Space may be the final frontier, but it’s also something that we’re all superficially familiar with. While you might not know the mineral composition of an asteroid or the exact size of the Milky Way, everyone knows the basic order of things. Jupiter is the biggest planet, Mercury is the closest to the sun, and we’re living on a rock somewhere in between.
But sometimes that natural order is subverted by a monumental find. In fact, a lunar rover scouring the surface of the moon recently discovered a strange substance amidst the familiar rocks and dust that seemed completely out of place.
People aren’t going to the moon lately, but scientists are still scouring its surface for clues about the universe. In fact, China recently launched Yutu-2, an unmanned lunar rover that uncovered something… unusual.
After landing on the dark side of the moon, Yutu-2 started tracking across the lunar surface. It constantly snapped pictures along the way, hoping to capture evidence of anything that could be scientifically significant.
Scientists would eagerly examine each photo after it was beamed back to Earth, but they never spotted anything unusual. The rover needed to “nap” each day, however, giving them some time for extra analysis.
During the rover’s down time, each photo was analyzed down to the smallest detail. As usual, scientists just saw a great deal of dust. But in one photo, something abnormal stood out.
As you might imagine, the moon’s surface is pretty plain. While there are plenty of ridges and craters, there isn’t a great deal of color variation; just about everything is the same shade of dusty gray.
In one photo, however, there was a small glint of light. Something was shining at the bottom of a crater. The scientists were perplexed; nothing on the moon should naturally be reflective…
Chinese Lunar Exploration Project
Re-assuming control of the mission’s rover, the researchers guided it back towards the crater in question. If something unexplained was there, they were going to see it up close and personal!
Yutu-2 crested the lip of the crater and dropped down into the dust. After a few quick maneuvers, its spectrometer was able to locate the strange substance. But what had the rover found?
The Chinese scientists carefully maneuvered the rover’s arm towards the strange object. Moments later, a crystalline substance emerged from the dust. But how did that gem end up buried in outer space?
Given that the rover was still over 200,000 miles away from Earth, it was hard to get a good read on what the material was. One scientist, however, had a good idea…
Mahesh Anand, a reader in planetary science at the Open University, suspected that the object could have been liquefied glass; due to the vacuum of space, it would have solidified into what the rover found.
Since the substance was discovered in an impact crater, scientists have taken extra interest in the find. They believed that it could actually have a connection they’ve already seen on Earth.
The glass could have been created by the force and heat of a meteor hitting the moon. A similar phenomenon has been observed closer to home, giving researchers an easy frame of reference.
How Stuff Works
“At the site where the first nuclear bomb was tested in New Mexico,” physicist Walter Freeman explained, “there is a glassy mineral called trinitite.” That substance was formed by the energy released in the explosion.
But the glass wasn’t the first strange geographic discovery on the moon. In fact, astronauts on Apollo 17 picked up an unusual substance during the time on the lunar surface in 1972.
They found some strange red soil on the surface and brought it back to Earth for analysis. NASA was shocked to discover what their astronauts stumbled upon in outer space.
The soil was red, it turned out, due to a volcanic eruption that took place nearly four billion years ago. The moon might look cold and dark today, but some of those craters used to be explosive.
With that in mind, scientists are optimistic that Yutu-2’s discovery could be the beginning of a major break through. This may be the opportunity to learn more about the secrets lurking below the lunar surface.
“This [substance] would have even greater significance,” Anand explained, “if it turned out to have experienced interaction with water-ice.” And, if water can exist beyond Earth, that changes everything we know about the universe.
But as massive as outer space is, there are plenty of interstellar mysteries lurking closer to home. In fact, scientists investigating a crash landing found a strange artifact from outside our universe…
In 2011, a meteorite named Khatyrka landed in the Koryak Mountains of eastern Siberia. While the landing site was incredibly remote, scientists were soon making their way to Russia to investigate.
Given the fact that meteorites literally come from outer space, they almost always have scientific value. Each impact crater provides a new opportunity for discovery; it’s like Christmas morning for an astronomer.
But in this case, scientists didn’t find any massive meteorites. They did manage to remove a few shards of interstellar material from the clay-like soil. Those pieces, however, still proved to be significant.
Analysis showed that the shards consisted of a mineral containing isotopes of oxygen and other particles. The scientists weren’t quite sure what to make of this discovery, but they decided to press ahead with further testing.
The oldest meteorites have been dated to over four billion years ago; even the newest ones, which come from the moon, are around three billion years old. But the scientists would find something even more notable than the sample’s age.
