

which is about the same as the surface of the sun. In fact, that

is where the energy for the welder came from. The gasoline, coal,

oil or whatever is burned to get the electricity for the arc was

formed through the decomposition of dinosaurs and plants that

originally grew in the sunlight.

Due to meteors and cosmic dust, the earth gains about

as much mass as Ford Van every day.

In addition to flags, lunar excursion module bases, and moon buggies, there are three golf balls laying around on the moon.

We are aware of 5 to 10 percent of the matter in the universe. The rest is dark matter or dark energy. So far, it can’t be seen, or detected with any instruments. We only know it’s there because the mathematics of the universe only makes sense when you factor it in.

Uranus with rings and moons, in false-color photo taken by Hubble telescope

Uranus has rings and 27 known moons.

Whereas Earth takes 365.25 days to orbit the sun, Uranus goes around once in 84 years, yet it is moving much faster.

Uranus is about 20 times farther away from the sun as Earth, at about 2 billion miles or 3 billion kilometers. At that distance, the sun is 1/400th as bright.

One major theory of the universe takes the Big Bang

theory one step further. Astronomer Allan Sandage says that the

universe did in fact originate as a single dense egg of matter

that exploded. That is why all the galaxies are moving away from

each other. It seems that this has been happening for about 15

billion years. (There has been life on earth for about 1.5

billion years.) But it won’t go on expanding forever. Eventually

the force of the expansion will be overcome by the gravity of all

the matter in the universe, and will then reverse, at first

slowly moving back together and then gaining speed, until finally

all the universe will smash together in the middle again. And,

then it will explode due to all the force, and start expanding

again. According to Professor Sandage, we are about 15 billion

years into an 80 billion year cycle that has happened over and

over again, possibly thousands of times, possibly in a forever

far beyond our powers of comprehension. Perhaps there have been

earths before, with their civilizations, great inventions, great

music, etc.

An expensive Hasselblad camera is circling the earth. An astronaut accidentally ‘dropped’ it during an Apollo mission.

The orbit of the moon is expanding by about 3 inchs (8 cm) per year. It will take 52 million years before the orbit is one percent wider.

If you could put one pea-size piece of the sun within 100

miles of a human being, the radiation would kill that person


There is a particularly heavy star called +70 8247.

You could not lift even a single cubic inch of this star off the

floor since that little cube would weigh as much as 400 Toyotas.

But +70 8247 is not a neutron star, which weighs in at a hefty 12

billion cars per cubic inch.

The speed of the moon orbiting the earth is 2,300

miles per hour (3,700 kph).

We think of the moon as revolving around the earth,

but this is not quite true. Actually, the earth and moon orbit

each other. The earth, being heavier, has a much smaller orbit.

The temperature of the universe is not absolute zero.

It is actually 2.735 degrees above absolute zero.

There is at least one bubble in the universe that

contains absolutely nothing detectable within 217 million


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