Most people do not know what buckyballs are, and who could blame them? It’s rarely something one needs to know. For those unaware, they are spherical carbon molecules that have a hexagon-pentagon pattern. You’ll likely be familiar with this look if you’re a soccer fan, as it looks a lot like that. Buckyballs get their name from Buckminster Fuller, who created geodesic domes that these molecules look like. They are involved in things like energy storage, medication, and even engineering.
The Spitzer Space Telescope was the first to identify them in space. They were discovered around a dying star in the Tc 1 nebula. The star at the very center of this nebula appeared a lot like our own Sun, but it had aged quite a lot. Its outer layers popped off, leaving only a white dwarf star. This is why astronomers now believe that carbon from the layers that flew off the star is how these buckyballs were created. Truly, this is one of the freakiest things NASA discovered in our lifetime.
Location:Sagitta Constellation (where the first black widow pulsar was discovered)
First discovered in 1988, the PSR B1957+20 pulsar was the very first black widow pulsar ever discovered. The reason for the name is due to the fact that it destroys nearby companions using strong winds of high-energy particles. Those particles usually come from neutron stars, which is where the black widow name comes from. The initial discovery found the PSR B1957+20 pulsar in our Milky Way galaxy. It orbits with a brown dwarf companion.
It rotates alongside the dwarf, causing an eclipse to occur that lasts roughly 20 minutes in length. Basically, this pulsar is blasting its companion with radiation. That only causes the companion to spin slower, effectively taking away energy that normally develops. That energy lost by the companion allows the pulsar to essentially blast the companion more, with even enough energy to evaporate its companion. While this does not always happen, it did occur with Pulsar J1311-3430.
If you ever venture over to the Sagittarius constellation with your telescope, it is possible you might be able to come across a few cool-looking nebulae there. Potentially the one that everybody wants to find is the “Eye of Sauron” nebula. While it was given the same of Fomalhaut years ago, most do not call it that. The reason is obvious. There is a freakin eye staring right at you! Of course, the eye sort of favors that of the Sauron character’s eye.
The character comes from Lord of the Rings, written by J. R. R. Tolkien. When he wrote about the eye of the character, he claimed it was “rimmed with fire, watchful and intent, and the black slit of its pupil opened up on a pit, a window into nothing.” If that does not describe this nebula, we do not know what will. Sure, having the appearance of an eye alone is weird. But to resemble the Eye of Sauron? This is clearly one of the freakiest things NASA discovered!
A planet made of diamond? That is just science fiction, right? Not exactly. Known as 55 Cancri e, it is an exoplanet that NASA discovered in August 2004. Nicknamed Janssen, it has a huge mass, measuring at around 8.63 Earth masses. The diameter of this planet is twice that of our planet. Due to this, it was classified as a “Super-Earth” by NASA. It’s also in a good relationship with its parent star, 55 Cancri A. It takes around 18 hours to do a complete orbit.
In 2012, NASA found that this could be a carbon planet. What that means is that the planet contains more carbon than oxygen. In February 2016, the Hubble Space Telescope detected hydrogen and helium, with possible hydrogen cyanide but no water vapor. All of this in the atmosphere. Due to all of these elements and the carbon-rich composition, the planet is essentially diamond. Thus making it one of the freakiest things NASA discovered.
When stars end up dying off, it can happen in a variety of ways. Many will go into a supernova where they explode and that stardust spreads out across the universe. Others just slowly dim until they die off while others will have energy slowly suck away from them until they just become nothing. Regardless, you expect that once a star dies off, it will remain dead and you’ll never see it again. Right? RIGHT?!? Introducing Tycho, the once white dwarf star.
Although some assume it was remnants of an exploding supernova. Somehow, Tycho gathered up a lot of mass from another nearby star and managed to explode yet again. When this happens, astronomers call it a Type Ia supernova. Basically, Tycho had already died after it exploded. But those remnants and what not came back together to reform the star, allowing it to live again. Only to die once more. It was originally discovered in 1572, but NASA then came across it after the second supernova.
Location: Billions Of Miles From Our System’s Center
While this might be one of the freakiest things discovered by NASA, it is also one of the most crucial. In 2018, NASA’s twin Voyager probes began moving out of our solar system and into interstellar space. As they did this, NASA scientists were in shock about what they came across. They found what astronomers call a “Heliopause.” It was once only theoretical, but it was assumed something was present to stop solar wind before it collided with more powerful cosmic rays.
