20 science riddles baffled experts

Science has come a long way in discovering the mysteries of our planet, our existence and the universe. In the past few years alone, we’ve sequenced the entire human genome, imaged a black hole, and managed to land a spacecraft on an asteroid. All amazing feats we thought were impossible.

But despite the advancement in technology, there are still some mysteries that humanity cannot solve despite its best efforts. From the origins of strange signals from distant galaxies to questions about our more mundane activities, here are 20 science mysteries that continue to baffle scientists.

1 How did all of Earth’s water get here?

20 science riddles baffled experts

Look at pictures of the Earth from outer space, and you’ll see that it’s not so much green as blue. In fact, more than 70% of our planet’s surface is covered in water. However, we’re still not quite sure how this all happened. One popular hypothesis is that our water reached asteroids. However, recent research speculates that hydrogen from the solar nebula (clouds of dust and gas) remaining from the formation of the solar system played a crucial role. For now, though, research continues, which could have huge implications regarding the existence of other planets covered in water.

2 Where do fast radio bursts come from?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Fast radio burst reaching the Earth. Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Since 2007, astronomers have detected radio pulses coming from distant galaxies. These bursts only last for milliseconds, and their source is still unknown. Adding to the mystery is that while some of these explosions occur at periodic intervals, others appear to be completely random.

Given the different nature of these explosions, these pulsations are likely the result of two very different astrophysical phenomena, with strong magnetic fields being a possible source. Massive collisions between stars or magnetic storms are some of the explanations offered to explain non-recurring ones, while periodic outbursts may be the result of neutron stars orbiting regular stars.

3 What produced the “oh my god” particle?

20 science riddles baffled experts
“Oh-My-God” Particle

The “oh my god” particle is the nickname for the ultra-energy cosmic ray that crashed into the atmosphere in 1991 and left astronomers scratching their heads. It contained about 10 million times more energy than our most advanced particle colliders could produce and was traveling at close to the speed of light. Since then, we have detected about a hundred such cosmic rays.

So, what produces these things? From what we can tell, nothing in our galaxy is up to the task, and not even a supernova can do it. Active galactic nuclei can, but they are very far away. Other theories exist, but our understanding of physics cannot fathom an explanation.

4 What lies in the mistletoe?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Hadal Zone

The deepest 45 percent of the ocean is known as the Hadal Zone, a place so inhospitable and inaccessible that we arguably know less about it than we do about the galaxy. In fact, more men have walked on the moon than have ever been to the bottom of the sea. But what we do know is that even here, life forms exist – unique and unusual creatures that defy extreme pressure and lack of nutrients.

There are probably many more species that humans never laid bare, waiting to be discovered in the depths. But for now, even our most advanced drones and deep-sea submersibles struggle to acclimate in mistletoe. But, as our technology advances, who knows what we’ll discover?

5 How does the placebo effect work?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Placebo Effect

The “placebo effect” is a poorly understood phenomenon in which a person’s medical symptoms change, apparently through the power of expectation alone. Chronic pain, nausea, and immune disorders have been shown to improve thanks to this effect, and it’s so common that clinical trials have to take it into account when testing results.

Some speculate that there is some kind of unconscious processing in our minds and bodies at work here, perhaps caused by some kind of immune conditioning. Maybe people feel better just because we trick our brains into releasing endorphins. But although we can certainly see the placebo effect in action, we don’t yet understand why it works.

6 Why is there something instead of nothing?

20 science riddles baffled experts

Why do things exist? This may be the most difficult question to answer of all. So profound that we often assume that it is not a question that science can answer and that our only hope lies in philosophy and religion. But while science can’t give us a definitive answer, it does have a thing or two to say about the whole conundrum.

According to quantum theory, something exists because nothingness is so unstable. Even in a perfect vacuum, “virtual” particles and antiparticles would spring into existence, collide and disappear again. We cannot observe them because they have not existed long enough to be visualized in space-time. But, of course, that only leaves us with more questions. Who or what determines the laws of quantum mechanics? Was there anything preliminary before?

7 What exactly is “Wow!” Signal?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Image credit: Big Ear Radio Observatory and North American AstroPhysical Observatory (NAAPO)

On August 15, 1977, the Big Ear Radio Telescope in Delaware, Ohio, received a 72-second signal from outer space. It was so powerful that when a volunteer astronomer read a computer printout of the recording days later, he scribbled, “Wow!” beside him. Unfortunately, despite attempts to rediscover the signal, it never reappeared, and technology at the time was not advanced enough to focus on its source. Perhaps a sign of extraterrestrial life? Mostly not.

8 What is the size of the universe?

20 science riddles baffled experts
The expansion of the universe from the Big Bang

The most distant regions of the universe are estimated to be about 46 billion light-years away, but the universe could be even larger than that. Unfortunately, calculating the size of the universe is difficult since we can only see how far light has traveled since the Big Bang. Scientists believe the trick to getting around this is knowing the current expansion rate of the universe, also known as the “Hubble constant”.

To do this, we can look at how quickly nearby galaxies are moving away from us. Simple, right? Well, the problem is that we get different results every time we try to measure this. However, thanks to new facilities like the James Webb Space Telescope, we can solve this mystery sooner rather than later.

9 Why are there different types of blood?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Blood Types. Media credit: Yuri2010 /

All humans have one of the four main blood types: A, B, AB, and O. These types indicate the presence of certain antigens, or in the case of O, their deficiency. Strangely enough, these antigens provide no evolutionary benefit. If anything, these antigens are more harmful than anything else. Not only do blood transfusions make it difficult for us today because certain types produce antibodies that attack these antigens, but research suggests that they may make us more susceptible to certain diseases. Are they just an evolutionary glitch, then? no one knows.

