It’s not a big secret that the vastness of space is filled with puzzling mysteries.
Mankind has barely gone past our planet’s moon, and only one of our probes – the Voyager 1 – has managed to leave the solar system. A lot of what we have learned about deep space came from falling objects and telescopic views that have been pieced together by the brightest minds in astronomy.
Some of the more well-known mysteries involving space have already been resolved by various experts in the field. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that space remains full of wonder and unexplained phenomena. Some of these mysteries may eventually be resolved by means of astronomical observations, but others may never actually be given an accurate answer.
The prestigious journal Science selected several of the most puzzling questions that leading astronomers are still baffled with today. They have enlisted the help of different experts in deciding which mysteries have the staying power of remaining unanswered in the distant future, while also weeding out those questions that might soon be answered in the years to come.
And so, in no particular order, let me tell you about five of the most compelling space mysteries that science has so far been unable to solve.
THE MYSTERY OF DARK ENERGY
It was back in the 1920s when astronomer Edwin Hubble made the stunning discovery that the universe is not in a static state, but is in fact, expanding. This was corroborated and expanded further in 1998, when the Hubble Space Telescope – which incidentally is named after the same iconic astronomer – provided the data from distant supernovas that allowed scientists to reach an even more astounding conclusion that the universe is expanding at a slower rate in the past compared to the rate of its expansion at present.
This earth-shaking discovery threw off many scientists from their balance as they long believed that the gravity of matter would gradually decrease the speed of universe’s expansion. It was even believed that gravity would also be responsible for making the expanse of the universe contract. In order to explain the universe’s accelerated expansion, the widely-debated dark energy was conceptualized. This dark energy is what is believed to be the mysterious force that is expanding the universe at ever-increasing speeds.
Although dark energy is theorized to make up around 73 percent of everything that exists in our universe, it is still unseen and unmeasured by mankind. And though the energy is needed to balance out the mathematics of the universe, it is also likely that we may never get to detect and uncover its true nature.
THE MYSTERY OF DARK MATTER
Back in the 60s and the 70s, astronomers came up with the hypothesis that universe contains more mass than what can be perceived physically. Vera Rubin, in particular, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, thoroughly studied and researched the speeds of stars at different locations in various galaxies, and she discovered that there was virtually no difference between the velocities of stars located at the center of a galaxy and those which are found in the farther parts of the same galaxy. These results somehow deviate from basic Newtonian physics, which suggested that stars which are located on the outskirts of a galaxy should orbit more slowly compared to those found at its center.
To explain this unusual phenomenon, astronomers theorized an invisible mass which then came to be known as “dark matter.” Though it cannot be seen, dark matter possesses mass, and its existence is supposedly supported by the gravitational pull that this invisible mass exerts on ordinary matter. This makes dark matter the “glue” which theoretically holds everything in the universe together. Dark matter is believed to make up approximately 23 percent of the universe, and while scientists are still not so sure what dark matter actually is, modern technology may soon allow scientists to detect some of its particles, hopefully in the foreseeable future.
THE MYSTERY BEHIND THE MISSING BARYONS
Dark energy and dark matter combined make up roughly 96 percent of the universe, while regular matter only makes up around 5 percent of our cosmos. However, more than 50 percent of the particles of regular matter – referred to as baryons – is said to be missing. These baryons are particles composed of protons and electrons, and according to astronomers, the count of these baryons from the early formation of the universe to its current state has been dropping from some unknown reason, as if they were gradually but inevitably erased from cosmic history.
Tracking down the location of these missing baryons in the universe continues to be an important priority in the scientific field of astronomy, as the discovery of where they are could help scientists and researchers to paint a much clearer picture on how galaxies and other structures in the cosmos evolved as time went by.
THE MYSTERY BEHIND SUPERNOVAS
Do you know how do stars explode? Many of the processes that have something to do with how stars and the solar system are formed are essentially understood by modern science now. What is not clearly known by researchers, however, is what happens in a star in the event that it finally explodes.
In the untimely event that a humungous star completely depletes its fuel and perishes, it triggers a massive explosion referred to as a “supernova.” This spectacular explosion is known to shine very brightly – in fact, much brighter than the glimmer of an entire galaxy. In recent years, significant strides achieved in supercomputing have made it possible for astronomers to research about the stars’ and supernovas’ internal conditions, and to recreate them by designing complex computer models. But even with these advanced technologies that are available for use by the brightest minds of science, many details about what goes on inside a star before its explosion, and how this explosion happens, continue to endure until now as a challenging astronomical puzzle.
THE MYSTERY BEHIND THE PECULIARITY OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM
While astronomers and space observatories have preoccupied themselves with discovering new planets which are located in the proximity of other stars, some researchers have dedicated their intelligence and their resources in the pursuit of fully understanding the unique characteristics that our solar system possesses.
For example, the four innermost planets found in our solar system – including Earth – while very different from one another, all share the same feature of having rocky outer shells as well as metallic cores. On the other hand, the four outermost planets are immensely distinct from the innermost planets and from each other, with each possessing their own identity as well as distinctive characteristics.
And so, in the hopes of finally figuring out how our solar system was formed and how it came to existence, scientists have dedicated much of their time and exerted significant efforts into the study and exploration of the processes involved with a planetary formation. Unfortunately, despite their dedication, the exact answer to the mystery of how our solar system came to be has remained elusive, and the answers that have been postulated in an attempt to explain it are not so simple.
According to experts, all existing attempts at cracking the mystery behind the diversity of each planet in our system is clouded by the uncertain nature of random chance. This line of reasoning is supported by the results of computer simulations which demonstrated that the un-sequenced fusion of planetesimals in a planetary system when it was still forming could just as likely have resulted to the formation of three or five terrestrial planets in contrast to the four planets we currently have.
But as the search and study of alien worlds which orbit other stars go beyond the stamp-collection of planets according to their orbit and mass, more insights can potentially be gained from these distant worlds in our effort to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of the planets within our solar system. In learning about these alien worlds, scientists are given a higher number of planetary outcomes to assess when it comes to explaining how the solar system came to be.
The five space mysteries we have listed are not the only existing enigmas about the universe that science has yet to give a full-proof answer to. Other mysteries such as the re-ionization of the universe, the source of cosmic rays, and the reason behind the heat of the sun’s corona, have continued to motivate men and women of science to come up with various theories and hypotheses that could provide the best explanations that would possibly resolve such difficult, cosmic questions. And while there are those who propose ideas to explain these phenomena, there are also those who have dedicated much of themselves to refuting such theories and providing an alternative and more plausible explanation to these mysteries.
For some of these questions, we have gotten – even by just a little bit – somewhat closer to giving the most scientifically verifiable answers that will resolve and put an end to these space mysteries. However, it cannot be denied that many of them are expected by most to remain unsolved in the foreseeable future. And while we may never really know the complete truth behind these mysteries, that does not mean mankind will stop trying to figure them all out. And perhaps that innate human quality instilled in all of us is the most astonishing mystery of them all.