The Top 10 Strangest Objects in the Universe
Throughout the universe, there exists a large array of objects that defy our current understanding of physics, astronomy, and science in general. From black holes to interstellar bodies, the universe harbors an incredible number of mysterious objects that both mesmerize and perplex the human mind. This work examines the top 10 strangest objects known to currently exist in the universe. It provides a direct analysis of each scientific anomaly with a focus on current theories, hypotheses, and explanations regarding their existence and function in both time and space. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of these objects will accompany readers following their completion of this work.
The 10 Strangest Objects in the Universe
- Mini Black Holes
- Dark Matter
- Rogue Planets
- Neutron Stars
- Hoag’s Object
"Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious."— Stephen Hawking
What is Antimatter?
As its name implies, Antimatter is the polar opposite of “normal” matter and was first discovered in 1932 by Paul Dirac. Following an attempt to combine the theory of Relativity with equations that governed the movement of electrons, Dirac posited that a particle (similar to an electron, but with an opposite charge) needed to be present for his calculations to work (known as positrons). It wasn’t until the 1950s, however, that Dirac’s observation was put to the test with the advent of particle accelerators. These tests not only provided evidence that Dirac’s positrons existed, but also resulted in the discovery of additional antimatter elements known as antineutrons, antiprotons, and antiatoms.
As research continued, it was soon discovered that when these forms of antimatter collide with matter, they instantaneously annihilate one another causing a sudden burst of energy. To this day, antimatter has become the subject of numerous science fiction works as its potential for scientific breakthroughs is phenomenal in the realm of physics.
What Role did Antimatter Play in the Formation of the Universe?
Antimatter is quite rare in the universe, despite the widespread belief by scientists that it played a vital role in the early formation of our universe (during the Big Bang). During these formative years, scientists hypothesize that matter and antimatter needed to be equally balanced. Over time, however, matter is believed to have supplanted antimatter as the dominant factor in our universe’s composition. It is unclear why this occurred as current scientific models are incapable of explaining this discrepancy. Moreover, if antimatter and matter were equal during these early years of the universe, it is theoretically impossible for anything to currently exist in the universe since their collisions would have annihilated one another long ago. For this reason, antimatter has proven time and again to be a fascinating concept that continues to puzzle some of Earth’s greatest minds.
9. Miniature Black Holes
What are Mini Black Holes?
Mini black holes, or “micro black holes,” are a hypothetical set of black holes first predicted by Stephen Hawking in 1971. Believed to have been formed during the early years of the universe (around the time of the Big Bang), it is hypothesized that mini black holes are extremely miniscule in comparison to their larger variants, and could possess event horizons the width of a single atomic particle. Scientists currently believe that billions of mini black holes exist in our universe, with the possibility of some residing in our own Solar System.
Is There Evidence of Mini Black Holes in the Universe?
Not exactly. To date, no mini black hole has been observed or studied. Their existence is purely theoretical at this time. Although astronomers and physicists have been unable to produce (or recreate) evidence that supports their existence in the universe, however, current theories suggest that a single miniature black hole could possess as much matter as Mount Everest. Unlike the supermassive black holes that are believed to exist at the center of galaxies, however, it remains unclear how these miniature black holes are created as their larger variants are believed to result from the death of super-massive stars. If it is discovered that miniature variants indeed exist (and are formed from another series of events outside the life-cycle of a star), their discovery would forever alter our current understanding of black holes in the universe.
8. Dark Matter
What is Dark Matter?
Dark Matter is a theoretical element that is believed to account for approximately 85-percent of the universe’s matter, and nearly 25-percent of its total energy output. Although no empirical observation of this element has occurred, its presence in the universe is implied due to a number of astrophysical and gravitational anomalies that cannot be explained with current scientific models.
Dark Matter gets its name from its invisible properties, as it doesn’t appear to interact with electromagnetic radiation (light). This would, in turn, help explain why it cannot be observed by current instruments.
Why is Dark Matter Important?
