Understanding the concept of space and the universe might be a little difficult for most of us. Since the dawn of recorded human history, people have looked to the sky to try to understand what’s out there and to determine what our place in the universe is.
Now, in 2017, we do know more about space and are even planning our first manned trek to Mars. Part of learning about space is knowing the terms used in regards to space and our universe. Check out this guide to learn some space words that will make you sound like a professional to those around you, and to get a better understanding of space.
The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you. – Neil deGrasse Tyson
Awesome Space Words
We have chosen a few interesting, and important words related to space that we think people need to know. Some of these you might be familiar with, and others not so much. If you can think of any words we missed, write them down below in the comments and tell us why you think it is important!
When you think of aliens you might think of little green men from Mars, but term “alien” means more than just that. “Alien” means different or something that is different than what you are used to. Now, alien “life” exists in our universe around us. There are alien solar systems (solar systems different from our own), alien galaxies, alien asteroids, basically anything that exists our range of knowledge is alien. That being said, alien life does apply to life outside of Earth (like the xenomorph in the picture above from the movie Alien). Life outside of Earth does not necessarily mean intelligent beings or even UFOs. Alien life would be considered anything that is living; a cell, amoebas, fungus, basically anything we consider organic on Earth.
What is the likelihood of alien life? Well, that’s really hard to answer. Some believe that the idea of aliens is absurd, while others think that there is no way that we are alone in the entire universe. We can look back in history and see ideas and drawings about aliens and Earthly visitors, but the only clear-cut way to know if we are alone is to search and explore not just the planets near us but to look outside of our solar system to determine alien life.
Aurora Australis and Borealis
Some of y’all might know what the auroras are, but we thought we would cover them since they are such an awesome occurrence. The auroras are often times referred to as the southern and northern lights (Northern lights are the Aurora Borealis, while the Southern lights are the Aurora Australis). These auroras occur at the north and south poles and are caused by solar winds that actually affect our (meaning Earth’s) electromagnetism. Scientists don’t fully know everything about the auroras but are learning more as time goes on.
The auroras are often green colored, but can also appear with red and blue lights. You can primarily see the Aurora Borealis in Norway, Iceland, Canada, Scotland, Alaska, as well as most northern countries that are close to the north pole. You can see the Aurora Australis in New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Antarctica, South Georgia Island, and any country that is close to the south pole. Now the southern lights are a little harder to predict and view (since they are a little more temperamental), so if you have the opportunity to witness it consider yourself lucky.
Most people have at least heard of NASA also known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. They were founded in 1958 by President Dwight Eisenhower with the idea that NASA would be a civilian program, as opposed to its military predecessor NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics). They have made many accomplishments in their tenure, and are constantly working at more.
Here is a brief list of the major accomplishments that NASA has made:
- 1962: John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth
- 1969: Apollo 11 lands on the moon
- 1987: NASA develops a new propulsion system, revolutionizing the way rockets are launched
- 1990: The Hubble telescope is launched
- 1997: Cassini is launched to explore Saturn’s moon Titan. Its mission is coming to its end as of late December of 2017
This behemoth has recently made its presence known to the world, and it is taking the space world by storm. Meet Oumuamua (Hawaiian for the word “scout”), the skyscraper-sized asteroid that is our solar system’s first interstellar visitor we have had in recorded history. Not much is known about Oumuamua, but scientists know that it came from outside of our solar system, it is from our Milky Way galaxy, and it is covered with an organic coating.
Some people believe that Oumuamua is actually an alien spacecraft, others think that it could be a malfunctioning piece from an alien spacecraft, but most scientists believe that Oumuamua is an asteroid that we need to observe and study until it leaves our solar system in 2022. Regardless, this guy is making a huge splash in the space world.
International Space Station
Here is another thing most people have heard about, the International Space Station (or ISS). This monster began construction in 1998 and was completed in 2011 and will remain in use until 2028. President Reagan actually asked NASA to create the ISS back in 1984, and the first piece was launched into space in 1998, 14 years later. Each part of the space station are called modules and are essentially rooms with airlocks to be airtight. The ISS is roughly the size of a 5 bedroom house and weighs over 1 million pounds.
Essentially the ISS is sort of like an orbiting hotel for astronauts. NASA studies the effect of zero gravity on the human body, and the crew performs research and experiments that we can’t do on Earth. Another cool thing about the ISS is that NASA has learned how to assemble spacecraft that are meant to last, which will help us in our quest to explore space and go to Mars.
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, more commonly known as SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the guy who brought us Tesla cars and PayPal. The goal of SpaceX is pretty clear-cut; getting transport for the colonization of Mars. SpaceX is privately funded and actually has a contract with NASA to deliver supplies to astronauts on the ISS. SpaceX has multiple accolades for being the first privately funded company to actually send a spacecraft to the ISS, so far making over 11 missions to and from the ISS to deliver supplies and cargo.
SpaceX is also known for its spectacular missile launches, and some unfortunate blow ups. Recently a SpaceX rocket launched at night and could be seen all around Southern California (check out the picture below).
Milky Way Galaxy
No, this is not the delicious Milky Way candy bar. This is the galaxy that every single one of us calls home. The Milky Way galaxy is a spiral-shaped galaxy that is about 200,000 lightyears across. It consists of at least 400 billion stars, including our Earth. Our solar system is roundabout 27,000 lightyears away from the center of the galaxy and is actually located on one of the arms revolving around the galaxy.
Now, in reality, we don’t really know much about our very own galaxy. It is massive and in human history, we have only gone outside of our solar system with the probe Voyager (launched in 1977) and is actually still in contact with NASA. To put that into perspective, Voyager took 35 years to exit our solar system and it will encounter its first star is in 40,000 years. Its power supply will be dead in the mid-2020’s, so we will have 0 data from the encounter. This star it will encounter is still in the Milky Way galaxy, so to say we can’t fully comprehend the size of the galaxy is an understatement.
The Hubble Space Telescope (or HST), was launched into Earth’s orbit in 1990 and is still being used almost 30 years later. The HST has become an invaluable tool for NASA because it not only gives us a glimpse into space, but it has become something the public knows and likes. Most people have heard about the HST and have seen the amazing pictures the Hubble has taken.
The Hubble is named after Edwin Hubble, an astronomer in the early 1900’s who is considered by many to be one of the most influential astronomers of all time. Hubble discovered that there are other galaxies in the universe and that the universe is expanding (which has been found to be correct). He made these discoveries in the early 1900’s, long before we had the technology to look at the stars and study them. NASA ensured that his memory would live on in naming the HST after him, making Hubble a household name.
Curiosity – Mars Rover
The last awesome space word on our list is the Mars rover Curiosity. While Curiosity is not the first Mars rover, it is the newest rover and has an extremely important mission. Curiosity is tasked with reading soil samples to learn about the makeup of Mars and to search for any biological signs of life in the dirt. Curiosity was launched in November of 2011 and landed on Mars in August of 2012, and its original lifespan was supposed to be 2 years but was actually extended until the rover dies. Curiosity is also sending us important pictures of Mars that help us get an up-close view of Mars.
With Curiosity, we have seen the surface of the Red Planet and we have learned that Mars could have actually held bacterial life at some point. Curiosity also has 1 other objective; it is part of our quest to have manned missions on Mars. Curiosity is still working hard on Mars, analyzing soil samples and singing happy birthday to itself every year (tell me that isn’t adorable). This rover is an extremely important instrument for not just our understanding of Mars, but to our future of colonizing Mars.