Upon examining the ancient mineral, they noticed something structurally unusual. These samples were clearly different than what was normally found in a meteorite. There was a different shape under the microscope.
They found crystals. And while you may think of crystals as something pretty to observe in a cave or add to an engagement ring, they’re scientifically significant, too.
Crystals are defined by a regular, predictable atomic structure. Those lattice patterns are then repeated over and over, creating the glass-like material that we’re all familiar with. But this crystal was different.
While the crystals within the meteorite had the traditional lattice structure, it didn’t repeat in a consistent manner. Instead, the connections fell into uneven patterns, unlike anything found on earth.
Slowly, the scientists realized what they were seeing. This alien pattern had never been produced naturally, but it had been studied before! Things were starting to make sense.
These were quasicrystals! While they had been produced by scientists since the 1960s, they had never been found in nature. In fact, some researchers even doubted they could exist outside of a lab.
Paul Steinhardt, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Princeton University, always believed that quasicrystals could form naturally. He recognized this meteorite as a massive chance to confirm his hypothesis.
He and his team looked at the particles in the crystal and noticed something bizarre. The ratio of oxygen isotopes to other isotopes was way off. Slowly, they realized what it meant.
They were looking at a new mineral that was not from this planet! The crystals were created in the high-pressure environment of outer space years before crashing down in Russia.
The discovery proved Steinhardt partially right. While the quasicrystals weren’t formed on Earth, they were capable of existing in nature. It might not have been a full confirmation, but it was still a major scientific breakthrough.
“The finding is important evidence that quasicrystals can form in nature under astrophysical conditions,” he said. “And provides evidence that this phase of matter can remain stable over billions of years.”
But Steinhardt wasn’t done. He and his team were able to recover a few more samples of the meteorite and find two additional examples of quasicrystals. All the discoveries combined to prove a valuable lesson.
Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
It just goes to prove that there’s always more we can discover about the universe we call home. But that’s not just true of outer space; there are some unusual things hiding on Earth, as well.
One November afternoon, David Bradt ventured into Montana’s Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge hoping to bag an elk. While he was prepared for a hunt, he never imagined the creature he would find.
Unfortunately, luck wasn’t on David’s side that day. He hadn’t seen an elk all afternoon, so he decided to walk over to a nearby spring to take a break.
David approached the water’s edge to splash some cool water on his face when he noticed something sticking out from the rocks. Rather than return to his futile hunt, he bent down to investigate.
Based on a life of outdoor experience, Bradt assumed that he had spotted some petrified wood. But when he took a closer look, he realized that it was something much different.
Utah Geological Survey
He found a bone! He assumed that it was probably just from a dead elk or a bighorn sheep that called the refuge home, but something about it didn’t seem right.
David was an avid outdoorsman, but this bone was out of his depth. He notified both wildlife services and the paleontology department of a local museum before reaching out to some unlikely experts for help.
Museum of the Rockies
He called his children! Like most kids, Kellen and Garrison loved dinosaurs. They immediately wanted to get involved and help their dad get to the bottom of this mysterious discovery.
The trio began to clear dirt away from the bone, but something unusual happened: they just kept revealing more and more bone. Eventually they had to go home for the night, making sure to keep the site secret.
The size was beginning to send David’s mind racing. Bones this large had to belong to something massive. “It’s about the size of a cow.” Given how large the bone was, it was getting tough to keep the site secret.
But why did they have to keep the spot hidden? Rare fossils are quite valuable and can attract robbers looking for a quick buck. But there was something else significant about the site…
One hundred million years ago, the entire region was one giant mud pit on the bottom of an inland sea. That meant the creature, despite being found in the middle of Montana, was likely aquatic.
Scientists initially suspected the bone belonged to a mosasaurus, a giant predatory creature that most resembled a lizard mixed with a whale. As the excavation continued, however, they came to realize they were looking at something else.
Their next best guess was a plesiosaur, similar to the mythical Loch Ness monster. Once again, however, the bones didn’t seem to match up. Without a clear hypothesis, all scientists could do was keep digging.
More dirt was washed away and, eventually, the scientists started dissolving the rock in order to remove the bones. When the work was done, they unearthed an unusual looking skull.
It was a dinosaur skull! Rather than a traditionally shaped cranium, this one looked more like a big cat or alligator. There was also an unusually large tail wrapped around the mass of bones. Outside help was necessary.
The bones were sent to scientists at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks for analysis. They too, thought the skeleton was similar to a plesiosaur, except for one defining difference.
