Our planet, our solar system, our galaxy, and indeed, our whole universe, is one mind-blowingly fascinating place. Ever since the dawn of mankind we have looked up at the stars and wondered what they were. Different religions and mythologies have tried to explain our universe and our reason for existing, and although we have learnt so much since the days we used to inhabit caves, the more we’ve learnt the more questions have arisen as well.
The exact workings of the Universe, the exact scenarios that led to creating everything we see around us, and the trillions upon trillions of hidden secrets we might never know the answers to make the Universe an equally frightening and intriguing place. So let’s take a moment to discuss some really interesting facts about physics, some that we can explain, and some that we have no clue how to figure out. One thing’s for certain though, by the end of this list, you might find yourself more interested in physics than you’ve ever been before. That is, if you don’t end up having an existential crisis.
We Are All Stardust
This famous quote is attributed to one of the greatest minds of the last century; Carl Sagan. Expert astronomer and advisor to NASA, Carl Sagan’s quote really puts into perspective the events that led to our existence. Take a moment to look at yourself. Your eyes, hair, hands, arms, ears. Everything that makes you, you, was once nothing but dust floating in the emptiness of Space following the Big Bang.
You were once a collection of particles spread out over perhaps millions and millions of miles. You were once a roving asteroid. You were once part of the initial matter that made up our planet. You were once the air dinosaurs breathed on this world. And, slowly but surely, you came to be as you are today. But this is only a small part of your journey. A portion of your existence that is signified because of the fact that you are sentient and capable of feeling emotions. You were stardust, and you will return to stardust, and slowly be melded into nothing trillions of years from now when the Universe breathes its last and entropy consumes all.
Matter is the Odd One Out
If you believe that the Universe is primarily home to you and other planets and stars and similar solid objects, you would be oh so wrong. Anything that is composed of matter – this includes not just living creatures, but everything else including stars, planets, meteors, asteroids, liquids, gasses, clusters of galaxies, and nebulae as well – accounts for a measly 5% of the composition of the Universe.
Yep, you read that right. Everything you can observe in the Universe, all those things that are so gigantic our minds cannot even begin to comprehend their vast sizes, all of that is only 5% of the Universe. Everything else?Dark matter and dark energy. Ominous names for sure, but named so because we have no clue what it is or how it functions. All we know is that the real inhabitant of the Universe is dark matter, not the congealed lumps we call normal matter.
Time Travel is Possible, But Only Forwards
Did you know that Space and Time are intertwined? That is why they are often referred to as one thing and called spacetime instead. Did you also know that the faster you move the quicker time’s passage becomes around you? It’s true, and it’s just as amazing as it sounds. Basically, if you were to move incredibly fast, you would slow down incredibly relative to everything around you, but for you, your surroundings would speed up considerably.
If you were to move at the speed of light, time would literally stop for you. And if you were to move almost as fast as the speed of light, you would essentially do what we can call time travel. For around just a year of moving at that velocity, a thousand years would have passed on Earth. So yes; time travel is sort of possible, but only in one direction.
Gravity Can Bend Time
Speaking of time, because spacetime is one continuous thing, gravity can bend both. Space can be imagined as a flat surface, and objects with a lot of mass – like planets and stars – rest upon this plane and thus push it downwards. Thus, whenever something passes by, it has a chance of getting trapped in the first object’s field of gravity and start orbiting it instead.
What this also entails however, is that time can be bent too. If you were to orbit close to a black hole – something with so much mass it even captures and traps light – time outside would pass incredibly quickly. Depending on how close you could get to the center of the black hole, you could make a million years pass while only having to wait five minutes. Of course, such an endeavor is basically impossible with our current knowledge of the Universe, as we can’t construct anything that would be able to resist the pull of a black hole.
Quantum Physics is Really Unpredictable
You’ve probably heard the word “quantum’ being used a lot recently. Quantum physics has been something a lot of Hollywood movies rely on as a crutch to keep their stories believable. Something in the plot doesn’t make sense? Quantum physics. Need to explain how a shrink ray works? Quantum physics. How did you brute-force that 10-digit code in three minutes? Quantum computing.
The fun fact is, just as much as we like to use quantum physics as an excuse to explain away impossibilities in science fiction, we are no closer to understanding it than ever before. The thing is, we couldn’t understand it even after a billion years of research. That is because the world of quantum physics is so tiny that it is constantly filled with the most random irregularities. With our current knowledge of physics, we deem it absolutely impossible to ever be able to predict an even in the world of quantum physics.
To sort of help you understand just how random quantum physics is, consider this scenario. Let’s say we have somehow managed to scale a small portion of the world of quantum physics up into the size of a room. Now, if you were to walk into this room, every weird thing that can happen would happen. One second there’ll be the door behind you that you just walked in. Next second that door would be a different color and would be on the ceiling as a horse materializes out of thin air. Next, the door would vanish, the walls would become circular, and the horse would duplicate into two dolphins that will start singing the national anthem of a country that doesn’t exist.
Confused? We would be surprised if you hadn’t been. That example above is just as poor at explaining quantum physics as quantum physics is bad at maintaining one single predictable action. It’s really that random.
Told you the list would be interesting enough to capture your interest. Physics is wacky, wonderful, confusing, frustrating, and ever synonym for all of those words. In the end, all we can really do is continue to study it and hope that perhaps one day we can have a true understanding of physics and how and why everything works. Interested in reading some theories that attempt to explain our mysterious universe? Check out our post on strange and unusual scientific theories. And if you’re still scratching your head after that explanation of quantum physics, read about some more fascinating quantum physics facts and get even more confused!