The Voyager probes originally saw the possible heliopause years prior but got to study them once they got closer. Billions of miles from our solar system’s center is a plasma shield, that deflects or dilutes the worst incoming radiation from the rest of the universe. It somehow deflects 70% of all cosmic rays before they enter our system. Some have come to call it the “shield that guards the realms of man.” The fact that something is present to stop cosmic rays from hitting us is incredible in our book.
We’ve known about the existence of black holes for a long time now. Yet the Spitzer telescope captured two of the most distant supermassive black holes that had ever been discovered. This helped to provide a small look at the history of how galaxies formed over millions of years. We know by now that these galactic black holes are usually surrounded by dust and gas that are responsible for feeding them and sustaining their needs.
Quasars form around them via other holes or disks. Spitzer managed to see these black holes because they happened to just catch the light from quasars by these old black holes. Apparently, the light from them traveled for 13 billion years to reach Earth. This was key, as it proved to us that they formed less than 1 billion years after the believed birth period of the universe itself. Capturing black holes 13 billion lightyears from us is clearly one of the freakiest things NASA discovered.
The Red Rectangle Nebula is one of the most interesting things you’ll ever see. The nebula gets its name honestly, as it appears to be one giant red rectangle. It is located a massive 2,300 lightyears from Earth. The reason it appears as it does has to do with two stars that sit at the heart of the nebula. Dust rings then surround these stars, creating cones of brightness. All of that adds up to work similar to how light operates on Earth.
Get some glass and put it up to the sun or have light shine. You’ll likely see some small colored light at some point, a lot of the time seeing a rectangle pop up at some point. While these stars would likely be unable to give the rectangle shape themselves, the dust enhances their light and creates the rectangle. Basically, ultraviolet light is interacting with carbon-rich molecules within the dust. This is why many believe the nebula is red and not another color, but this is not yet proven.
“Big Baby” Galaxies Formed Very Differently Than We Assumed
Spitzer yet again managed to come across some old universal content. The telescope found the earliest-forming galaxies ever studied. Light from those galaxies took billions of years to reach Earth. This is cool to see too, as scientists are seeing the galaxies as they were those billions of years ago. Naturally, they are over 13 billion years old, which is about 400 million years after the initial birth of the universe. To be able to see these baby galaxies’ form is incredible for science.
We can see how similar our galaxy is to them. The discovery of the baby galaxies was interesting, as they were far larger and mature than we originally assumed for early forming galaxies. Most scientists believed that the large, modern galaxies formed via gradual mergers of smaller galaxies. However, these large galaxies formed by a collection of stars that came together very early in history. All of this is amazing, but clearly one of the freakiest things NASA discovered in recent memory.
If you saw the original Star Wars film, and felt the Binary Star System that was on Tattooine was not believable, we now know this is possible. However, we were not aware that one could have three suns. That’s right, there is a triple-star system out there. Known as KIC 2856960, it was discovered by the Kepler Space Observatory. It took around 4 years for the team to study this system. Apparently, the system has one large star and two dwarf stars.
Kepler originally noticed a system with four daily dips of light curves. This happens because each dwarf star crossed by the other every 6 hours. Another dip in light was noticed for 204 consecutive days. That was due to the large star eclipsing. It’s speculated that the large star moved so slowly that the other two stars could not get light through. Some speculate that the way light operates here could indicate that it actually has 4 stars. Clearly, this is one of the freakiest things NASA discovered.
Year Discovered:2012 (later confirmed through NASA’s WISE telescope)
Location: 130 Lightyears From Earth
When the rogue planet known as CFBDSIR2149 was discovered in 2012, the scientific community was astonished. Usually, planets tend to orbit stars. If a planet does not orbit one, it is usually a dead planet that’s likely frozen and/or broken up in parts. However, CFBDSIR2149 is unique. Not only does it not orbit a star, but it’s not some broken apart planet filled with mostly ice. It’s actually around seven times larger than Jupiter.