10 Why does biological aging occur?

20 science riddles baffled experts

Every living thing is aging. But while aging is an unavoidable fact of life, we don’t yet understand the basic biological processes behind it. What we do know is that molecular damage plays a role and that external factors can speed up the process. We also know that we all age at different rates and that our historical ages are often out of sync with our actual biological age.

There are often hundreds of theories out there at any given time explaining the nitty-gritty of what happens to our bodies over time, many of which are outdated once new research becomes available. But, if we really explore this process, the implications for our health could be enormous.

11 What caused the sleeping sickness epidemic (1915-1930)?

It is believed that lethargic encephalitis, or “sleeping sickness,” affected about half a million people in Europe between 1915 and 1930. Symptoms included strange behavior, muscle stiffness, Parkinson’s disease, and an overwhelming sense of lethargy. So, what caused this epidemic? viral infection? microbial agents? contaminants? Or maybe something else? There’s a good chance we’ll never know.

12 Did the Carancas meteorite cause a mysterious disease?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Carancas meteorite crater. Image credit: Michael Farmer/

On September 15, 2007, a historic meteorite crashed near a remote Peruvian village. The meteorite itself confused many. Chondrite meteorites usually burn up in the atmosphere, so how did this meteorite reach the surface? Things got even stranger when the locals started feeling sick for unknown reasons after the accident. Theories about the cause of this disease range from mass hysteria fueled by local superstitions to vaporized arsenic from crashes. But the possibility is that we will never reveal the truth.

13 Did black holes appear before or after galaxy clusters?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Black Hole

Black holes may be the most unusual objects in the universe. Formed from the death of giant stars, they seem to defy all known classical physics. And while advances in technology are enabling us to observe them like never before, there is still much we don’t understand about them.

For example, we do not yet understand their complex relationship with nearby stars. We think there may be supermassive black holes at the center of most galaxies, but we’re not sure if these black holes formed before or after these galaxies clustered together. Their varying sizes cause more headaches. Some are so massive that they seem too big for the galaxies they inhabit, while others seem too small to exist.

14 What causes Hessdalen lights?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Hessdalen lights. Media credit:

People have been seeing strange lights in the mountains west of the Hessdalen Valley in Norway for several decades now. Sometimes these lights last only a few seconds, but other times much longer. Sometimes they move around quickly, and other times, they just hang in the air. And before you get suspicious, we know they exist because they’ve been captured in photos, movies, and even radar.

Despite years of searching, no one has figured out what it is. One theory is that it is the result of dust igniting due to the presence of a rare element known as scandium in the area. Others believe that the cause is coulomb crystals resulting from ionization. And of course, some will tell you that these lights are actually UFOs.

15 What exactly is dark energy and dark matter?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Dark matter

We once assumed that the expansion of the universe would slow down over time due to gravity. But in 1998, Hubble telescope observations showed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating. explanation? A hypothetical force called “dark energy”. Current leading theories estimate that 68% of the universe is made of dark energy and another 27% is dark matter, which is equally confusing. We have yet to observe either of these two forces, but scientists believe they must be present because otherwise, the universe would not behave the way it does. Many scientists now believe that the key to understanding the universe is understanding these forces and how they work.

16 How is ball lightning formed?

Sometimes referred to as “globe lightning,” ball lightning is a mysterious phenomenon that causes electric orbs to form in the sky. These orbs vary in color and are usually formed during thunderstorms. For a long time, many were skeptical of their existence. But in 2012, researchers from a Chinese university inadvertently recorded a single ball lightning event while studying thunderstorms. So, we know they exist. But we do not yet understand how it is formed.

17 Is time essential to reality?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Time space

Time seems a straightforward matter. But, as anyone who has sat through a particularly dull meeting can attest, experiencing time is anything but first-hand. We know, for example, that speed and gravity can alter time and even seem to slow it down. But is time an essential component of reality or an emerging phenomenon? Einstein hypothesized that space and time began with the Big Bang, but that argument is far from over. But if there was a beginning of time, it only raises the question, would there also be an end?

18 Why do we sleep?

20 science riddles baffled experts

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, so you’d think we’d be up for that by now. But many aspects of sleep remain a mystery. For example, we’re not entirely sure why complex animals evolved the need for sleep. Sure, we can see the benefits, but there is nothing concrete to suggest that life could not have developed differently.

Another aspect of sleep that we surprisingly don’t know much about is why we dream. Some theories suggest that dreaming helps us process memory or solve problems. Another suggestion is that dreams help us separate past trauma and anxieties. They may have done all of the above, but no one has found conclusive evidence.

19 What are the “blobs” under the ground?

20 science riddles baffled experts
Earth’s Underground “Blobs” on (a) North Pole and (b) South Pole. Media credit: Oxford academic

About 2,000 kilometers below Earth’s surface lie a chain of continent-sized blocks that have baffled scientists for decades. These clumps, dubbed “blobs” by scientists, lie between Earth’s rocky mantle and its molten core. We know these blobs exist thanks to seismic tomography, but since we can barely peer inside the planet, we have no idea what they are. However, scientists believe that they play a major role in the movement of tectonic plates and could be the key to understanding how the Earth was formed.

20 Where are all the aliens?

20 science riddles baffled experts

Although it is billions of years old, our solar system is relatively young compared to others in the universe. Therefore, any alien civilizations may have a head start regarding their development. So, he figured, there should be one or two galactic empires by now. However, we haven’t heard a peep yet.

With this observation, we can theorize some possibilities. Either alien lifeforms are actively avoiding us (understandably perhaps), or intelligent life is extremely rare, or there is an upper limit to technological progress that makes interstellar travel impossible. The truth remains a mystery. For now, at least, we seem to be all we have.


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