An inexplicable podcast: 7 mysteries in the solar system that scientists have yet to unravel

The next time you look at a bright full moon, think about it: No one knows exactly where the moon is coming from.

“We don’t know why the moon is here,” says science writer Rebecca Boyle Inexplicable – A Vox podcast that explores big mysteries, unanswered questions, and everything guk learn by immersing yourself in the unknown. “I think for a lot of people [the moon] it’s normal, it’s a simple thing, and galaxies and nebulae and stars and planets are more intriguing. ‘

It is true that some of the most epic questions in science are found in the farthest reaches of space — how and when the first galaxies formed, what happens inside a black hole — but there are similar epic questions right here in our heavenly neighborhood, around us. own solar system.

Exploring our solar system — its moons and planets — is a better understanding of what is possible in the farthest reaches of the universe. Anything we find or find in our cosmic courtyard will help us understand what is possible in the vast universe. If the evidence for ancient life were to be found in an enemy world like Mars, we would have a better understanding of what ordinary life might be like in other solar systems. If we understand how a world that was alive in a time like Venus was ruined, we can understand how many similar planets around other stars die in an apocalypse.

The most provocative mysteries of the solar system help us to understand why we are here, how much time we have left, and what we can leave behind. Here are some mysteries of the solar system that we have discovered Inexplicable.

For more mystery, listen and follow along Inexplicable where you listen to podcasts.


What killed Venus?

Clouds of Venus captured by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974.
NASA

“Landscape of Hell” is the best word to describe the surface of Venus, the second planet from the sun. With 900 degrees Fahrenheit, it is the hottest planet in the solar system, thanks to an atmosphere composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide, which creates a very powerful greenhouse effect. Clouds of highly corrosive sulfuric acid are covered over a volcanic landscape of sharp volcanic rocks. The surface pressure of Venus is 92 times higher than you would feel at sea level on Earth.

However, some scientists suspect that Venus was once Earth-like, with a liquid ocean that supports the life of our planet. This raises an existential question about life on Earth.

“Venus and Earth are planetary siblings,” says Robin George Andrews, a volcanologist and author Super Volcanoes: What they show about the Earth and the worlds beyond. “They were made at the same time and in the same way, however, Venus is apocalyptic and horrible in every way. The earth is a paradise. So why do we have a paradise next to a lost paradise? ”

There are two main hypotheses. One is that the sun cooked until Venus died. The other is that they were made by volcanoes.

More reading: Venus might have been paradise but it became a landscape of hell. Earthlings, beware.


Where the hell did the moon come from?

This view from the Apollo 11 spacecraft shows the Earth rising above the horizon of the moon.
HUM Images / Universal Images Group

Before reaching the moon, scientists thought they knew how the moon was created. The prevailing theory was that many of them were formed like planets: fragments of material left over from the creation of the sun, piled together. But then Apollo astronauts brought samples from the lunar surface, and those stones told a completely different story.

“Geologists found that the moon was covered in a special type of rock called anorthosite.” Inexplicable Senior producer Meradith Hoddinott explained in the session. “Bright, shining and reflective, the moon in the night sky is the stone that shines white. And at the time, it was believed that this rock could only be formed in a very specific way. Magma ”.

But magma means that the moon was created in a kind of epic cataclysm. “Something that poured so much energy into the moon literally melted away,” Hoddinott says. Scientists do not know exactly how it all played out. But every scene is a fiery story of apocalyptic proportions.

More reading: How the rocks of the moon Apollo show the epic history of the cosmos


Is there anything alive in the human poop left on the moon?

A detritus bag of astronauts left on the moon in 1969.
NASA

During the Apollo lunar missions, the astronauts went to the moon and, in order to save their weight from returning to Earth, threw the debris behind them. In all Apollo missions, the astronauts went 96 bags human waste on the moon, and they pose a fascinating astrobiological question.