If Dark Matter truly exists (as scientists believe), the discovery of this material could revolutionize current scientific theories and hypotheses regarding the universe at large. Why is this the case? For Dark Matter to exert its gravitational effects, energy, and invisible properties, scientists theorize that it would have to be composed of unknown subatomic particles. Researchers have already designated several candidates that are believed to be composed of these particles. These include:
- Cold Dark Matter: a substance that is currently unknown, but believed to move extraordinarily slow throughout the universe.
- WIMPs: an acronym for “Weakly Interacting Massive Particles”
- Hot Dark Matter: a highly energetic form of matter believed to move at speeds close to the speed of light.
- Baryonic Dark Matter: this potentially includes black holes, brown dwarfs, and neutron stars.
Understanding Dark Matter is crucial for the scientific community as its presence is believed to have a profound impact on both galaxies and galaxy clusters (through a gravitational effect). By understanding this impact, cosmologists are better equipped to recognize whether our universe is flat (static), open (expanding), or closed (shrinking).
What are Exoplanets?
Exoplanets refer to planets that exist beyond the realm of our Solar System. Thousands of these planets have been observed in the past few decades by astronomers, with each of them holding unique properties and characteristics. Although technological limitations hinder up-close observations of these planets (at this time), scientists are able to infer a number of basic assumptions about each of the Exoplanets discovered. This includes their overall size, relative composition, suitability for life, and similarities to Earth.
In more recent years, space agencies around the world have devoted a substantial amount of attention to Earth-like planets in the far reaches of the Milky Way. So far, numerous planets have been discovered that maintain similar characteristics to our home world. The most notable of these Exoplanets is Proxima b; a planet orbiting in the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri.
How Many Exoplanets are There in the Universe?
As of 2020, nearly 4,152 Exoplanets have been discovered by various observatories and telescopes (predominantly the Kepler Space Telescope). However, according to NASA, it is estimated that “nearly every star in the universe could have at least one planet” within its solar system (nasa.gov). If this proves true, then trillions of planets likely exist within the universe at large. In the distant future, scientists hope that Exoplanets hold the key for colonization efforts as our own Sun will eventually make life uninhabitable on Earth.
What are Quasars?
Quasars refer to extremely bright jets of light that are believed to be powered by supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. Discovered nearly half a century ago, quasars are believed to result from light, gas, and dust being accelerated away from the edges of a black hole at the speed of light. Due to the hypervelocity of the light’s movement (and its concentration into a jet-like stream), the overall light emitted by a single quasar can be 10 to 100,000 times brighter than the Milky Way Galaxy itself. For this reason, quasars are currently considered the brightest objects known to exist in the universe. To put this in perspective, some of the brightest known quasars are believed to produce nearly 26 quadrillion times the amount of light as our Sun (Petersen, 132).
How do Quasars Work?
Due to their massive size, a quasar requires tremendous amounts of energy to power their light source. Quasars accomplish this through the funneling of material (gas, light, and dust) away from a supermassive black hole’s accretion disk at speeds reaching the speed of light. The smallest known quasars require the equivalent of approximately 1,000 Suns each year to continue shining in the universe. As stars are literally “gobbled up” by their galaxy’s central black hole, however, available energy sources shrink dramatically over time. Once the pool of available stars is diminished, a quasar ceases to function, going dark within a relatively short span of time.
Despite this basic understanding of quasars, researchers still know relatively nothing about their overall function or purpose. For this reason, they are largely considered one of the strangest objects in existence.
5. Rogue Planets
What are Rogue Planets?
Rogue Planets refer to planets that wander aimlessly throughout the Milky Way due to their ejection from the planetary system in which they formed. Bound only to the gravitational pull of the Milky Way’s center, Rogue Planets drift throughout space at incredibly high speeds. It is currently hypothesized that billions of Rogue Planets exist within the confines of our galaxy; however, only 20 have been observed from Earth (as of 2020).
Where do Rogue Planets Come From?
It remains unclear how these objects formed (and became free-floating planets); however, it has been hypothesized that many of these planets may have been created during the early years of our universe when star systems were first taking shape. Following a pattern similar to our own Solar System’s development, these objects are believed to have formed from a rapid accumulation of matter near their central star. After undergoing years of development, these planetary objects would have then slowly drifted away from their central location. Without adequate gravitational pull to lock them into orbits around their parent stars (due to the lack of adequate mass from their star system), these planets are believed to have slowly drifted away from their solar systems before finally becoming lost in the vortex of space. The most recent Rogue Planet to be found is believed to be nearly 100 light-years away, and is known as CFBDSIR2149.
