7 myths about our universe that are very popular on the web

Myth 1. A teaspoon of a neutron star would weigh billions of tons.

An artist’s representation of a neutron star. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Neutron stars are celestial bodies with incredible density and gravity. Most of them weigh about the same as our Sun. At the same time, they have a radius of only a dozen or two kilometers and, like crazy, rotate around their axis.

In many collections of popular science facts from the Internet, you can find the statement: “A neutron star is so dense that a teaspoon of its substance would weigh billions of tons.” But it is meaningless.

The fact is that the substance of such a star cannot exist without its gravitation.

Under the influence of the latter, elementary particles – neutrons inside this cosmic body are compressed into a superdense mass, which is called nuclear paste. And if you somehow pick out a teaspoon of matter from a star (which is impossible), then gravity will stop acting on it and the particles will start to repel each other.

Therefore, a teaspoon of a neutron star cannot exist: as soon as you get it, the contents will explode , evaporating a solid part of our planet.

Myth 2. The Milky Way and Andromeda will crash into each other

Collision of galaxies. Animation: NASA

Astronomers’ calculations show that in 4.5 billion years, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with its nearest neighbor, Andromeda. This is a fairly common occurrence in the universe.

Many imagine such a collision as a catastrophe of truly unimaginable proportions, as a result of which stars will explode, planetary systems will collapse, and all intelligent life, if any, will die.

But you should not worry: this event is far from being so catastrophic. Stars in galaxies cannot collide due to the fact that the distances between them are extremely large.

For example, if our Sun were the size of a coin, then the nearest such coin, Proxima Centauri, would be 718 kilometers away from it. Too far, it seems.

So the destruction of planetary systems is not expected. Strictly speaking, collision is not quite the right word for this process, it would be better to call it merging. As a result of it, one galaxy is formed from two galaxies – Mlecomed. At the same time, our solar system will not be subjected to any unpleasant effects.

True, it will no longer be possible to observe this from the Earth , because in 1.5 billion years the luminosity of the Sun will increase so much that the oceans will evaporate from our globe. Try by then to move to some space station with your own biosphere.

Myth 3. Jupiter saves the Earth from asteroids

Jupiter. Image: Hubble/NASA

Another myth that flashes in many collections of “facts about the universe.” The logic is this: a block is flying from deep space , is about to imprint into our long-suffering globe. But then Jupiter deflects the asteroid with its powerful gravitational field, and it is carried away without harming anyone. Some even say that life on Earth would not be possible without the help of this planet.

But, using computer simulations, scientists from the University of New South Wales and Open University found that this is not entirely true.

Jupiter can really deflect objects from the Earth that have arrived from outside the solar system . But here, on the contrary, it shifts local comets and asteroids closer to the orbit of our planet, increasing the threat of a collision. So do not consider Jupiter as the shield of the Earth.

Myth 4. Galaxies are very colorful.

Eagle Nebula, colorized image. Green represents hydrogen, red represents singly ionized sulfur, and blue represents doubly ionized oxygen atoms. Image: NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

There are many collections of photographs from the Hubble telescope on the Web, to which images of James Webb have recently been added. The galaxies captured on them are usually extremely bright and colorful.

But if you look at photos of amateur astronomers, you will notice that the cosmos is far from being so colorful and is represented more by a black and gray and white palette with small splashes of blue, red and blue.

The fact is that the human eye is not able to capture colors at such long distances. And telescopes like Hubble generally take black-and-white images, which are then artificially colored by scientists.

Researchers determine which parts of space emit ultraviolet, X-ray, or gamma rays, and then assign each type of radiation a specific color.

Because of this, many people write on the Internet: “Stop believing NASA photos, it’s all photoshop!” – although astronomers speak directly about tinting pictures.

If you want to know what distant galaxies really look like, take a look at this image of Andromeda, for example – it is presented in natural colors:

Andromeda galaxy in natural colors. Image: NASA

Or look at the North America and Pelican Nebulae, taken in different ranges:

Nebula North America and Pelican, taken in the visible (top left photo) and infrared (everything else). Image: NASA

As you can see, the real shades are somewhat dimmer than the colored fragments.

