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The Universe









Brightest Star In The Galaxy

The Pistol star was discovered by the Hubble telescope, and is ten million times more powerful than the Sun, yet it can't be seen by the naked eye as most of the light it gives off is absorbed by space dust. Astronomers calculate that it emits as much energy in six seconds as the sun does in a year. While this makes it the most powerful star yet identified, it also suggests that it will shortly burn itself out. Pistol is thought to be between one and three million years old, whereas the sun is five billion, and expected to last another five billion. The star has been an unknown quantity since first spotted in the early 1990s by astronomers in South Africa and Japan. Astronomers estimate that it is 25,000 light years away from Earth, towards the centre of the galaxy, and up to 280 million miles across.


Closet Galaxy to the Milky Way

The closet object to Earth that is not in our galaxy is the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy - a huge collection of stars and clouds made of dust and gas, which is about 82,000 light years away. The discovery by R.A Ibata G. Gilmore and M.J. Irwin [all UK] was announced in April 1994

Smallest Constellation

The smallest constellation is Crux Australis (Southern Cross), with an area of only 0.16% of the sky. It covers 68.477 square degrees. Its distinctive shape is included in the national flag of Australia. This constellation can only be seen from the southern hemisphere of the Earth.

Largest Constellation

The largest constellation is Hydra, the "Sea Serpent". It covers an area of 1,302.844 sq degrees, or 3.16% of the whole sky, and contains at least 68 stars visible to the naked eye.

Most Luminous Object

Quasar APM08279+5255, the most luminous object in the universe, was discovered in March, 1998, in the constellation of Sagittarius. It is estimated to be between 4 and 5 million billion times brighter than the Sun.

Brightest Star Seen from Earth

Sirius A [Alpha Canis Majoris], or the Dog Star, is 8.64 light years away from Earth and is the brightest star visible in the night sky. A 'light year' is the distance that light travels in a year - roughly 6 trillion miles. The distance between the Earth and Sirius is approximately 50 trillion miles.  Sirius has a mass 2.14 times that of the Sun, and is visually 24 times more luminous. It is also almost twice as hot, with a surface temperature of about 17,500 oF

Youngest Pulsar

A team of astronomers at Columbia University, led by Dr. Eric Gottheff [USA], discovered the youngest pulsar in 1995. The superdense stellar, called PSR J1846-0258 is located on the other side of our Milky Way galaxy, about 60,000 light years away, and is only 700 years old.

Coldest Place In The Universe

The Boomerang Nebula is a cosmic refrigerator with a mind-numbing temperature of -272C (-521.6F). Pack your thermals - it's officially the coldest place in the universe! The freezing cold spot is made from a dust and gas cloud thrown off by a dying star, which astronomers call a "white dwarf". It's so cold because the center of the Nebula is forced to expand further and faster, as the dying planet sheds more and more cosmic junk. Deep space decay, however, also leads to cosmic regeneration. The dust and gas thrown out at the center of the nebula will eventually collect and merge to form new planets and solar systems like our own.

The Most Massive Extrasolar Planet

The discovery of the massive planet HD168443 orbiting a star 123 light years away was announced in Jan 2001. Jupiter , the largest planet in our Solar System, weighs more than all of the other planets and moons combined. HD 168443 is 17 times more massive even than Jupiter.


Largest Lunar Impact Basin

The largest impact basin on the Moon is the far-side South Pole-Aitken, which is 2250 km (1400 miles) in diameter and an average 12,000 m. (39,000 ft) deep. This is the largest and deepest such crater known in the Solar System.



Nearest Star (Excluding The Sun)

Excepting the special case of our own Sun, the nearest star to Earth is the very faint Proxima Centauri, discovered in 1915, which is 4.23 light years away. Proxima Centauri is also called Alpha Centauri C. The star cannot be seen without a telescope.

