The Universe Beyond the Solar System - Facts, Photos and a Poem

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Omega or Swan Nebula
Hubble Space Telescope image of the Omega or Swan Nebula | Source

Mysteries of the Universe

The universe is a mysterious place. Astronomers say that about seventy percent of its total mass and energy exists as dark energy, which is believed to be responsible for the universe’s accelerating expansion. Another twenty-five percent is made of invisible dark matter. This type of matter does have mass but doesn’t reflect light and can’t be seen. Less than five percent of the universe consists of the “regular” matter that we can see.

Very little is known about dark energy and dark matter, despite the fact that they are believed to be so common in the universe. They are strange and intriguing concepts. An understanding of their nature would be a huge advance in our knowledge.

Scientists have other puzzling ideas about space. For example, the evidence indicates that the universe is expanding, but some researchers say that it may also be infinite. How do these two ideas fit together? Another fascinating idea proposed by some researchers is that other universes exist in addition to our own, forming a multiverse. Some scientists also suggest that our universe was produced as a bud or branch from another universe and in a similar way is producing other universes. Every new theory or new discovery in astronomy is exciting.

Hubble Space Telescope image of the Antennae galaxies
Hubble Space Telescope image of the Antennae galaxies | Source

The space between stars is not a vacuum. It contains a thin mixture of gas and dust known as the interstellar medium or ISM. The main component of the ISM is hydrogen, which exists in a molecular, atomic or ionic form, but other substances are also present.

Nebulae, Stars and Galaxies

Nebulae

Space contains nebulae (or nebulas), which are clouds of gas and dust formed when interstellar medium partially collapses due to gravitational attraction between the particles. Nebulae contain mainly hydrogen and helium. Some glow and some are colored. The beautiful photos of nebulae that are shown on astronomy websites may have been color enhanced in order to approximate their real appearance, however. Nebulae often produce stars.

Stars

A star is "born" as particles in a nebula move even further towards each other under the influence of gravity. Part of the gas and dust cloud collapses to form the star. The temperature increases during the collapse, eventually becoming high enough to trigger nuclear fusion to begin. In nuclear fusion, nuclei of atoms join, producing the star's energy in the process.

Galaxies

A galaxy is a collection of stars, gas and dust. Scientists know that our galaxy - the Milky Way - contains other solar systems beyond our own, each with a star surrounded by orbiting planets. They also know that there are other galaxies beyond the one in which we live.

At the time when this article was written, over a thousand exoplanets (ones beyond the solar system) had been discovered. Thirty-one of these were deemed potentially habitable.

The Known Universe: A Virtual Tour

The Life Cycle of a Star

Scientists talk about the "lives" of stars, since stars change over time. They are born in nebulae. They eventually stop releasing energy and are said to be dead. A star's life as it ages depends on its mass.

Low Mass Stars

A star with a low mass ends its life as a red dwarf. Red dwarfs are thought to be the most abundant type of star. They exist for a long time and release their energy very slowly. Astronomers suspect that some may be able to live for trillions of years before they run out of fuel.

Medium Mass Stars

A medium mass star like our sun will become a red giant as it ages, then change into a white dwarf and finally a cold and dark black dwarf. The sun is believed to be about 4.5 billion years old and is middle aged at present.

High Mass Stars

A high mass star has a more violent life than a low or medium mass star. As it ages it turns into a red supergiant and then undergoes a dramatic explosion called a supernova. The material remaining after the explosion becomes a neutron star, or in the case of a very massive star, a black hole.

A photo of the Pleiades, a cluster of stars
A photo of the Pleiades, a cluster of stars | Source

Gravity is the force of attraction between objects. The larger the mass of the objects or the shorter the distance between them, the stronger the force of gravity.

Neutron Stars, Magnetars and Pulsars

A neutron star is only about 20 km in diameter, yet it has a mass of about 1.4 times the mass of the sun. Its gravitational field is so intense that protons and electrons are pulled together to form neutrons, giving the object its name. It also has a strong magnetic field. In addition, neutron stars rotate rapidly. Some spin at a speed of more than 700 rotations per second!

A magnetar is a neutron star that has an extremely strong magnetic field. Magnetars rotate more slowly than other types of neutron stars. A pulsar is a neutron star that produces a beam of electromagnetic radiation from a particular point. As we view a pulsar from Earth, the beam appears to be turning on and off at regular intervals due to the rotation of the pulsar. The beam consists of visible light, radio waves, x-rays, gamma rays or more than one type of electromagnetic radiation.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The different types of electromagnetic radiation differ in wavelength (and therefore in frequency as well). The wavelengths are often arranged in a diagram known as the electromagnetic spectrum.
The different types of electromagnetic radiation differ in wavelength (and therefore in frequency as well). The wavelengths are often arranged in a diagram known as the electromagnetic spectrum. | Source

A neutron star is so dense that on Earth one teaspoonful would weigh a billion tons.

— NASA

Exotic Neutron Stars, from the Chandra X-ray Observatory

Black Holes

A black hole isn't an empty spot in space, as its name might suggest. Instead, it's a place where matter with a very large mass is filling a very small space. Since a black hole has such a huge and concentrated mass, it exerts a tremendous force of gravity. The gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape from the area.

Scientists detect black holes by their effects on the objects that surround them. An object may be torn apart as it's pulled into a black hole. The object accelerates as it gets nearer to the "hole" and emits radiation in the form of x-rays.

Most galaxies - including our own - have a supermassive black hole at their center. The one at the center of the Milky Way is believed to have a mass that is 4.5 million times greater than the sun's mass. It's located twenty-eight thousand light years away from the Earth. A light year is the distance that light travels in one year, which is 9.46 X 1015 meters. The Milky Way also contains many smaller black holes.

Think of a star ten times more massive than the Sun squeezed into a sphere approximately the diameter of New York City.

— NASA (Description of a black hole)
Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 1084, a spiral galaxy
Hubble Space Telescope image of NGC 1084, a spiral galaxy | Source

Quasars

Quasars (quasi-stellar radio sources) are very distant, brilliant objects that are releasing an enormous amount of energy. To us, they look like a pinpoint of light, just like a star. This is due to their huge distance from Earth. Astronomers say that quasars are actually releasing far more energy than a star.

Scientists think that a quasar is located in the center of a distant galaxy and is being powered by a supermassive black hole. The quasars that we see today may no longer exist, however. The light emitted from a distant object in space takes a very long time to reach Earth. When we examine distant space, we are seeing it as it once existed, not as it exists today.

Hubble telescope image of star-forming region R316 in NGC 2070
Hubble telescope image of star-forming region R316 in NGC 2070 | Source

There is much that is not yet understood about the universe. Intriguing areas of study include the origin and possible fate of the universe, fields and the disturbances within them, gravitational waves, exotic and unusual particles and the behavior of objects in space.

Endless Possibilities

I love to lie comfortably on the ground on a clear night, look up at the stars and planets that can be seen and think about the universe. Speculation is fun. Knowledge would be even better

It’s frustrating to realize that there is so much that is unknown about space and to think about how difficult it is to study the universe from our little area within it. It’s awesome to explore the night sky and to think about all the possibilities, however.

The curved structure in the photo was created by the "wind" produced by the collision of the star L.L. Orionis with the Orion Nebula flow.
The curved structure in the photo was created by the "wind" produced by the collision of the star L.L. Orionis with the Orion Nebula flow. | Source

Mysteries of the Universe: A Poem

I want to see the universe beyond the Earth,
to reach beyond the confines of this world
and travel far beyond the sky
to find the mysteries;
to leave this comfort zone,
smaller than a tiny speck
lodged in the universe’s eye.

I'd love to see the stars beyond the night
and experience the awe,
to view the wondrous scenes
of destruction and of birth,
the cosmic acts of power
and fire of novelty
in nature never still.

I’d like to walk upon another world
and fly through space above,
all senses nourished and enthralled.
I want to marvel at strange life,
to know dark matter and dark energy,
to see creation in the act
and explore the vast unknown.

I’d love to find out why? what?...and even who?
then move on to find the end of space and time
if such a place or thought exists;
or make the giant leap
beyond the universe,
a never ending trail
into the infinite beyond.

© 2011 Linda Crampton

More by this Author


Comments 28 comments

A.A. Zavala profile image

A.A. Zavala 5 years ago from Texas

Such a beautiful poem regarding the mysteries of the universe. I hope this is a new trend, I hope you find the chance to publish more poetry. AWesome...


writer20 profile image

writer20 5 years ago from Southern Nevada

Great poem. I too hope you get this published. awesome/up


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much, A.A. Zavala. I appreciate your comment very much. I actually write quite a lot of poetry, but I haven't published very much here. Thanks for the encouragement.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, writer20. Thank you very much for the kind comment and the vote.