Myth 5. The solar system is surrounded by a wall of fire.

The heliosphere in the representation of the artist. Image: NASA/JPL‑Caltech

This heading is quite common in collections of “interesting facts about space.” The solar system is surrounded by the heliosphere, a bubble of extremely hot hydrogen, the plasma that our star emits. It was first recorded by the Voyager probes with their instruments . The temperature of the gas in the heliosphere reaches about 49,000 °C.

Having learned that clouds of hot hydrogen are circling around the solar system, people imagine some kind of impenetrable barrier that will burn anyone who approaches it. Therefore, they joke about all sorts of probes like Voyagers and New Horizons that they will reach “to the end of the map”, burn out and show nothing else.

Does this mean that it is impossible to leave the solar system? Nothing like this.

The heliosphere is actually so rarefied that it will not affect the temperature of the spacecraft crossing it in any way – except that interference will increase in radio communications. The same Voyagers passed this border without even thinking of burning out. So the phrase “wall of flame” is an exaggeration.

In the end, the Parker probe generally flew into the atmosphere of the Sun and nothing survived .

Myth 6. The star Methuselah is older than the universe

The star Methuselah, located at a distance of 190.1 light years from us. Image: Digitalized Sky Survey (DSS) / Caltech

Take a look at the picture above: this is one of the oldest stars in the universe – under the number HD 140283. It is usually called Methuselah. On the Internet, references to it can be found in articles about the mysteries of space, because it is allegedly older than our entire universe.

The age of Methuselah was estimated at 16 billion years, while the universe is only 13.8 billion.

Sometimes a star is cited as proof of the claim that ” scientists don’t know anything!”. But in reality this is not so.

When the age of a star was first determined in 2000 using spectroscopy, they actually counted 16 billion years. But since then, methods have improved somewhat, and it became clear that Methuselah was only 12 billion. So there is no paradox .

And yes, it’s not the oldest star in the universe, as it turns out. The oldest star discovered so far is called SMSS J031300.36-670839.3 and has an age of 13.3 billion years.

Myth 7. The Big Bang was an explosion.

Time scale of the metric expansion of space. Image: NASA/WMAP Science Team

The Big Bang theory is usually described as follows: 13.8 billion years ago, the Universe was compressed into a point of infinite density and temperature, and then this singularity took off and exploded. And it turned out the cosmos that we are seeing now. But this is not quite the correct representation of events.

The fact that the Big Bang took place in the past is evidenced by the gradually fading thermal radiation of the cosmos and the expansion of the space of the Universe. This prompted scientists to think that the universe emerged from some very dense and hot state.

But the Big Bang was not an explosion in our typical sense – it had no epicenter.

The space of the Universe is expanding uniformly everywhere, and the relict background is practically uniform. There is no specific point where the expansion comes from.

Therefore, comparing the Big Bang with a bomb detonation or a supernova explosion , as artists and animators on the Internet like to do, is wrong. It was not an explosion in space, but an expansion of the latter. The universe was dense and hot, then space began to expand, and matter began to cool down and take on the forms that we are seeing now.

The term “Big Bang” was coined in 1949 by the English astronomer Fred Hoyle. By the way, he was an opponent of the theory and was of the opinion that the Universe has always been. But the catchy phrase fell in love with the public, and the birth of the cosmos began to be called the Big Bang. And although scientists believe that this name of the theory is not suitable due to incorrect associations, it has not yet been replaced – it has become too attached.

Researchers, unfortunately, cannot say exactly how the birth of the Universe looked like, because then the laws of physics familiar to us did not work yet. But, for example, astronomer and physicist from Regis College Santosh Matthew believes that there could not be sound at that moment, because then there was no medium capable of conducting it. So the Big Bang most likely took place in absolute silence.

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