10 Space Landmarks We'd Like to Visit


1
NGC 1277's Supermassive Black Hole
This illustration shows a galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its core. (The black hole is also shooting out radio waves.) Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

How better to top off the ultimate space-time sightseeing trip than with a slow plunge into a realm where time and space get tied into the physics equivalent of balloon animals?

We're referring, of course, to a black hole -- a supermassive one. Go big or go home, right? Sure, but there's a better reason: In a smaller black hole, your trip would zip by in an eyeblink; even assuming you could survive its steeper 1-million-G taffy-pull of tidal forces, you would hit the singularity just 0.0001 seconds after flashing across the event horizon. Conversely, in supermassive black holes, the event horizon's gravity "slope" is much gentler -- less than one Earth gravity -- and the trip lasts entire seconds. So welcome to the most monstrous black hole yet found, the 17-billion-solar-mass monster that dominates the galaxy NGC 1277 [sources: Crockett; Hamilton].

As you fall on your slow curve, the starfield takes on the colorful whorls of soap bubbles. Space-time tricks your binocular vision, twisting and jumbling light. Finally, just before known physics takes a permanent powder, the universe crushes down into a halo of blue light, bookended above and below by spectral redshifts [source: Hamilton].

After that, who knows? You're in a ship that defies physics, in a region of space that breaks its laws. Anything is possible, so bring a clean change of underwear and, wherever you end up, start your own list of places to see. We're counting on you.

Author's Note: 10 Space Landmarks We'd Like to Visit

When compiling a list so close to my heart, the hardest part is settling on only 10 destinations. Had I had more space, I might have recommended visiting the crater-cutting cliff of Mercury's Beagle Rupes, or seeing what destruction Venus' temperatures and pressures have wrought on the Venera probes. Moon-wise, I'd have dispatched you to Jupiter's Ganymede, which is so large (three-quarters the size of Mars) that it would be considered a planet if it orbited the sun; pizza-faced, volcanic Io; the ridges of Saturn's Iapetus; or Neptune's moon, Triton, a nitrogen-frosted cantaloupe orbiting at 157 degrees to the orbital plane, which one day might go to pieces and grant its planet even grander rings than Saturn.

More exotic delights beckoned beyond the solar system, including Hoag's Object, a strange ring galaxy, and its thematic counterpart, the "Eye of Sauron" created by a luminous ring orbiting the star Fomalhaut. There was the pink planet, GJ 504b, or the blacker-than-pitch planet, TrES-2b, or the hellscapes of KIC 12557548 b, Kepler-36c or HD 189773b. In the end, space is too amazing and terrifying to be contained in one list, so I hope some of you reading this will view it as a jumping-off point for your own adventure. At risk of being called corny, I'll close with the following thought: The Ship of the Imagination is all fueled-up. What's on your itinerary?

