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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Humbling Discoveries in Our Cosmic Backyard Suggest Our Astronomical Ignorance

Today scientists announced two surprising discoveries relating to the solar system. The first discovery was the discovery of a 250-mile-wide planetoid some 7.7 billion miles from the sun. The New York Times described the discovery as follows: “Astronomers have discovered a second icy world orbiting in a slice of the solar system where, according to their best understanding, there should have been none.”

The area mentioned is an area between the orbit of Pluto and the Oort Cloud, a gigantic cloud- like region of comets believed to surround our solar system. Scientists originally thought this area was empty, but then they discovered within it Sedna, a 600-mile wide planetoid three times farther from the sun than Neptune.

Some are speculating that the planetoid discovery announced today may hint at the existence of a super-Earth planet ten times bigger than the sun, existing too far away from the sun to have been previously discovered. But if such a planet existed, it would almost certainly be too cold for life to exist on it, unless the planet had some type of geological activity that produced heat.

The second discovery announced today was the discovery of the first ring ever detected around an asteroid. These observations come as a surprise as big as the discovery a few weeks ago that a particular asteroid is disintegrating, for unknown reasons.

Humbling discoveries such as these make me wonder: why does any scientist claim to understand exactly what happened during the first second of the universe's history? Evidently we don't even yet fully understand our own solar system, our own tiny little cosmic backyard. So give out a hardy chuckle the next time a scientist speaks as if he has a detailed knowledge of exactly what happened at the dawn of time 13 billion years ago.