Despite our basic assumptions about Rogue Planets, very little is known about these celestial objects, their origins, or eventual trajectories. For this reason, they are one of the strangest objects known to exist in the universe at this time.
What is ‘Oumuamua?
‘Oumuamua refers to the first-known interstellar object to have passed through our Solar System in 2017. Observed by the Haleakala Observatory in Hawaii, the object was spotted approximately 21 million miles away from the Earth and was observed heading away from our Sun at a speed of 196,000 mph. Believed to have been nearly 3,280 feet long and approximately 548 feet wide, the strange object was observed with a dark red coloration along with a cigar-like appearance. Astronomers believe that the object was moving too fast to have originated from our Solar System, but have no leads in regard to its origin or development.
Was ‘Oumuamua a Comet or Asteroid?
Although ‘Oumuamua was first designated as a comet when it was spotted in 2017, this theory was questioned soon after its discovery due to its lack of a comet-trail (a characteristic of comets as they approach our Sun and begin to slowly melt). For this reason, other scientists have speculated that ‘Oumuamua could be an asteroid, or a planetesimal (a large chunk of rock from a planet that was flung into space by gravitational distortions).
Even the classification as an asteroid has been called into question by NASA, however, as ‘Oumuamua appears to have accelerated once it completed its slingshot around the Sun in 2017 (nasa.gov). Moreover, the object maintains huge variations in its overall brightness “by a factor of 10” that is dependent upon its overall spin (nasa.gov). While the object is most certainly comprised of rock and metals (due to its reddish coloration), the changes in brightness and acceleration continue to puzzle researchers in regard to its overall classification. Scientists believe that numerous objects similar to ‘Oumuamua exist near our Solar System. Their presence is crucial for future research, as they may hold additional clues pertaining to solar systems outside of our own.
3. Neutron Stars
What are Neutron Stars?
Neutron Stars are incredibly small stars the size of Earth-like cities, but which possess a total mass that exceeds 1.4 times that of our Sun. Neutron Stars are believed to result from the death of larger stars in excess of 4 to 8 times the mass of our Sun. As these stars explode and go supernova, the violent explosion often blows away the star’s outer layers leaving a small (but dense) core that continues to collapse (space.com). As gravity compresses the remnants of the core inward over time, the tight configuration of materials causes the former star’s protons and electrons to merge with one another, resulting in neutrons (hence the name, Neutron Star).
Characteristics of a Neutron Star
Neutron Stars rarely exceed 12.4 kilometers in diameter. Nevertheless, they contain super amounts of mass that produce a gravitational pull approximately 2-billion times that of Earth’s gravity. For this reason, a Neutron Star is often capable of bending radiation (light) in a process described as “gravitational lensing.”
Neutron Stars are also unique in that they have rapid rotation rates. It is estimated that some Neutron Stars are capable of completing 43,000 full rotations per minute. The rapid rotation, in turn, causes the Neutron Star to take on a pulse-like appearance with its light. Scientists classify these types of Neutron Stars as “pulsars.” The pulses of light emitted from a pulsar are so predictable (and precise), that astronomers are even able to use them as astronomical clocks or navigational guides to the universe.
2. Hoag's Object
What is Hoag’s Object?
Hoag’s Object refers to a galaxy approximately 600 million light years away from Earth. The strange object is unique in the universe due to its unusual shape and design. Rather than following an elliptical or spiral-like shape (as most galaxies), Hoag’s Object possesses a yellow-like core surrounded by an outer ring of stars. First discovered by Arthur Hoag in 1950, the celestial object was originally believed to be a planetary nebula due to its unusual configuration. Later research, however, provided evidence of galactic properties due to the presence of numerous stars. Because of its unusual shape, Hoag’s Object was later designated as a “non-typical” ring galaxy situated approximately 600 million light years away from Earth.