While scientists believe there are many rogue planets out there, possibly even more than those that orbit stars, we simply have not discovered them. This was the first of its kind to be a complete, large planet that just drifts around space. It is speculated that the planet originally came from the AB Doradus star system. The planet is pretty young too, at roughly 50 to 120 million years old. It is now roughly 130 lightyears from Earth, but not expected to come into our star system
Largest Water Supply In The Universe Sits Around One Black Hole
Year Discovered: 2011
If you truly want to know about one of the freakiest things NASA discovered, look no further than the APM 08279+5255 quasar. While water is essential to human life, and most life in general, one black hole seems to be hoarding the largest supply of it in the universe. Quasars are known to be compact objects, appearing a lot like stars with luminosity often equivalent to a star. Yet they are not truly stars and appear to be powered by nearby supermassive black holes.
The specific quasar in question, APM 08279+5255, is near a black hole surrounded by a vapor cloud. Inside the cloud is 140 trillion times the amount of water found on the entire Earth. This is the most water found in any one area of the universe. It is 12 billion lightyears away from us. Since light travels to us as a form of previous history and not present-day material, some of this water could be gone now. Scientists assume this cloud formed roughly 1.6 billion years after the universe itself formed.
Recently, a cosmic gas cloud showed signs of a mysterious heartbeat. Sitting in the Aquila constellation, the cloud somehow connects perfectly with a nearby black hole. This cloud was discovered by both the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico and NASA’s Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. The team found that the cloud “beats” in rhythm with the small black hole. This black hole, however, is located roughly 100 lightyears from the cloud. The black hole is in a microquasar system called SS 433.
The system also has a giant star, 30 times the size of our Sun. This microquasar eats up a lot of light, and orbits with this large star. As they orbit each other, the black hole pulls in matter from the star, causing an accretion disk around the black hole itself. Part of the matter from this star doesn’t drain into the black hole but shoots out high-speed particles and strong magnetic fields. The particles speed off like a jet, producing x-rays and gamma rays. Giving the quasar and cloud their heartbeat.
One of the freakiest things NASA discovered is certainly the existence of vampire stars. They get their name honestly, as one star manages to suck the energy away from another. Usually, this involves a binary star system where usually one white dwarf star is primary and a second mass transferring star is secondary. The stars are incredibly close to one another, causing gravity from the white dwarf to distort the secondary star. The white dwarf is accreting matter from its companion.
This companion star is often called a “donor star” as it’s giving itself to the white dwarf. The infalling matter is rich in hydrogen too, only helping the dwarf star’s energy. An accretion disk is formed, where strong UV and X-Ray emissions are present. The companion star eventually loses gravitational energy. Usually, the white dwarf gets what it needs, but it can suck up too much from its companion and reach a Type Ia supernova. This is all so vampire-like that it’s scary.
Location:Gliese 436 Star System, Leo Constellation
Have you ever put your hand under super-hot water and your hand originally was cold until you experienced the burn? What about a warm feeling before touching something bitterly cold? This is not just something humans experience, as it can (sort of) happen to planets too. The Gliese 436b planet is certainly a paradox for astronomers. This exoplanet is almost exclusively made from ice. Yet somehow, it is also on fire.
On the surface of the planet, the temperature reaches 822 degrees Fahrenheit (439 degrees Celsius). In spite of this, the planet maintains its icy landscape, remaining completely frozen. How does it accomplish this? At first, scientists did not know but eventually, they found that the immense gravitational force exerted by the planet’s core was the cause. This force makes ice much denser, allowing it to handle high levels of heat. It even compresses water vapor that might normally evaporate.
We all know by now that black holes suck up everything around them. While it might appear to those watching that something is moving into the black hole at a snail-slow pace, it is long gone. This is quite interesting because as a black hole absorbs things, most assume it can only absorb so much before it must spit stuff out. This is why many assumed for years that black holes might open up elsewhere. The proposal that something like this had to be the case comes from Igor Novikov.
In 1964, the Russian Physicist used Einstein’s field equations to come to his conclusion. He coined the “white hole” theory, which proposed that, unlike a black hole that uses gravity to suck things up, white holes use gravity to push things away. Which made many assume that the white hole spits out things a black hole absorbed. NASA has come across things that appeared like white holes. While they might not operate exactly as we assumed, it appears to be at least possible.
Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources: