Unexplained podcast: 7 mysteries of the solar system that scientists have not yet solved

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

“We have no idea why the moon is here,” says science writer Rebecca Boyle Inexplicable – A Vox podcast that explores big mysteries, unanswered questions and all we learn by diving into the unknown. “I think for many people [the moon] it is taken for granted, it is something banal, and galaxies, nebulae, stars and planets are more intriguing. ”

It is true that some of the most epic questions in science are in the farthest reaches of space – how and when the first galaxies formed, what happens inside a black hole – but equally epic questions exist right here in our heavenly quarter, in our own solar system.

Exploring our own solar system – the moons and planets in it – means better understanding what is possible in the farthest reaches of the universe. Everything we find or discover in our own space backyard will help us understand what is possible in the wider universe. If evidence of ancient life in a hostile world like Mars is found, we could better understand how common life in other solar systems can be. If we understand how a possibly once living world like Venus collapsed, we could understand how often such planets around other stars die in the apocalypse.

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

For more mysteries, listen and follow Inexplicable wherever you listen to podcasts.

What killed Venus?

Clouds of Venus, 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 that is almost entirely composed of carbon dioxide, which generates a really strong greenhouse effect. Clouds made of highly corrosive sulfuric acid are draped over a volcanic landscape of razor-sharp volcanic rock. The pressure on the surface of Venus is about 92 times more than you would feel at sea level on Earth.

Yet some scientists suspect that Venus was once very similar to Earth, with a liquid ocean of water like the ones that sustain life on our planet. This raises an existential question about life on Earth.

“Venus and Earth are planetary siblings,” said Robin George Andrews, a volcanologist and author of Super volcanoes: what they reveal about the Earth and the worlds beyond. “They are made at the same time and are made of the same things, but Venus is apocalyptic and terrible in every way possible. Earth is paradise. Then why do we have a paradise to a lost paradise? “

There are two leading hypotheses. One is that the sun boiled Venus to death. The other is that the volcanoes did it.

More information: Venus could have been paradise, but it became a hell of a landscape. Earthlings, pay attention.

Where the hell did the moon come from?

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

Before the moon landed, scientists thought they knew how the moon formed. The prevailing theory was that it formed like the planets: pieces of material left over from the formation of the sun that come together. But then Apollo’s astronauts returned samples from the lunar surface, and these 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 Meradith Hodinot explains in the show. “Brilliant, bright and reflective, this is the rock that makes the moon shine white in the night sky. And then it was thought that this rock could only be formed in a very specific way. Magma. ”

But magma means that the moon must have formed in some epic cataclysm. “Something that poured so much energy into the moon that it literally melted,” Hodinot said. Scientists are not sure exactly how it all turned out. But each script is a cinematic story of fiery apocalyptic proportions.

More information: How the lunar rocks of Apollo reveal the epic history of space

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

A bag of astronauts’ remains left on the moon in 1969

During Apollo’s lunar missions, the astronauts went to the moon and dumped their waste to save weight on their return to Earth. During all the Apollo missions, the astronauts left 96 bags of human waste on the moon and they raise a fascinating astrobiological question.

Human waste – and in particular feces – is rich in microbial life. With Apollo’s landings on the moon, we brought microbial life to Earth to the most extreme environment it has ever been. Which means that the moon’s waste is a natural, albeit unintentional, experiment.

The question the experiment could answer: How sustainable is life in the face of the moon’s brutal environment? And in this regard, if microbes can survive on the moon, can they survive interplanetary or interstellar travel? If they can survive, then it may be possible for life to spread from planet to planet, riding on the backs of asteroids or other similar space debris.

More information: Apollo’s astronauts left their feces on the moon. We need to get back to this nonsense.

Was there an advanced civilization on Earth before humans?

Illustration of the supercontinent Gondwana, a landmass that was fully formed about 550 million years ago and began to disintegrate about 180 million years ago.
Scientific photo Libra / Getty Images

Many scientists have long wondered: is there intelligent life in the depths of space? But climatologist Gavin Schmid and astrophysicist Adam Frank have a different question: Was there intelligent life in the deep reaches of Earth’s history? Can we find evidence of an advanced inhuman civilization 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 has a cosmic range. At the heart of this, Schmidt and Frank ask themselves: How likely is it that an intelligent life form on any planet – here or in the deepest parts of space – will leave a mark, a sign that it exists? And on this issue: after hundreds of millions of years, some alien explorers landing on Earth will be able to find traces of humans if we are long gone?

More information: The Silurian Hypothesis: Would it be possible to find an industrial civilization in geological records?

Can we push an asteroid off course with the Earth?

What if?
Tobias Roetsch / 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 make some disasters worse, natural disasters happen long before we are here. They are a fact of life on Earth. But a kind of disaster must not be inevitable: a collision between an asteroid or a comet and Earth.

The problem is: We’ve never tried to deflect an asteroid, and we don’t know if the plan would work.

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

More information: The quest to prevent an asteroid apocalypse is going surprisingly well

Was there life on Mars?

Rover Perseverance is taking selfies on Mars.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

Mars today is a desert devoid of any obvious signs of life. But over the years, scientists have found evidence of a long-lost Mars that could have looked much more 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,” said NASA astrobiologist Lindsay Hayes. “You see things like the remains of a huge river delta, which shows that not only did you have running water, but you probably had a lot of water flowing for a long time that continued to deposit sediment.

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

IN Inexplicable an episode of Mars airs on June 22.

More information: NASA’s latest rover is our best chance to find life on Mars

Is there a real ninth planet lurking in the dark?

pluto 13 july

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

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

But then “we started getting these hints that there really was something else there – and a real giant planet that we think is still far beyond Neptune, waiting to be found,” says astronomer Mike Brown. Inexplicable. Astronomers have not yet discovered this planet, but suspect it is there: other objects far in the solar system appear to be affected by its gravity.

Can these hints lead us to a real, new ninth planet? Perhaps. But it will be difficult to find.

“It’s like taking a little black grain of sand and throwing it on the beach,” Brown said of the search. “It would be a little difficult to find this one at sea than anyone else.” And that’s the problem with Planet Nine. “

More information: Hunting for the planet 9

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

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