Space is bigger and stranger than you can possibly imagine. These are some of the weirdest objects in the universe–but no doubt there are many more wonders left to discover.
The Red Square Nebula
Tucked away in the constellation Serpens is a bright red, strangely symmetrical nebula. It looks like a graphic from a cheesy 80s movie. But it’s real, and it’s not that far away. The nebula is located just about 5000 light-years from us in another part of the Milky Way.
El Gordo Galaxy Cluster
If you speak a little basic Spanish, then you know that “El Gordo” means “the fat one.” This cluster of galaxies is the most massive we’ve ever discovered. The accumulated mass is somewhere around 3 million billion Suns.
To be fair, El Gordo is actually 2 massive galaxy clusters colliding with each other–it’s basically a deep space sumo match!
This star–discovered by astronomer Tabetha Boyajian–makes no sense. It fluctuates in brightness, sometimes by more than 20 percent, without any kind of pattern. Stars just aren’t supposed to do that! The most likely explanation is that the star is orbited by a thin ring of otherwise undetectable dust–but the truth is that we just don’t know.
What do you call a moon with its own moon? Astronomers have been arguing about that for a while–even though we haven’t actually found one yet. The internet has settled on “moonmoon,” but then again, they also voted to name a ship “Boaty McBoatface.”
Other proposed names include moonettes and moonitos. Frankly, most of those sound like something you’d call a really adorable French bulldog.
Although neutron stars aren’t particularly rare, they’re pretty mind-blowing! After a massive star goes supernova, the core that remains can become a neutron star if its mass is high enough. Basically, gravity collapses the equivalent of the Sun into an object the size of Manhattan.
When that happens, the gravity is so intense that it actually squeezes electrons into the nuclei of their atoms, where they collide with protons and create neutrons. Neat, huh? What’s even more fascinating is that some neutron stars send out regular bursts of light as they rotate.
We call those pulsars, and they’re some of the most fascinating–and weirdest–objects in the universe.
It’s right there in the name! Strange stars–also known as strange quark stars–are theorized to happen when a neutron star almost has enough mass to become a black hole. It’s possible that the neutrons could be squeezed even further until they break down into their most elementary particles.
Quarks come in 6 different flavors–up, down, top, bottom, strange, and charm. (Theoretical particle physicists have weird senses of humor.) Neutrons are usually made of up and down quarks, but in this hypothetical neutron star, it’s possible that the elementary particles could become something called “strange matter.”
Strange matter is, hypothetically, the most stable stuff in the universe. It literally can’t be affected anymore by gravity. These stars would last forever. It sounds like an episode of Black Mirror, but it’s at least theoretically possible.