Skip to main content
Updated date:

The Universe Beyond Our Solar System: A Fascinating Place

Linda Crampton has an honors degree in biology. She has taught high school biology, chemistry, and physics as well as middle school science.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Omega or Swan Nebula

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Omega or Swan Nebula

Mysteries of the Universe

The universe is a mysterious and fascinating place. Astronomers have long believed that about seventy percent of its total mass and energy exists as dark energy, which is believed to be responsible for the universe’s accelerating expansion. Another twenty-five percent is thought to be made of invisible dark matter. This type of matter does have mass but doesn’t reflect light and can’t be seen. Less than five percent of the universe is believed to consist of the “regular” matter that we can see.

Very little is known about dark energy and dark matter, despite the fact that they are believed to be so common in the universe. They are strange and intriguing concepts. An understanding of their nature would be a huge advance in our knowledge.

Scientists have other puzzling ideas about space. For example, the evidence indicates that the universe is expanding, but some researchers say that it may also be infinite. How do these two ideas fit together? Another fascinating idea proposed by some researchers is that other universes exist in addition to our own, forming a multiverse. Some scientists also suggest that our universe was produced as a bud or branch from another universe and in a similar way is producing other universes. Every new theory or new discovery in astronomy is exciting.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Antennae galaxies

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Antennae galaxies

Nebulae, Stars, Galaxies, and Planets

The space between stars is not a vacuum. It contains a thin mixture of gas and dust known as the interstellar medium or ISM. The main component of the ISM is hydrogen, which exists in a molecular, atomic, or ionic form, but other substances are also present. The interstellar medium gives rise to some interesting entities.

Nebulae (or Nebulas).

Nebulae are clouds of gas and dust formed when interstellar medium partially collapses due to gravitational attraction between the particles. Nebulae contain mainly hydrogen and helium. Some glow, and some are colored. The beautiful photos of nebulae that are shown on astronomy websites may have been color enhanced in order to approximate their real appearance, however. Nebulae often produce stars.

Stars and Nuclear Fusion

A star is "born" as particles in a nebula move even further towards each other under the influence of gravity. Part of the gas and dust cloud collapses to form the star. The temperature increases during the collapse, eventually becoming high enough to trigger nuclear fusion to begin. In nuclear fusion, nuclei of atoms join, producing the star's immense energy in the process.

Galaxies and the Milky Way

A galaxy is a collection of stars, gas, and dust. Scientists know that our galaxy—the Milky Way—contains other solar systems beyond our own, each with a star surrounded by orbiting planets. NASA says that 3,200 solar systems have been discovered in the Milky Way to date and that probably many more exist. They also say that the Milky Way contains around 100 billion to 400 billion stars. Space statistics are often impressive. Many other galaxies exist beyond the one in which we live.

Planets

Planets generally orbit a star due to gravitational attraction. So-called "rogue planets" exist, however. A rogue planet travels through space instead of around a star. There is a lot that is unknown about the entities. One theory for their creation is that a collision of some kind knocked a planet out of its orbit around its star. Another is that planets can sometimes form outside of solar systems. Rogue planets have been discovered within the Milky Way and outside it.

The Life Cycle of a Star

Scientists talk about the "lives" of stars, since stars change over time. They are born in nebulae. Their fate in old age depends on their mass.

Low Mass Stars

A star with a low mass ends its life as a red dwarf. Red dwarfs are thought to be the most abundant type of star. They exist for a long time and release their energy very slowly. Astronomers suspect that some may be able to live for trillions of years before they run out of fuel.

Medium Mass Stars

A medium mass star like our sun will become a red giant as it ages, then change into a white dwarf, and finally become a cold and dark black dwarf. The sun is believed to be about 4.5 billion years old and is middle aged at present.

High Mass Stars

A high mass star has a more violent life than a low or medium mass star. As it ages it turns into a red supergiant and then undergoes a dramatic explosion called a supernova. The material remaining after the explosion becomes a neutron star, or in the case of a very massive star, a black hole.

Neutron Stars, Magnetars, and Pulsars

A neutron star is only about 20 km in diameter, yet it has a mass of about 1.4 times the mass of the sun. Its gravitational field is so intense that protons and electrons are pulled together to form neutrons, giving the object its name. It also has a strong magnetic field. In addition, neutron stars rotate rapidly. Some spin at a speed of more than 700 rotations per second.

Read More From Owlcation

A magnetar (magnetic star) is a neutron star that has an extremely strong magnetic field. The field is around a thousand times greater than that of a "regular" neutron star. Based on discoveries made so far, magnetars generally rotate more slowly than other types of neutron stars. They are a rare entity, however, and there is much that is unknown about them. In 2020, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory discovered a magnetar that was also a pulsar.

