Unexplained Podcast: 7 Solar System Mysteries Scientists Haven’t Solved

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

“We have no idea why the moon is here,” says science writer Rebecca Boyle. inexplicable – The Vox podcast exploring the great mysteries, unanswered questions and all things we Learn by diving into the unknown. “I think a lot of people [the moon] Obviously it’s boring stuff like this, and galaxies and nebulae and stars and planets are more interesting.”

It’s true that some of the epic questions in science exist in the farthest reaches of space – how and when the first galaxies formed, what happens in a black hole – but there are also epic questions here in our heavens. neighborhood, in ours. own solar system.

Exploring our solar system — the moons and planets in it — is to better understand what’s possible in the farthest reaches of the universe. Everything we find or discover in our cosmic backyard will help us understand what is possible in the greater universe. If evidence of ancient life is found in a hostile world like Mars, we may be able to better understand what ordinary life might be like in other solar systems. If we understand how a world that may have been as vibrant as Venus went into decline, we may understand how often similar planets around other stars die at the end of the world.

The solar system’s most provocative mysteries help us understand why we’re here, how long we might have, and what we might leave behind. Here are some of the mysteries of the solar system we encountered inexplicable

Listen and follow for more puzzles inexplicable Wherever you listen to podcasts

What killed Venus?

Venus’ clouds were captured in 1974 by NASA’s Mariner 10 spacecraft.

“Hellscape” is the most appropriate word to describe the surface of Venus, the second planet from the sun. At 900 degrees Fahrenheit, it is the hottest planet in the solar system, thanks to an atmosphere composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide, generating a powerful greenhouse effect. Clouds of highly corrosive sulfuric acid are covered with a volcanic region of very sharp igneous rock. The pressure on the surface of Venus is about 92 times what you feel at sea level on Earth.

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

Robin George Andrews, volcanologist and author of “Venus and Earth are Planetary Brothers” Giant Volcanoes: What They Reveal About Earth and the Worlds Beyond† “It is made at the same time and made of the same things, but the flower is hideous and terrifying 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 boiled Venus to death. The other is that volcanoes have done it.

In-depth reading: The flower could have been heaven, but turned into hell. Earthlings, watch out.

Where did the moon come from?

This view from the Apollo 11 spacecraft shows Earth rising above the moon’s horizon.
HUM Images / Global Image Collection

Before the moon set, scientists thought they knew how the moon was formed. The prevailing theory was that they were very much like planets: bits of material left over from the formation of the sun clump together. But then Apollo astronauts brought samples from the lunar surface, and those rocks told a very different story.

“Geologists have discovered that the moon is covered with a special type of rock called anorthosite,” inexplicable Senior producer Meredith Hudenot explains during the show. “Glossy, clear and reflective, this is the rock that makes the moon shine white in the night sky. At the time, it was thought that this rock could only be formed in a very specific way. Magma.”

But the magma meant the moon must have formed in some sort of epic catastrophe. “Something that pumped so much energy into the moon that it literally melted,” Hoddinott says. Scientists aren’t exactly sure how all of this happened. But each screenplay is a cinematic story of fiery horrific proportions.

In-depth reading: How Apollo Moonstones Reveal the Epic History of the Universe

Is there anything alive in human waste on the moon?

An astronaut’s litter box was left on the moon in 1969.

During the Apollo moon missions, astronauts went to the moon and threw their garbage behind to save weight on their return to Earth. Astronauts departed on all Apollo missions 96 bags of human waste on the moon, and they pose a fascinating astronomical vital question.

Human feces – especially feces – teems with microbial life. With the Apollo moon landing, we brought microbial life on Earth to the most extreme environment it has ever been in. Which means garbage on the moon is a natural, if unintended, experience.

The question that experience can answer: How resilient is life in the face of the moon’s monstrous environment? In this regard, if microbes can survive on the moon, can they survive between planets or? interstellar travel† If they manage to survive, perhaps life could spread from planet to planet, riding on the backs of asteroids or other space debris.

In-depth reading: Apollo astronauts left their tube on the moon. We need to get back to this nonsense.

Was there an advanced civilization on Earth before humans?

Illustration of the Gondwana supercontinent, a landmass that completely formed about 550 million years ago and started disintegrating about 180 million years ago.
Science Photo Libra / Getty Images

Many scientists have always wondered: is there intelligent life in the depths of space? But climate scientist Gavin Schmidt and astrophysicist Adam Frank have another question: Was there intelligent life deep in Earth’s history? Can we find evidence of an advanced non-human civilization that may have lived hundreds of millions of years ago, buried in the Earth’s crust?

This is not strictly a “solar system” mystery, but it is on a cosmic scale. Essentially, Schmidt and Frank wonder: How likely is it that an intelligent form of life on any planet – here or in the deepest depths of space – would leave a mark, a sign of their existence? And in this regard, will some of the space explorers that have landed on Earth over hundreds of millions of years be able to find human footprints if we go far or far away?

In-depth reading: Silurian hypothesis: Can an industrial civilization be detected in the geological record?

Can we push an asteroid off its collision course with Earth?

What if?
Tobias Roach/Future Publishing/Getty Images

Many disasters – volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes – are inevitable. Scientists are talking about when, not whether they will strike. Although people It makes some setbacks worseNatural disasters happened long before we got here. It is a fact of life on Earth. But one kind of disaster need not be inevitable: the clash between asteroid or comet and earth

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

To help answer this question, NASA launched a program last year Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART), a box the size of a car with solar panels. It is currently on its way to a 160 meter high asteroid called Dimorphos. In the fall, DART Dimorphos will impact at 24,000 kilometers per hour (about 15,000 miles per hour) in pursuit of a big question: Could the collision push the asteroid into a slightly different orbit?

In-depth reading: The quest to avoid an asteroid disaster is going surprisingly well

Was there life on Mars?

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

Mars today is a desert, devoid of any visible sign of life. But over the years, scientists have uncovered evidence of long-ago lost Mars that may have looked a lot like 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,” said NASA astrobiologist Lindsey Hayes. “You see things like the remains of a huge river delta, which not only indicates the flow of water, but you probably had a lot of water flowing over a long period of time that kept depositing sediment.”

And where there was water, there could have been life. Last year a new rover landed on Mars, and this is our best chance at answering the question, “Has there ever been life on Mars?” If the answer is “yes,” it could change our understanding of how widespread life is in the universe.

The inexplicable An episode on Mars will air on June 22.

In-depth reading: NASA’s Latest Probe Is Our Best Chance Yet to Find Life on Mars

Is there a real ninth planet lurking in the dark?

Pluto July 13

Sorry, Pluto, a new ninth planet may be coming.

In 2006, the International Astronomical Union Vote for change Define what a planet is, and Pluto didn’t make the cut. There are no longer nine official planets in the solar system, but eight.

But then “we started getting these hints that something else really existed — and a real giant planet that we think still lurks far from Neptune, waiting to be found,” says astronomer Mike Brown. inexplicable† Astronomers have not yet discovered this planet, but they doubt its existence: Other distant objects in the solar system appear to have been influenced by gravity.

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

“It’s like taking a small black grain of sand and throwing it on the beach,” Brown says of the research process. “It would be a little difficult to find that in the sea among the rest. And that’s Planet Nine’s problem.”

In-depth reading: In search of planet 9

If you have ideas for topics for future shows, please email us [email protected]

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