Characteristics of Hoag’s Object
Hoag’s Object is an extraordinarily large galaxy, with its central core, alone, reaching a width of 24,000 light years. Its total width, however, is believed to stretch an impressive 120,000 light years across. At its central ball-like center, researchers believe that Hoag’s Object contains billions of yellow stars (similar to our own Sun). Surrounding this ball is a circle of darkness that stretches over 70,000 light years before forming a blue-like ring of stars, dust, gas, and planetary objects.
Next to nothing is known about Hoag’s Object, as it remains unclear how a galaxy of this magnitude could have formed into such a bizarre shape. Although other ring-like galaxies exist in the universe, none have been discovered where the ring surrounds such a vast emptiness of space, or with a core comprised of yellow stars. Some astronomers speculate that Hoag’s Object may have resulted from a smaller galaxy passing through its center several billion years ago. Even with this model though, several problems arise pertaining to the presence of its galactic center. For these reasons, Hoag’s Object is a truly unique object of our universe.
What are Magnetars?
Magnetars are a type of Neutron Star first discovered in 1992 by Robert Duncan and Christopher Thompson. As their name implies, it is theorized that Magnetars possess extremely powerful magnetic fields that emit high-levels of electromagnetic radiation (in the form of X-rays and gamma rays) into space. It is currently estimated that the magnetic field of a Magnetar is approximately 1000 trillion times that of Earth’s magnetosphere. There are currently only 10 known Magnetars known to exist in the Milky Way at this time (as of 2020), but billions are believed to be present within the universe at large. They are easily the strangest object known to exist in the universe at this time due to their remarkable characteristics and unique properties.
How do Magnetars Form?
Magnetars are believed to form in the aftermath of a supernova explosion. When supermassive stars explode, Neutron Stars occasionally emerge from the remaining core due to the compression of protons and electrons that merge into a collection of neutrons over time. About one in ten of these stars will later become a Magnetar, resulting in a magnetic field that is amplified “by a factor of a thousand” (phys.org). Scientists aren’t sure what causes this dramatic upsurge in magnetism. However, it is speculated that the spin, temperature, and magnetic field of a Neutron Star all must reach a perfect combination to amplify the magnetic field in this manner.
Characteristics of Magnetars
Aside from their incredibly strong magnetic fields, Magnetars possess a number of characteristics that make them quite unusual. For one, they are one of the only objects in the universe known to systematically crack under their own magnetic field’s pressure, causing a sudden blast of gamma-ray energy into space at roughly the speed of light (with many of these bursts hitting Earth directly in years prior). Second, they are the only stellar-based object known to experience earthquakes. Known to astronomers as “starquakes,” these quakes produce violent cracks within a Magnetar’s surface causing a sudden burst of energy (in the form of either x-rays or gamma rays) equivalent to what our Sun emits in approximately 150,000 years (space.com).
Due to their tremendous distance from Earth, scientists know relatively nothing about Magnetars and their overall function in the universe. However, by studying the effects of starquakes on nearby systems, and by analyzing emission data (through radio and x-ray signals), scientists hope that Magnetars will one day provide key details to our early universe and its composition. Until additional discoveries are made, Magnetars will continue to be among the strangest known objects in our universe.
In closing, the universe contains literally billions of strange objects that defy the human imagination. From Magnetars to Dark Matter, scientists are continuously pressed to provide new theories pertaining to our universe at large. While numerous concepts exist to explain these strange objects, our understanding of these celestial bodies is greatly limited due to the scientific community’s inability to study many of these objects up-close. As technology continues to advance at an alarming pace, however, it will be interesting to see what new theories and concepts will be devised by astronomers regarding these fascinating objects in the future.
Articles / Books:
- “Exoplanet Exploration: Planets Beyond Our Solar System.” NASA. 2020. (Accessed 24 April 2020).
- Petersen, Carolyn Collins. Understanding Astronomy: From the Sun and Moon to Wormholes and Warp Drive, Key Theories, Discoveries, and Facts About the Universe. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013.
- Schirber, Michael. “The Biggest Starquake Ever.” Space.com. 2005. (Accessed 24 April 2020).
- Slawson, Larry. “What Are Black Holes?” Owlcation. 2019.
- Slawson, Larry. “What Are Quasars?” Owlcation. 2019.
Images / Photographs:
- Wikimedia Commons
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.
© 2020 Larry Slawson