The 12 strangest objects in the universe

Earth from space

(Image credit: The LIFE Images Collection/Getty) There’s no denying the strange nature of our universe. Just by looking outside, we are greeted with a variety of peculiarities: self-reproducing plants and animals, all inhabiting a blue orb of molten rock covered by a thin, rigid shell and enveloped in a delicate layer of gases. However, our own planet is merely a small fraction of the extraordinary phenomena lurking throughout the cosmos. Every day, astronomers uncover new surprises that challenge our understanding. In this gallery, we explore some of the most extraordinary objects found in space.

Mysterious Radio Signals

An animation illustrates the random appearance of fast radio bursts (FRBs) across the sky. Astronomers have recently detected 13 of these enigmatic signals, including one that repeated from the same location over several months.

(Image credit: NRAO Outreach/T. Jarrett (IPAC/Caltech); B. Saxton, NRAO/AUI/NSF) Since 2007, researchers have been receiving ultrastrong, ultrabright radio signals that last only a few milliseconds. These puzzling flashes, known as fast radio bursts (FRBs), appear to originate billions of light-years away (and no, they’re not from aliens). Recently, scientists managed to capture a repeating FRB, which flashed six times in succession. This is only the second such signal ever observed, and it could provide valuable clues in unraveling the mystery behind these phenomena.

Nuclear Pasta

Within this neutron star, the universe’s most resilient material may be concealed.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) The strongest substance in the universe forms from the remnants of a deceased star. Simulations suggest that protons and neutrons within a shriveled star’s husk can experience extreme gravitational pressure, causing them to condense into spaghetti-like structures that would snap under a force equivalent to 10 billion times that required to shatter steel.

Haumea Has Rings Haumea Has Rings

(Image credit: IAA-CSIC/UHU) The dwarf planet Haumea, located in the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune, is already quite peculiar. It possesses an elongated shape, two moons, and a four-hour day, making it the fastest-spinning large object in our solar system. However, in 2017, Haumea became even more extraordinary when astronomers observed thin rings encircling it. These rings likely formed as a result of a collision in the distant past.

A Moon with a Moon moon triptych

(Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute) What’s more fascinating than a moon? A moon that orbits another moon, aptly referred to as a moonmoon. Also known as submoons, moonitos, grandmoons, moonettes, and moooons, moonmoons are still hypothetical, but recent calculations suggest that their formation is not impossible. Perhaps astronomers will one day make such a discovery.

Dark-Matter-Less Galaxy? ngc1052-df2

(Image credit: NASA, ESA, and P. van Dokkum (Yale University)) Dark matter, the mysterious substance constituting 85 percent of all matter in the universe, is indeed peculiar. However, researchers are confident about one thing: dark matter is omnipresent. That’s why they were puzzled when they encountered a peculiar galaxy in March 2018 that appeared to contain very little dark matter. Subsequent studies indicated that the celestial anomaly does indeed possess dark matter, but this finding paradoxically lent support to an alternative theory proposing that dark matter doesn’t exist at all. Come on, astronomers, let’s get it together!

The Most Bizarre Star Artist’s Illustration of Tabby’s Star2852

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) When astronomer Tabetha Boyajian of Louisiana State University and her colleagues first observed the star known as KIC 846285, they were perplexed. Nicknamed Tabby’s star, this object exhibited irregular dips in brightness, occurring for unusual durations and sometimes reaching reductions of up to 22 percent. Various theories were proposed, including the possibility of an alien megastructure. However, nowadays, most researchers believe that the star is surrounded by an abnormal ring of dust, which causes the observed dimming.

Highly Electric Hyperion Cassini image of Saturn.

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute) There are numerous contenders for the title of the weirdest moon in our solar system, such as Jupiter’s volcanically active Io or Neptune’s geyser-spewing Triton. However, one of the most peculiar-looking moons is Saturn’s Hyperion. This irregular rock resembles a pumice stone, adorned with countless craters. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which explored the Saturn system from 2004 to 2017, also discovered that Hyperion emits a “particle beam” of static electricity into space.

A Guiding Neutrino An artist’s illustration shows a supermassive black hole at the center of a blazar galaxy emitting energetic particles toward Earth.

(Image credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab) The arrival of a single high-energy neutrino on September 22, 2017, was not, on its own, extraordinarily rare. Physicists at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica regularly detect neutrinos with similar energy levels at least once a month. However, this particular neutrino was exceptional because it provided enough information about its origin for astronomers to point telescopes in its direction. They determined that it had been hurled toward Earth 4 billion years ago by a flaring blazar—a supermassive black hole at the core of a galaxy that was devouring its surroundings.

The Living Fossil Galaxy DGSAT I (left) is an ultra-diffuse galaxy that doesn’t have many stars like typical spiral galaxies (right).

(Image credit: A. Romanowsky/UCO/D. Martinez-Delgado/ARI) DGSAT I is an ultradiffuse galaxy (UDG), meaning it is as large as the Milky Way but contains stars so sparsely distributed that it is nearly invisible. However, when scientists spotted the ethereal DGSAT 1 in 2016, they noticed that it stood alone, unlike other UDGs typically found in clusters. Its characteristics suggest that this faint object formed during a distinct era in the universe, just around 1 billion years after the Big Bang, making DGSAT 1 a living fossil.

Double Quasar Image quasars

(Image credit: NASA Hubble Space Telescope, Tommaso Treu/UCLA, and Birrer et al) Massive objects have the ability to curve light, distorting the appearance of objects behind them. When researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope to observe a quasar from the early universe, they employed it to estimate the rate of the universe’s expansion. Surprisingly, they found that the universe is expanding faster today than it was back then—an observation that contradicts other measurements. Physicists now face the task of determining whether their theories are incorrect or if there is something else peculiar happening.

Infrared Stream from Space

(Image credit: ESA/N. Tr’Ehnl (Pennsylvania State University)/NASA) Neutron stars are incredibly dense objects that form after the death of a regular star. Typically, they emit radio waves or higher-energy radiation such as X-rays. However, in September 2018, astronomers detected a long stream of infrared lightInfrared Stream from Space

(Image credit: ESA/N. Tr’Ehnl (Pennsylvania State University)/NASA) Neutron stars, which are formed after the demise of a regular star, usually emit radio waves or high-energy radiation like X-rays. However, in September 2018, astronomers made an unprecedented discovery—an extensive stream of infrared light emanating from a neutron star located 800 light-years away from Earth. This observation had never been made before. Researchers have proposed that a surrounding disk of dust may be responsible for generating this signal, but the ultimate explanation is yet to be determined.

Rogue Planet with Auroras Newly described brown dwarf

(Image credit: Chuck Carter; NRAO/AUI/NSF/Caltech) Drifting through the galaxy are rogue planets that have been flung away from their parent stars due to gravitational forces. Among this unique class is SIMP J01365663+0933473, a planet-sized object situated 200 light-years away. What makes it exceptional is its magnetic field, which is more than 200 times stronger than Jupiter’s. This strength is sufficient to produce vibrant auroras in its atmosphere, detectable with radio telescopes.

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