Rosie2010 profile image

Rosie2010 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Hiya Alicia, I enjoyed reading your poetry and your thoughts about the universe. The universe is vast beyond imagination, and I truly believe that there are other universes other than ours. The concept of parallel universe is so exciting. Have you seen the movie "Source Code" starring Jake Gyllenhaal? I want to believe it is possible. Great job! Voted up and very interesting.

Have a nice day,

Rosie


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi and thank you, Rosie! No, I haven't seen the movie that you mention, but I'll read about it now that you've recommended it. I agree, the idea of other universes is very exciting, just like many other ideas that astronomers are coming up with. I'm just hoping that they can find more evidence for their ideas as soon as possible!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, I absolutely loved your poem! you put it into words that I would like to say, you sound like me! I love Space and Quantum Physics, and dark matter fascinates me, rated up!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

..so much love this visionary and open minded poetic ode to what is up there in the universe beyond our reach but perhaps not our imagination .... please accept my best wishes fellow Canadian for a happy thanksgiving and so nice to hear from you once again - please do me a favor if you can and check out AKA PROFESSOR M - a hub buddy of mine and another Canadian - he would love this piece of yours and you may very well be intrigued by his work too - he is a great writer, well just like you.

lake erie time ontario canada 7:39pm


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Nell. Thanks a lot for the comment. I find the study of space and quantum physics endlessly fascinating too! There are so many interesting and strange possibilities that might be true, and researchers are coming up with new ideas all the time. For me, poetry is the best way to express my feelings about the wonders of the universe.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, epigramman. Thank you so much for visiting my hub and for the comment, and happy Canadian thanksgiving to you too! I'll check out the writer that you mention.


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 5 years ago

Wonderful Poem to "Outer Space"...A place we've all wondered about and visualized in our Dreams. The Hidden Universe, so much to see and Explore. Thanks for giving us a taste of what it might be like in your Excellent Hub Alicia.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the kind comment, b. Malin. It's so interesting to think about the nature of the universe!


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

Hello Alicia, I love your amazing poem!

Just what is out there I wonder, it's both mind blowing and fascinating!

Brilliant hub and voting up, best wishes MM


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks so much for the lovely comment and the vote, Movie Master. I agree, the universe is certainly mind blowing! Best wishes to you too.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

We only need to know a little about the macro and micro cosmos to realize how 'small' and insignificant we as humans are. We can but only mean something significant to each other. Thanks for this thought-provoking poem!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and the interesting comment, Martie. You've raised a very good point!


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Beautiful poem from you, Alicia. The universe were so big. Even, we can't count how many planet, meteor, asteroid out there. But we should grateful with this phenomenon and the universe has so many secrets for us. We have a home work to reveal this secret for the future. Vote up and have a nice weekend!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, Prasetio. It is amazing to think about the size of the universe and how many secrets it holds!


Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota

This is so interesting Alicia. I too am so ingtrigued by the universe and all the things we have to learn. We havn't even scratched the surface of all the mysteries that lie beyond us.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Minnetonka Twin. Thanks for the comment. I agree - there is so much still to be learned about the universe!


marcoujor profile image

marcoujor 5 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

Alicia,

I love this style of poetry... what a captivating and thought provoking subject. I love to think about "our place" in this big ole universe, especially when I am tempted to worry about something very trivial "in the grander scheme". I am bookmarking this and plan to check out your other works... it would be so delightful to see your collection published, my friend.

Voted UP & UABI, mar.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the lovely comment and the votes, marcoujor! I appreciate them so much. I think that the nature of the universe is a captivating topic, too!


Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Maren Morgan M-T 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

Beautiful. I also like a term I've heard recently: "the multiverse." It evokes all sorts of possibilities.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Maren Morgan M-T. The term "multiverse" certainly conjures up all sorts of ideas! The idea that more than one universe exists is fascinating.


shahzad 4 years ago

great poem ... i will love to read it again and again ... plz suggest some names from classics ... who have sound conception about the universe depicted in their works also ... thanks


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, shahzad! I appreciate your visit. I'm sure that there are many wonderful classic poems about the universe that contain sound imagery, but I can't think of any at the moment. If you do an Internet search for "classic poems" you might found some that appeal to you.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

Amazing facts and and fantastic poem, I am fascinated by the Universe and all the mysteries too, nell


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Nell. I agree - the universe is definitely fascinating!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working