Related Articles

Sources

  • Boyle, Alan. "Astronomers Say They've Spotted Lonesome Planet Without a Sun." NBC News. Oct. 9, 2013. (Feb. 16, 2014) http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/astronomers-say-theyve-spotted-lonesome-planet-without-sun-f8C11366309
  • Clavin, Whitney. "Stormy Stars? NASA's Spitzer Probes Weather on Brown Dwarfs." NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Jan. 7, 2014. (Feb. 13, 2014) http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-005
  • Cook, Jia-Rui C., et al. "Hubble Space Telescope Sees Evidence of Water Vapor Venting off Jupiter Moon." NASA. Dec. 12, 2013. (Feb. 17, 2014) http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-europa-water-vapor/
  • Crockett, Christopher. "Are Galaxies Playing Catch with Black Holes?" Scientific American. July 18, 2013. (Feb. 14, 2014) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/galaxies-playing-catch-with-black-holes/
  • Daniels, Patricia. "The New Solar System: Ice Worlds, Moons, and Planets Redefined." National Geographic Publishing. 2009. Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Great Red Spot." (Feb. 13, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/243638/Great-Red-Spot
  • Fazekas, Andrew. "New Biggest Volcano in the Solar System?" National Geographic News. Dec. 3, 2010. (Feb. 19, 2014) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/12/101203-science-space-biggest-volcano-solar-system-mars/
  • Ghafoor, Nadeem, et al. "Wind-driven Surface Waves on Titan." Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. Vol. 105, no. E5. Page 12,077. May 25, 2000. (Feb. 17, 2014) http://cepsar.open.ac.uk/pers/j.c.zarnecki/pics/d43584.pdf
  • Grossman, Lisa. "Seasonal Methane Rain Discovered on Titan." Wired. March 17, 2011. (Feb. 17, 2014) http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/titan-april-showers/
  • Hamilton, Andrew. Professor, Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder. Personal correspondence. Feb. 10, 2012.
  • Lemonick, Michael. "H2Whoa! Hubble Telescope Finds Geysers of Water on Jupiter's Moon Europa." Time. Dec. 12, 2013. (Feb. 17, 2014) http://science.time.com/2013/12/12/h2whoa-hubble-telescope-finds-geysers-of-water-on-jupiters-moon-of-europa/
  • Liu, Michael C., et al. "The Extremely Red, Young L Dwarf PSO J318−22: A Free-Floating Planetary-Mass Analog to Directly Imaged Young Gas-Giant Planets." The Astrophysical Journal Letters. In Press. (Feb. 20, 2014) http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.0457v2.pdf
  • Lorenz, R. D. "Raindrops on Titan." Advances in Space Research. Vol. 15, no. 3. Page 317. 1995. (Feb. 17, 2014) http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.121.5220&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  • Lovett, Richard. "Saturn Moon Has Ice Volcano -- and Maybe Life?" National Geographic. Dec. 15, 2010. (Feb. 17, 2014) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/12/101215-saturn-moon-titan-ice-volcano-nasa-science-pictures/
  • Martin, Elizabeth. "A Dictionary of Science (Oxford Paperback Reference)." 4th Ed. Oxford University Press. 2003.
  • Miller, Ron. "Seven Wonders of the Rocky Planets and Their Moons." Twenty First Century Books. 2011.
  • Mosher, Dave. "'Nomad' Planets More Common Than Thought, May Orbit Black Holes." National Geographic. Feb. 24, 2012. (Feb. 20, 2014) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/02/120224-rogue-nomad-planets-stars-black-holes-space-science/
  • NASA. "Apollo 11 Mission." Lunar and Planetary Institute. (Feb. 14, 2014) http://www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/missions/apollo/apollo_11/landing_site/
  • NASA. "Eris: Overview." (Feb. 16, 2014) https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Dwa_Eris
  • NASA. "Giant Stellar Nursery." (Feb. 14, 2014) http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_2409.html
  • NASA. "Globular Cluster." NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database. Aug. 9, 2005. (Feb. 14, 2014) http://ned.ipac.caltech.edu/level5/Glossary/Glossary_G.html
  • NASA. "Jupiter." (Feb. 19, 2014) https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=Jupiter
  • NASA. "Kuiper Belt & Oort Cloud: Overview." (Feb. 16, 2014) http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/profile.cfm?Object=KBOs
  • NASA. "Mars Atlas: Olympus Mons." (Feb. 19, 2014) http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/atlas/olympus-mons.html
  • NASA. "NGC 604: Giant Stellar Nursery." Nov. 2, 2002. (Feb. 14, 2014) http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap021102.html
  • NASA. "See Beautiful Ontario Lacus." July 15, 2010. (Feb. 17, 2014) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK4n5l7bHSw
  • NASA. "The Earth-like Planet Gliese 581g." (Feb. 16, 2014) http://spacemath.gsfc.nasa.gov/weekly/7Page40.pdf
  • NASA. "Volcanoes on Mars: Tharsis Montes." Lunar and Planetary Institute. (Feb. 19, 2014) http://www.lpi.usra.edu/publications/slidesets/mvolcan/slide_4.html
  • Phillips, Tony. "Free-Floating Planets May Be More Common Than Stars." NASA Science News. May 18, 2011. (Feb. 16, 2014) http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/18may_orphanplanets/
  • Phillips, Tony. "Jupiter's New Red Spot." NASA Science News. March 3, 2006. (Feb. 12, 2014) http://science1.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2006/02mar_redjr/
  • Rincon, Paul. "Thousand-year Wait for Titan's Methane Rain." BBC News. March 22, 2012. (Feb. 17, 2014) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17454005
  • Torres, Abel Mendez. "Five Potential Habitable Exoplanets Now." Planetary Habitability Laboratory at University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo. Aug. 1, 2012. (Feb. 16, 2014) http://phl.upr.edu/press-releases/fivepotentialhabitableexoplanetsnow

UP NEXT

Just Four Dimensions in the Universe, if You Believe Gravitational Waves

Just Four Dimensions in the Universe, if You Believe Gravitational Waves

Having extra dimensions would be handy for explaining some of the universe's craziest mysteries. Learn how gravitational waves factor in.


More to Explore