Plesiosaurs are known for their long, serpentine necks, and this skeleton was lacking that feature. Eventually the scientists reached an undeniable conclusion: this was something new and deadly.
After further study, experts concluded the skeleton belonged to an elasmosaurus, a variant of plesiosaur. Its neck contained fewer vertebrae than average, however, only measuring seven feet long rather than the usual 18 feet.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Scientists actually weren’t sure what was going on. They had never seen a plesiosaur with this short of a neck before. They were able to come up with one working theory, however…
This species, the short-necked elasmosaur, was an undiscovered evolutionary variant of the larger dinosaur. Similar to giraffes and okapis, it appeared that two similar species were roaming the sea at the same time.
Bradt’s discovery just goes to show that finding buried treasure isn’t something that only happens in the movies. In fact, a construction worker operating in Canada found something that people would love to see go toe-to-toe with Brandt’s plesiosaur.
It was any old Monday for Shawn Funk, who was working for the energy company Suncor. He was manning the backhoe in Millennium Mine, located about 17 miles north of Fort McMurrary in Alberta, Canada.
Suncor Energy / YouTube
Suncor was tasked with mining crude oil deep within the mine. Shawn used his machine to excavate through layers of sand that was once rich with marine plants and animals from hundreds of millions of years ago.
Since that distant time, the plants and animals have died and settled to the bottom of the previously existing ocean. Add a little heat and pressure overtime, and the once living organisms turned into hydrocarbons. Crude oil.
Due to the nature of this biological process, Shawn rarely ran into anything other than sand and oil on the job. Which was why, when Shawn returned to work after taking a lunch break, he found it odd the backhoe was humming a different tune.
Suncor Energy / YouTube
In his 12 years of work, he had only ever ran into petrified tree stumps, so he could tell by the very different sound that his machine was striking something different. It was something much harder than both the sand and native rock in the area.
North Dakota Studies
Immediately pulling his backhoe up from the earth, Shawn dumped the contents of the excavator out in front of him. Odd looking light-brown colored lumps spilled out onto the ground. He flipped some pieces over and noticed rows of gray disks…
Suncor Energy / YouTube
In that moment, Shawn knew he needed to stop digging and call someone immediately. Suncor executives called Royal Tyrrell Museum, who quickly realized that Shawn stumbled upon something very rare. The museum flew out two technicians to the site.
Suncor Energy / YouTube
The team was able to locate the large mass that these unusual chunks came from, and from there, Suncor excavators and museum technicians spent 12 hours chipping away at the estimated 15,000-pound rock mass.
Suncor Energy / YouTube
They were finally able to free the rock accretion and lift it from the earth. As they lowered it down to level ground, the 7.5 ton mass fell to the ground and shattered revealing a paleontologist’s paradise…
Suncor Energy / YouTube
They’d found the remains of a prehistoric organism! The museum technicians inspected the mystery creature’s shattered remains and put them back together like a puzzle.
When they finished a rough re-assemblage of the creature it highly resembled a realistic, nine-foot tall dinosaur! But the truly remarkable thing about this discovery was that they weren’t looking at a fossil of bones. In fact, there were no bones visible at all: they were seeing bony scutes and plates — the dinosaur was entirely petrified.
Thousands of questions flooded the minds of the museum technicians. How was this dinosaur fossilized so well that it was basically mummified? They were dying to figure out the story of this rare find.
The pieces of the petrified dinosaur were taken back to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology for tests and research, where it was discovered the creature lived about 110 million years ago! The dinosaur was very clearly an armored plant-eater, similar to those found in western Canada.
Scientists placed the creature in the genus Ankylosaurus. It’s believed that it died in western Canada and got transported by a massive flood where it ended up at the bottom of a pre-historic ocean.
A full reconstruction of the herbivore revealed it was four-legged, armor-plated dinosaur covered in spikes with a long tail most-likely covered in spikes to fend off predators — a brand new species called a called Nodosaur!
In its petrified state, the Nodosaur weighs about 2,500 pounds, and it’s believed that when alive, it weighed about 3,000 pounds. The Nodosaur would have been a fairly solitary creature 100 millions years ago.
Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology
It’s miraculous the behemoth’s body remained so intact after such a rough and long distance journey. As of 2019, how this occurred was still a mystery to scientists, but it had to have happened quickly because the dinosaur laid undisturbed for millions of years while it was covered by the substrate.
Because of its pristine condition, scientists were able to use modern scans to get a glimpse inside the dinosaur’s hard exoskeleton. They saw the bone structure and even some internal workings of the beast’s stomach. That’s how well preserved this find was.
