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8 Astonishing Space Facts That Are Stranger Than (Science) Fiction

8 Astonishing Space Facts That Are Stranger Than (Science) Fiction

Fifty-five years ago this month, Russian astronaut Yuri Gagarin rocketed himself into the history books when he became the first person in space. In a tiny spacecraft called Vostok 1, he made a daredevil two-hour trip around Earth, ending with a hair-raising flight from the ejector seat and a safe parachute landing in a grassy Russian field.

To mark this astronomical anniversary, we’ve put together eight bizarre and unbelievable facts about space – a place of unimaginable size, frightening power, and full of realities we can’t even fathom!

1. Sunny days

The Sun has been shining for nearly five billion years and will probably continue to shine for another five billion. A vast, glowing ball made mostly of super hot hydrogen and helium gas, it’s also pretty enormous…

Illustration of the sun beside smaller bodies

"1.3 million - the number of times the Earth's volume could fit inside the Sun" graphic

2. In the thick of it

Neutron stars are the tiniest, densest stars we know of. The material that makes up a neutron star is so dense that a single teaspoonful brought to Earth would weigh more than the entire world population. A football made from neutron star matter would weigh 5 trillion tonnes – about the same as Mount Everest.

Graphic of a football and a mountain, representing the density of neutron star matter

3. Home away from home

An exoplanet is a planet outside our Solar System orbiting an ordinary star. Some of these alien worlds are similar to Earth and may even harbour life. With liquid water and a cloudy atmosphere, Kepler-62e is one of the most Earth-like planets known.

"11 billion Earth-like habitable exoplanets"

4. Not-so-nice noodles

Black holes are among the strangest objects in the universe.  The pull of their gravity is so great that nothing can escape from them – not even light.

The gravitational pull of a black hole rises so steeply nearby that an astronaut falling into one would be stretched like spaghetti and torn apart. (Good luck it’s not very likely at the moment – the nearest suspected black hole is 3,000 light years away!)

Graphic of an astronaut being sucked into a black hole

5. Hello time travel

Speaking of black holes… Einstein’s theory of relativity says that massive objects bend the four combined dimensions of space and time. Some experts have speculated that black holes might warp space-time so much that they could create shortcuts, called wormholes, between different parts of the Universe or different times. But before you start planning your trip to dinosaur times, we have to mention: it’s only a theory! There’s no direct evidence that wormholes exist.

Illustration of a wormhole

6. Mind your head

The shooting stars we sometimes see streaking across the night sky are not stars at all, but tiny flecks of space rock. Millions of these rock fragments, called meteoroids, hurtle into Earth’s atmosphere every year. Most meteoroids come from the Asteroid Belt or from comets, but a few are chipped off the Moon or Mars by meteorite impacts.

Graphic of a falling meteoroid

"100 tonnes of meteors and meteorites collide with Earth every day"

7. Up close and personal

Today’s advanced telescopes allow us to see billions of light years into the far reaches of space. Like eyes, telescopes collect light and focus it to create an image. The bigger a telescope is, the more light it can collect and the sharper the image.

The world’s largest telescope is currently being built on the Cerro Amazones mountain in Chile. Called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), it’ll be as tall as a fifteen-storey building, and its enormous mirror will gather more light than all thirteen of the world’s current largest telescopes combined.

Graphic representing the different sizes of large telescopes8. Rock 'n' roll

Millions of rocks known as asteroids hurtle around the inner solar system, most of them in a belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Large asteroids are very rare – only 26 asteroids are known to be more than 200km wide. However, there are hundreds of thousands of asteroids wider than 1km, and millions of smaller ones.

Graphic of the USA showing largest asteroids by scale

Don’t stop there – keep exploring! Knowledge Encyclopedia Space! reveals jaw-dropping 3D images of planets, stars and much more. The perfect kids' space book, packed with amazing space facts and NASA images revealing the wonders of the cosmos, from black holes to the big bang.

Buy the book

Buy the book

Knowledge Encyclopedia Space! Knowledge Encyclopedia

Knowledge Encyclopedia Space! reveals jaw-dropping 3D images of planets, stars and much more. The perfect Read More

Knowledge Encyclopedia Space! Read More

£16.99

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