Human waste, and especially manure, is flooded with microbial life. With the lunar eclipse of Apollo, we took the microbial life on Earth to the most extreme environment ever. This means that the lunar debris represents a natural experiment, albeit an unintentional one.

The question that the experiment can answer is: how long is life in the wild environment of the moon? And because of this, if microbes survive on the moon, they can survive on the planet or on the planet stellar journey? If they survive, they may be able to spread their life from planet to planet, walking on the backs of asteroids or other space debris.

More reading: Apollo astronauts left shit on the moon. We need to get back to that shit.


Were there any advanced civilizations on earth before humans?

The illustration of the Gondwana supercontinent, which was fully formed about 550 million years ago, began to break up about 180 million years ago.
Science Photo Libra / Getty Images

Many scientists have long wondered: Is there an intelligent life in the depths of space? But climate scientist Gavin Schmidt and astrophysicist Adam Frank have another question: Was there intelligent life in the depths of Earth’s history? Could we find evidence of an advanced civilization other than humans that lived perhaps hundreds of millions of years ago, buried in the Earth’s crust?

This is not strictly a mystery of the “solar system,” but it is a cosmic realm. On the basis of this, Schmidt and Frank ask: how likely is it that any intelligent life form on any planet would leave a trace — here or in the depths of space — a sign that they existed? And for that: Hundreds of millions of years from now, will some extraterrestrial explorers that land on Earth be able to find the remains of humans if we are long gone?

More reading: Silurian hypothesis: would it be possible to detect an industrial civilization in the geological record?


Can we get an asteroid out of its collision with Earth?

And if so?
Tobias Roetsch / Future Publishing / Getty Images

Many disasters — volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes — are inevitable. Scientists are talking about when they will do it or not. Although humans have worsened some disasters, natural disasters have been happening long before we were here. They are the reality of life on earth. But one type of catastrophe should not be unavoidable: the collision between an asteroid or comet and Earth.

The problem is, we’ve never tried to deflect an asteroid, and we don’t know if a plan to do that would work.

To help answer that question, NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) last year, which is a box the size of a car equipped with solar panels. It is currently on its way to a 160-meter asteroid called Dimorphos. In the fall, the DART will collide with Dimorphos after a big question 24,000 kilometers per hour (about 15,000 miles per hour): Can the collision move the asteroid into a slightly different orbit?

More reading: The search to avoid the apocalypse of asteroids goes surprisingly well


Has life ever been on Mars?

Perseverance Rover takes a selfie on Mars.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

Mars is now a desert, with no sign of life. But over the years, scientists have found evidence of a lost Mars that could have long ago resembled the Earth.

“Mars is a very different place today than it was 4 billion years ago, but you can see evidence of what it was like,” says NASA astrobiologist Lindsay Hays. “You see things like the remains of a huge river delta, which indicates that not only was the water flowing, you were probably pouring a lot of water in the long time that the sediment continued to settle.”

And where there was water, there could be life. Last year, a new Rover landed on Mars, and our best choice is “Has there ever been a life on Mars?” If the answer is “yes”, it can change the way we understand life in the universe.

The Inexplicable The Mars episode will be on June 22nd.

More reading: NASA’s latest vehicle is the best chance of finding life on Mars


Is the real ninth planet hidden in the dark?

Pluto July 13th

Sorry, Pluto, there may be a new ninth planet.
NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted to change the definition of what a planet is, and Pluto did not make any cuts. There were no longer nine official planets in the solar system, but eight.

But then, “we started receiving these suggestions that there really is something else, and we think we’re waiting to find a real giant planet that is hiding beyond Neptune today,” says astronomer Mike Brown. Inexplicable. Astronomers have not yet detected this planet, but they suspect it is there: Other objects far from the solar system appear to be affected by its gravity.

Can these suggestions lead us to a real new ninth planet? Maybe. But it will be hard to find.

“It’s like taking a small black grain and throwing it on the beach,” Brown says of the search. “It simply came to our notice then. And that’s the problem with Planet Nine. “

More reading: 9. The hunt for the planet


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