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Everything We've Learned About Space Since You Were In School

Updated August 12, 2020 1.1k votes 156 voters 33.7k views14 items

List RulesVote up the astronomical discoveries that enhance your sense of wonder about the universe.

There are always discoveries in space exploration. What we know about space today is leaps and bounds beyond what you might have learned in school. The space facts of your youth may no longer be accurate or could be a small part of a bigger story. New research has completely upended several of the most basic ideas: for example, the existence of nine planets is not a given (RIP Pluto), and Saturn's rings aren't as unique as previously believed.

Some modern finds inspire hope among astronomers, while other discoveries can prove confusing and raise more questions than answers. Here are the highlights in the exciting and ever-changing frontier that is space. 

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    Lucy Is A Massive Diamond Star

    Lucy Is A Massive Diamond Star
    Photo: Shutterstock

    Scientists initially observed Lucy - categorized as white dwarf star BPM 37093 (V886 Centauri) - pulsating in 1992, with its core temperature below 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit. In 1995, scientists used frequency spectra to determine Lucy's composition. They found Lucy's core mostly consisted of crystallized carbon - so in layman's terms, Lucy is a giant diamond, roughly 4,000 kilometers in diameter.

    Given that it's the largest diamond in the known universe, Lucy's name was a foregone conclusion - it derives from the Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."  

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    Comet Lovejoy Expels Alcohol

    Comet Lovejoy Expels Alcohol
    Photo: Shutterstock

    Discovered in 2014, Comet Lovejoy - formally known as C/2014 Q2 - passed close to the sun in January 2015. During this event, the bright comet expelled liquid at a rate of about 20 tons per second, which scientists were able to observe. According to a group of European astronomers, Comet Lovejoy released a cloud comprising alcohol, sugar, and 19 other organic molecules.

    Astrophysicist Nicolas Biver told NASA that, at its peak, Comet Lovejoy discharged "as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second."

     

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    The Baby Boom Galaxy Births A New Star Every Two Hours

    The Baby Boom Galaxy Births A New Star Every Two Hours
    Photo: Shutterstock

    Discovered in 2008, the Super Starburst Galaxy, or the Baby Boom Galaxy, is an estimated 12.3 billion light-years away and produces an average of 4,000 new stars annually. At a rate of one new star every two hours, the Baby Boom Galaxy is an enigma to NASA astronomers, who had initially observed the galaxy using the Spitzer Space Telescope. As one of many starburst galaxies found, the Baby Boom Galaxy defies conventional theories about universe expansion. Astronomers have believed galaxies form stars over long periods by merging small materials to create larger objects.

    With so many stars formed in such a short period, scientists remain puzzled and may need to reevaluate their theory as they witness the "formation of one of the most massive elliptical galaxies in the universe," according to Nick Scoville of the California Institute of Technology.

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    Scientists Have Discovered Several Earth-Like Planets

    Scientists Have Discovered Several Earth-Like Planets
    Photo: Nico Schmedemann / Shutterstock.com

    In 1995, astronomers discovered the first planet to revolve around a sun-like star. Twenty years later, the Kepler telescope detected a planet orbiting a star resembling the sun in what scientists call the "habitable zone." Since then, researchers have discovered several new planets.

    In early 2017, NASA observed a group of Earth-sized, habitable-zone planets around a star called TRAPPIST-1. In November of the same year, astronomers found Ross 128b. This planet is just 11 light-years away from the Milky Way and circles a red dwarf star. In February 2018, NASA uncovered 95 new exoplanets outside of the solar system, planets with all kinds of shapes, sizes, and potential.

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