A pulsar is a neutron star that rotates rapidly and produces a beam of electromagnetic radiation from a particular point. As we view a pulsar from Earth, the beam appears to be turning on and off at regular intervals due to the rotation of the pulsar. The beam consists of visible light, radio waves, x-rays, gamma rays, or more than one type of electromagnetic radiation.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The different types of electromagnetic radiation differ in wavelength (and therefore in frequency as well). The wavelengths are often arranged in a diagram known as the electromagnetic spectrum.

The different types of electromagnetic radiation differ in wavelength (and therefore in frequency as well). The wavelengths are often arranged in a diagram known as the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Chandra Observatory Describes Neutron Stars

A neutron star is so dense that on Earth one teaspoonful would weigh a billion tons...In a typical neutron star, the magnetic field is trillions of times that of the Earth's magnetic field; however, in a magnetar, the magnetic field is another 1000 times stronger.

— NASA

Black Holes

A black hole isn't an empty spot in space, as its name might suggest. Instead, it's a place where matter with a very large mass is filling a very small space. Since a black hole has such a huge and concentrated mass, it exerts a tremendous force of gravity. The gravitational force is so strong that it's often said that no light can escape from the area. Some recent research has suggested that the common assertion that black holes never release light may not be true. They may be able to reflect light in certain situations.

Scientists detect black holes by their effects on the objects that surround them. An object may be torn apart as it's pulled into a black hole. The object accelerates as it gets nearer to the "hole" and emits radiation in the form of x-rays.

Most galaxies—including our own—have a supermassive black hole at their center. The one at the center of the Milky Way is believed to have a mass that is 4.5 million times greater than the sun's mass. It's located twenty-eight thousand light years away from the Earth. A light year is the distance that light travels in one year, which is 9.46 X 1012 kilometers or 5.88 X 1012 miles. The Milky Way also contains many smaller black holes.

Think of a star ten times more massive than the Sun squeezed into a sphere approximately the diameter of New York City.

— NASA (Description of a black hole)

Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 1084, a spiral galaxy

Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 1084, a spiral galaxy

Quasars

Quasars (quasi-stellar radio sources) are very distant, brilliant objects that are releasing an enormous amount of energy. To us, they look like a pinpoint of light, just like a star. This is due to their huge distance from Earth. Astronomers say that quasars are actually releasing far more energy than a star.

Scientists think that a quasar is located in the center of a distant galaxy and is in some way obtaining energy from a supermassive black hole. The quasars that we see today may no longer exist, however. The light emitted from a distant object in space takes a very long time to reach Earth. When we examine distant space, we are seeing it as it once existed, not as it exists today.

Researchers suspect that quasars are only present in the early stage of the formation of a galaxy. There may once have been a quasar in our own Milky Way galaxy.

Hubble telescope image of star-forming region R316 in NGC 2070

Hubble telescope image of star-forming region R316 in NGC 2070

Endless Possibilities

Many puzzles about the universe exist. Some of them are tantaIizing. I love to lie comfortably on the ground on a clear night, look up at the stars and planets that can be seen, and think about the universe. Speculation is fun. Knowledge would be even better.

It’s frustrating to realize that so much is unknown about space and to think about how difficult it is to study the universe from our little area within it. New techniques for exploring space are being created, however, which provides some hope.

Additional facts about space continue to be discovered, but we have a long way to go before we fully understand the universe (if that point can ever be reached). It’s awesome to explore the night sky and to think about the intriguing possibilities.

Note to Readers

Most of the comments below refer to a poem, which I have now published in a different article entitled "Mysteries of the Universe: Facts, Thoughts, and a Poem." The article can be found on my profile page.

References

  • Information about dark matter and dark energy from CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research, which is based in Switzerland)
  • New study casts doubt on the existence of dark energy from the ScienceDaily news service
  • Discovery of a new rogue planet from CNN
  • Life cycles of stars from NASA
  • Facts about pulsars from the space.com website
  • Information about black holes from NASA
  • First light detected from behind a black hole from Cosmos Magazine
  • Quasar facts from earthsky.org

The NASA website contains many other facts and statistics about space in addition to the topics mentioned above.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 22, 2013:

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Nell. I agree - the universe is definitely fascinating!

Nell Rose from England on September 22, 2013:

Amazing facts and and fantastic poem, I am fascinated by the Universe and all the mysteries too, nell

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 05, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, shahzad! I appreciate your visit. I'm sure that there are many wonderful classic poems about the universe that contain sound imagery, but I can't think of any at the moment. If you do an Internet search for "classic poems" you might found some that appeal to you.

shahzad on May 05, 2012:

great poem ... i will love to read it again and again ... plz suggest some names from classics ... who have sound conception about the universe depicted in their works also ... thanks

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 18, 2011:

Thanks, Maren Morgan M-T. The term "multiverse" certainly conjures up all sorts of ideas! The idea that more than one universe exists is fascinating.