Researchers from the museum and around the world worked for six years and for over 7,000 hours to test, preserve, and prepare the remains of this precious find. The Nodosaur is on display at the Royal Tyrrell Museum for those wishing to get a look at the closest thing to a real dinosaur.
In early 2019, scientists were still studying the Nodosaur and its scans to continue to learn about dinosaurs in general, as nothing like this had ever been found before. However, not far away, archeologists made a discovery that rivaled that of the Nodosaur.
See, the Heiltsuk people, the First Nation indigenous to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, have laid claim to the remote Triquet Island for nearly 5,000 years. But archaeologists have dismissed their claim of ownership for one glaring reason…
Simon Fraser University
The continental glacier that formed over Canada during the last Ice Age would’ve also covered Triquet Island, making it uninhabitable. But even with the facts stacked against the Heiltsuk, a small group of researchers took it upon themselves to uncover the truth once and for all.
The Robinson Library
The archaeologists began an extensive excavation of the remote island in the hope of discovering traces of a past civilization. What they found there not only shocked the entire archaeological community, but it also changed history forever.
Beneath several layers of earth, they found remnants of an ancient, wood-burning hearth. But how could this be? According to researchers, it would’ve been impossible for humans to dig their way through the glacial ice to get to the soil below.
As they continued digging, researchers unearthed additional artifacts, including tools and weapons. This discovery stumped the team as the Heiltsuk people traditionally didn’t use tools of this kind.
The Heiltsuk people had derived their food source from fishing and smoking salmon, utilizing small, precise tools to harvest the fish. The tools and weapons found were much larger and likely would’ve been used to hunt large sea mammals, such as seals, sea lions, and walruses.
What’s more, the team also uncovered shards of obsidian, a glass-like rock only found in areas of heavy volcanic activity. This discovery also puzzled the archaeologists, as there were no known volcanoes near that part of British Columbia. So, how did this rock — and these people — get there?
The historians deduced that whoever left these artifacts must have traversed the land bridge that existed between Siberia and Alaska during prehistoric times. Yet researchers still needed cold-hard facts…
Luckily, a closer inspection of the hearth revealed ancient charcoal remains, which the archaeologists quickly brought to the lab for carbon dating. When they received the results, the researchers couldn’t believe their eyes: everything they knew was a lie.
According to the carbon dating report, these bits of charcoal were an astonishing 14,000 years old, making them the oldest carbon remains ever to be discovered in North America.
Even by global standards, this was an extraordinary find. After all, these simple pieces of charcoal were older than the Great Pyramid of Giza and even predated the invention of the wheel! But that’s not the most remarkable fact about this discovery.
The 14,000-year-old discovery placed the earliest Heiltsuk at Triquet Island 2,000 years before the end of the ice age. Therefore, the island couldn’t have been covered by the massive continental glacier. And that’s not all.
Since Triquet Island was surrounded on all sides by water, the early Heiltsuk would’ve used boats to traverse the open waters. Boats, however, were not believed to have been invented until centuries later.
This meant that the Heiltsuk settled the area 2,000 years before initially believed. If this was the case, then these early men likely crossed paths with some of history’s most formidable beasts.
As the Heiltsuk people made their way south from the land bridge, they likely had to fend off giant creatures like mastodons, woolly mammoths, and giant sloths. But somehow, these humans survived, and it’s likely for one crucial reason.
Thanks to the Pacific Ocean itself, the sea level at Triquet Island remained constant for over 15,000 years. So as the sea gradually eroded the surrounding islands, the great beasts of the Pacific Northwest were kept at bay, leaving the Heiltsuk to a peaceful, secluded existence.
The most astounding realization that’s come to light is the fact that the Heiltsuk people were able to preserve their history orally for nearly 14,000 years. However, they are still being deprived of their history’s legitimacy.
When the media caught wind of the story, they seemed to focus more on what the discovery meant for the scientific community rather than acknowledge the rich history of the Heiltsuk. To many, the media’s portrayal of the nation was seen as highly disrespectful.
As a result, University of Victoria student Alisha Gauvreau — who was present during the excavation — has dedicated herself to shifting the focus of the dialogue toward the Heiltsuk people.
The Heiltsuk claim to Triquet Island stands as one of the oldest land-ownership claims in the world. Not only does this discovery speak volumes about the strength of the Heiltsuk people, but it also represents the indomitable spirit of mankind.
kris krüg / Flickr