Fastest Pulsar Spin Rate

Pulsars are the rapidly spinning collapsed cores of massive stars that have blown themselves apart in a supernova. .Spherical  in shape and the size of a small city, a pulsar is so dense that a teaspoonful would weigh billion tonnes. For pulsars whose spin rates have been accurately measured, the fastest-spinning is PSR B1937+214, which was discovered by a group led by Donald C. Baker [USA] in Nov 1982. It is in the minor constellation Vulpecula [Little Fox] 11,700 light years distant and has a pulse period of 1.5578064949 milliseconds which is equivalent to a spin rate of 641.9282518 revolutions per second.


Nearest Black Hole

The closest black hole is only 1,600 light years from Earth and is known as V4641 Sgr. It was discovered in January 2000 by astronomers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Science Foundation's National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Unlike normal black holes, which weigh several times the mass of the Sun, supermassive black holes  reside in the hearts of galaxies and can be as massive as several hundred million times that of the Sun.

Nearest Extrasolar Planet

On Aug 7, 2000 a team of astronomers led by Dr. William Cochran of the University of Texas McDonald Observatory [USA], announced the discovery of the nearest planet outside the solar System. The Planet - probably slightly larger than Jupiter - orbits the star Epsilon Eridani.  This star, at only 10.5 light years distant, is one of the closet stars to the Sun, which means that is is the main phase of its life span


Brightest Planet

Viewed from Earth, the brightest of the five planets normally visible to the naked eye (Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn, and Venus) is Venus, which has a maximum magnitude of -4.4. In clear conditions, and if you know where to look, Venus can often be viewed during the day. The planet is often at the root of supposed UFO sightings. A thick white blanket of clouds perpetually shroud this rocky planet, hiding the surface from view.

Nearest Star Cluster

The Hyades cluster in the constellation of Taurus [the Bull] is the nearest star cluster to our Solar System. It contains around 300 stars, which are roughly 150 light years away and have been estimated to be 625 million years old.

Brightest Supernova Of Modern Times

In February 1987, a giant star within the Large Magellanic Cloud exploded in the brightest supernova of modern times. Its maximum brightness was magnitude 2.3, easily visible to the naked eye. As the star runs out of hydrogen fuel, it begins to use heavier and heavier elements as its nuclear fuel. Eventually, iron is formed in the core, which prevents further fusion reactions from occuring within the star. As fusion shuts down, the star collapses in upon itself and then blows itself to pieces as a supernova.

Largest Galaxy

The central galaxy of the Abell 2029 galaxy cluster, 1070 million light years distant in Virgo, has a major diameter of 5,600,000 light years - 80 times the diameter of our own Milky Way galaxy.

Farthest Object Visible By The Naked Eye

The remotest heavenly body visible with the naked eye is the Great Galaxy in the constellation of Andromeda. A silver smudge in the sky gives the Andromeda Galaxy away - at a mind-boggling 2,200,000 light years from Earth, anyone can spot it! One of the closest galaxies to our own, the light we see is the result of 200,000,000,000 stars shining together. The spiral galaxy is said to have been discovered by German astronomer, Simon Marius, around 1611.

Brightest Nebula
The Orion Nebula (M42 (Messier 42)) is the brightest nebula in the sky, with an apparent magnitude of 4. Located in the 'sword' of the constellation of Orion, the nebula is easily visible to the naked eye.

A nebula is a vast cloud of gas and dust. Some are dark but others glow by reflecting starlight or by emitting their own light due to stars embedded within them. Although the Orion Nebula is around 1,500 light years from Earth, it can be seen in the night sky without a telescope. Although it looks bright and substantial, the Orion Nebula is extremely diffuse and rarified. If you took a 3 cm-wide core sample right through its 16 light year width, you would only gather enough mass to balance a small coin. The Orion Nebula is the best example of what is called a diffuse nebula. Diffuse nebulae either emit their own light or reflect the light of nearby stars, while dark nebulae obscure the stars behind them. The extremely bright light from the Orion Nebula comes from hundreds of very hot (O-type) young stars clustered around four larger stars known as the Trapezium. Thanks to the work of the Hubble Space Telescope, images of the nebula have continued to improve and scientists can now photograph light-emitting objects that had never been seen before and even watch stars being "born".





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