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

Updated August 12, 2020 1.2k votes 166 voters 34.1k 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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    Dark Flow, Dark Energy, And Dark Matter Exist - They're Merely Hard To Prove

    Dark Flow, Dark Energy, And Dark Matter Exist - They're Merely Hard To Prove
    Photo: Shutterstock

    As much as 80% of the universe consists of dark matter - unobservable material that gives off no light or energy. Scientists are aware dark matter exists, but they continue to have difficulty proving it. Within dark matter, there is dark energy, the force driving the universe's expansion. Furthermore, NASA observed a spatial event they coined "dark flow" - a phenomenon that seems to pull matter in unexplained directions through the universe. When scientists discovered galaxy clusters moving in directions deemed inconsistent with the universe's natural expansion, they posited the "dark flow" theory.

    From what they can tell at this time, "dark flow" comes from somewhere outside the known universe.  

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    Asteroids Can Have Rings

    Asteroids Can Have Rings
    Photo: Nico Schmedemann / Shutterstock.com

    Astronomers have long known that planets can have rings, but in 2014, they realized asteroids could, too. First discovered near Saturn in 1997, Chariklo has an estimated diameter of about 155 miles. In 2013, scientists observed the asteroid traveling in front of a star, which illuminated its features. What they found surprised them - Chariklo had two rings: the more massive inner ring is four miles wide, while the outer one is about half that size.

    Chariklo is the first non-planetary body known to have rings. Researchers believe Chariklo may have at least one moon as well. 

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    Mars Had Tsunamis And Lava Waterfalls

    Mars Had Tsunamis And Lava Waterfalls
    Photo: Shutterstock

    Scientists have searched for proof of liquid water - the foundation for carbon-based life - on Mars for decades. In 2017, NASA researchers found evidence of tsunami activity on Mars from roughly three billion years ago, indicating the red planet may have had oceans at one time. Researchers speculate an asteroid had plummeted into a sea, causing the tsunami and shaping the planet's topography. Scientists believe the asteroid's impact created Lomonosov crater in the northern plains of Mars. 

    Researchers have long speculated water once flowed on the Martian surface, and - at one point, according to NASA - "several large aquifers catastrophically ruptured," flooding the northern plains. They could find no shoreline, however, until a topographic map revealed ridge-like indents below the surface. These grooves suggest two tsunami waves formed Mars's distinct patterns. In 2017, scientists released evidence of a large lava waterfall on the planet, which they nicknamed the "Niagara Falls of Mars." It likely circled a crater in the planet's Tharsis volcanic province.

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    NASA Figured Out The Scent Of Comets

    NASA Figured Out The Scent Of Comets
    Photo: carlos martin diaz / Shutterstock.com

    As part of its Rosetta mission, the European Space Agency (ESA) sent the Philae probe into a comet. Rosetta, an orbiter launched in 2004, circled the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for two years before Philae touched down. The project's goal was to better understand comets by learning their composition. According to National Geographic, Philae, which hibernated after landing, revealed the surface contained "ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen sulfide, which together smell like pungent urine, almonds, and rotten eggs."

    Philae was able to find amino acids, capture photographs, and answer questions about the comet's shape.

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