Yawn - the Top Ten Most Unexciting Things in the Cosmos Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Yawn - the Top Ten Most Unexciting Things in the Cosmos

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Amateur astronomers differ from professionals in that they have an interest in everything to do with the subject, whether they have the latest telescope, an old but well-loved pair of handed-down binoculars, or just sit at a computer downloading the latest software. Professionals tend to study one field of astronomy - for example, planet hunters ignore constellations and use RA and Dec1 to pinpoint their targets.


Amateur astronomers certainly have their favourites amongst all the goodies at their fingertips and probably wouldn't admit to ignoring or disliking certain astronomical objects (just in case it might be the next big thing). But we'll attempt a 'top ten most unexciting' anyway:

  1. Brown dwarfs are failed stars. They are balls of hydrogen which are too big to be called a planet, but not big enough to self-ignite and become a star. They never really stood a chance of exciting anybody did they?

  2. Hanny's Voorwerp (it's an enormous cloud of gas).

  3. Pluto is an ex-planet. The poor chap who set the wheels in motion for Pluto's downgrading still gets tear-stained letters from schoolchildren asking for Pluto to be reinstated.

  4. Dark matter (apparently the Universe is full of it but no-one's ever found any). Ditto dark energy.

  5. Elliptical galaxies. Basically they are egg-shaped clumps of old stars past their sell-by date. Ellipticals are devoid of the gas required to make new stars. Compare an elliptical galaxy with a spiral galaxy, for example in this image, and you'll see there's no contest for the Most Gorgeous Galaxy Type award.

  6. The Eridanus Supervoid is empty space measuring a billion light years2 from end to end. It was discovered by a combination of NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe and data from the Very Large Array. It is the largest absence of galaxies to be discovered. The mindboggling gap has so far escaped explanation by the scientific community, but h2g2 Researchers suggested it is possibly a space that has been cleared for an intergalactic bypass still awaiting planning permission (with apologies for the inconvenience), or maybe it is where all the unrealised dreams, lapsed friendships, regrets and unrequited love feelings go.

  7. Astrology. Two thousand years ago being an astrologer was an astronomer's day job – it paid the bills. The horoscopes they drew up depended upon everything in the known Universe revolving around the Earth. The signs of the Zodiac3 consisted of 12 constellations that the Sun passed through in segments lasting approximately four weeks. Unfortunately, a small matter of precession (the gradual wobble of the Earth upon its axis caused by the combined gravitational influences of the Sun and the Moon) has shifted the dates somewhat – a fact which today's astrologers choose to ignore. Today there are 13 constellations that the Sun appears to pass through – the 12 which astrologers use plus Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer. So, if you're looking for love, don't discount someone on account of their 'star sign' not matching yours – astrology is based upon an incorrect geocentric world view, all of the signs are out of synch with the western calendar and astrologers discount Ophiuchans4 altogether!

  8. Comets. Not all comets; granted there are some which amaze and surprise, such as Comet Holmes' eruption in 2007. And anyone who witnessed the graceful Hale-Bopp will likely take the memory of it to their graves. But Comet ISON, the so-called 'comet of the century' as it was billed, was predicted to be much better than any comet in recorded history. Unfortunately the comet didn't survive its close encounter with the Sun on 28 November, 2013, so we missed out on the comet's return journey past Earth. The disappointment for astronomers was comparable to English football fans watching England try to win the World Cup again.

  9. Meteor showers which have a very low turnout – or don't show up at all. That's a night's sleep you'll never get back. Or it was a very good show but your particular vantage point on the planet was clouded out. Which leads us neatly to:

  10. Weather. Really, there's nothing more boring than planning to attend a Star Party when the weather forecast says it's going to be a fine and clear night, and it rains. Good job there's usually an option of a nearby pub to drown your sorrows while dreaming of the next exciting astronomy moment.

Messier's Ones to Miss

Sometimes, things that one person thinks boring turn out to be of great interest to others. If you've ever seen the Messier Catalogue, you'll know it's filled with wonders such as star clusters, nebulae, a supernova remnant and distant galaxies. The man who compiled it though, French astronomer Charles Messier (1730-1817), created it as a list of things for him to avoid while seeking out his passion – comets – which began with witnessing the return of Halley's Comet in 1759. Messier was so obsessed with tracking them down that his boss, the king of France, called him a 'comet ferret', which must have amused the court. Perhaps if Messier could have glimpsed his 'ones to avoid' via the Hubble Space Telescope he might have had a change of heart. But then we'd not have the excitement of a Messier Marathon to look forward to!

Image provided by NASA

1Right Ascension and Declination, nothing to do with any cheeky chappies.2A light year is the distance light travels in one year, roughly 5.88 trillion miles or 9.46 trillion km.3Zodiac means 'circle of animals', but it does contain one inanimate sign – Libra the Scales.4People born around the end of November.

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