“How big is our galaxy? Is there life on those distant planets? Are we really made of star dust? And where do stars even come from?” These are only a few of the questions that come to mind when we consider the vastness of space and our place in the universe. And they’re questions that Bob McDonald, beloved science commentator, helps to answer in his new book, AN EARTHLING’S GUIDE TO OUTER SPACE. Curious? Read on for his list of 10 Facts Every Earthling Should Know About Outer Space:
#1: We are made of stardust. Today we live, but one day we will die. The atoms in our body will be incorporated into the ground, and then, a long time from now, the Earth and everything on it will be vaporized and cast out into space, where parts of it will be reform into beautiful nebulae.
#2: Space seems to be mostly empty and dark. At least, that’s how we thought about it for a long time. But now astronomers think something is hiding in the darkness. It’s everywhere, it’s powerful, and no one knows what it is. They call it dark matter.
#3: There are objects moving in the night sky, and most times, you don’t know what they’re doing up there. They’re unidentified flying objects–UFOs–and they’re very real. But that doesn’t mean they’re alien spaceships…
#4: Eventually, as all stars do, even the biggest stars stop burning on the inside. The gravity becomes so strong that the light shining from the star can’t escape, and the star turns black, disappearing from sight. But even though we can no longer see it, the black star is still there, and so is its super-powerful gravity. And it’s that gravity that pulls in everything around it, including light itself. That’s why black holes are black.
#5: In space, where the body is weightless, our skeletons feel almost no force at all. When bones are not used, they become thinner. That’s a problem for astronauts because they need those bones when they return to Earth. In fact, when astronauts return home, they have to take it easy at first so they don’t break their bones while they regenerate.
#6: On Earth, all of our sensory inputs usually agree with each other. What the eyes see, the body feels, and that gives us a pretty good idea of where we are going. In space, the eyes still work, but most of the other sensors shut down. The body is floating all the time, so there’s very little pressure on the skin. The fluids in the ears swirl around in all directions, telling the brain that the body is falling, which it actually is (weightlessness is just falling all the way around the Earth without hitting it).
#7: Evolution is an essential part of life on Earth. A big change in the environment—whether it’s from something hitting the planet or volcanic activity—occurs every hundred million years or so. So here we are: big, dominant creatures thriving on the planet today. Does that mean we’re the next to go?
#8: The weather on Venus is pretty gloomy. It’s very hot and totally covered in clouds. There’s not much sunlight down on the ground because so little gets down through the clouds. The clouds themselves are made of sulfuric acid, which would burn your skin when it rains. If it rains at all.
#9: Pluto has an atmosphere, but you would choke if you tried to breathe the air. It is made of methane, which is a natural gas we also have on Earth.
#10: In 1908, a comet struck northern Russia. Fortunately, there were no people living in the area, but the impact flattened trees in the surrounding forest for hundreds of kilometers in all directions. If such a powerful event happened today near a city, it would be one thousand times more devastating than the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
These fun facts are only the tip of the iceberg–learn much more in AN EARTHLING’S GUIDE TO OUTER SPACE by Bob McDonald.
Fascinated by the stars? You may also enjoy 5 Astrology Books to Guide Your Year.