Maren Elizabeth Morgan from Pennsylvania on October 18, 2011:

Beautiful. I also like a term I've heard recently: "the multiverse." It evokes all sorts of possibilities.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 16, 2011:

Thank you very much for the lovely comment and the votes, marcoujor! I appreciate them so much. I think that the nature of the universe is a captivating topic, too!

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on October 16, 2011:

Alicia,

I love this style of poetry... what a captivating and thought provoking subject. I love to think about "our place" in this big ole universe, especially when I am tempted to worry about something very trivial "in the grander scheme". I am bookmarking this and plan to check out your other works... it would be so delightful to see your collection published, my friend.

Voted UP & UABI, mar.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 15, 2011:

Hi, Minnetonka Twin. Thanks for the comment. I agree - there is so much still to be learned about the universe!

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on October 15, 2011:

This is so interesting Alicia. I too am so ingtrigued by the universe and all the things we have to learn. We havn't even scratched the surface of all the mysteries that lie beyond us.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 14, 2011:

Thank you very much, Prasetio. It is amazing to think about the size of the universe and how many secrets it holds!

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on October 14, 2011:

Beautiful poem from you, Alicia. The universe were so big. Even, we can't count how many planet, meteor, asteroid out there. But we should grateful with this phenomenon and the universe has so many secrets for us. We have a home work to reveal this secret for the future. Vote up and have a nice weekend!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 11, 2011:

Thank you for the visit and the interesting comment, Martie. You've raised a very good point!

Martie Coetser from South Africa on October 11, 2011:

We only need to know a little about the macro and micro cosmos to realize how 'small' and insignificant we as humans are. We can but only mean something significant to each other. Thanks for this thought-provoking poem!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 11, 2011:

Thanks so much for the lovely comment and the vote, Movie Master. I agree, the universe is certainly mind blowing! Best wishes to you too.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on October 11, 2011:

Hello Alicia, I love your amazing poem!

Just what is out there I wonder, it's both mind blowing and fascinating!

Brilliant hub and voting up, best wishes MM

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 10, 2011:

Thank you very much for the kind comment, b. Malin. It's so interesting to think about the nature of the universe!

b. Malin on October 10, 2011:

Wonderful Poem to "Outer Space"...A place we've all wondered about and visualized in our Dreams. The Hidden Universe, so much to see and Explore. Thanks for giving us a taste of what it might be like in your Excellent Hub Alicia.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 10, 2011:

Hi, epigramman. Thank you so much for visiting my hub and for the comment, and happy Canadian thanksgiving to you too! I'll check out the writer that you mention.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 10, 2011:

Hi, Nell. Thanks a lot for the comment. I find the study of space and quantum physics endlessly fascinating too! There are so many interesting and strange possibilities that might be true, and researchers are coming up with new ideas all the time. For me, poetry is the best way to express my feelings about the wonders of the universe.

epigramman on October 10, 2011:

..so much love this visionary and open minded poetic ode to what is up there in the universe beyond our reach but perhaps not our imagination .... please accept my best wishes fellow Canadian for a happy thanksgiving and so nice to hear from you once again - please do me a favor if you can and check out AKA PROFESSOR M - a hub buddy of mine and another Canadian - he would love this piece of yours and you may very well be intrigued by his work too - he is a great writer, well just like you.

lake erie time ontario canada 7:39pm

Nell Rose from England on October 10, 2011:

Hi, I absolutely loved your poem! you put it into words that I would like to say, you sound like me! I love Space and Quantum Physics, and dark matter fascinates me, rated up!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 09, 2011:

Hi and thank you, Rosie! No, I haven't seen the movie that you mention, but I'll read about it now that you've recommended it. I agree, the idea of other universes is very exciting, just like many other ideas that astronomers are coming up with. I'm just hoping that they can find more evidence for their ideas as soon as possible!

Rosie Rose from Toronto, Canada on October 09, 2011:

Hiya Alicia, I enjoyed reading your poetry and your thoughts about the universe. The universe is vast beyond imagination, and I truly believe that there are other universes other than ours. The concept of parallel universe is so exciting. Have you seen the movie "Source Code" starring Jake Gyllenhaal? I want to believe it is possible. Great job! Voted up and very interesting.

Have a nice day,

Rosie

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 09, 2011:

Hi, writer20. Thank you very much for the kind comment and the vote.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on October 09, 2011:

Thank you so much, A.A. Zavala. I appreciate your comment very much. I actually write quite a lot of poetry, but I haven't published very much here. Thanks for the encouragement.

Joyce Haragsim from Southern Nevada on October 09, 2011:

Great poem. I too hope you get this published. awesome/up

Augustine A Zavala from Texas on October 09, 2011:

Such a beautiful poem regarding the mysteries of the universe. I hope this is a new trend, I hope you find the chance to publish more poetry. AWesome...

Related Articles