What are some 'questions we don't even know to ask' in astrophysics

I heard a short radio interview that had Neil DeGrasse Tyson on it. The interviewer asked him something akin to what questions about physics he was most interested in. He said that the real question that kept him up are the questions we don’t even know to ask. He implied that someone in the 19th century wouldn’t even know to ask questions about concepts like nuclear physics, time dilation, quantum mechanics, string theory, etc since those fields hadn’t been discovered yet.

So yeah its probably a moot argument, but in theory what kinds of questions could come up based on cutting edge research or hypothesis going on right now if those hypothesis turn out to be experimentally validated? Basically, can we look at whats going on now and extrapolate what the big questions may be in 30-50 years? if so, what may some of them be?

Take a long look at your question. Ask yourself if people are likely to be able to tell you examples of questions that they don’t know to ask.

The closest we’ll be able to come to answers for you are questions that we have that we’re still several major steps away from being able to nail down, like realistic fusion power, FTL travel, time travel, and why do cats purr?

I mentioned that in the 2nd paragraph.

It is barely more than eighty years since Edwin Hubble demonstrated that “spiral nebulae” were actually galaxies separate from the Milky Way. (The term “galaxy” is actually derived from the Greek term galaxias or “milky object”, so “Milky Way galaxy” is actually “Milky Way ‘Milky One’”.)

There is so many phenomena we have almost no real understanding of today, from black holes and quasars to “dark matter” and “dark energy” (terms that describe observed phenomena that we have no working theory to explain”) that it we did not come up with new questions for which phenomena we do not even suspect to exist would be an enormous disappointment. Astrophysics is literally everything outside of our solar system, and while there is plenty within those confines sufficient to employ scientists for centures without exhaustion, I doubt there is any end to what we can discover about the wider universe and the fundamental mechanics underpinning it.


Well, to give past examples, we didn’t know to ask “why is this star fluctuating” before we discovered that star was fluctuating. We didn’t know to ask how these stars formed so early before we knew that these stars formed so early. We didn’t know to ask what a pulsar is before we discovered pulsars. The questions that we don’t know to ask come from the mysteries that we don’t have yet.

The only question I can think of that we could ask that we have not asked that would not be prompted by something that we don’t know at this time would be, “Why is the universe so simple?”

And that would only be a question to ask should we end up answering all the other questions, and can’t come up with any more.

What potential level of technology have the lifeforms on Kepler-1652b reached?

What was that EM burst from the TRAPPIST-1e system and was it created by an intelligent species?

How could scientists 50 years ago not known of this?

Yes, and another real example, nobody knew to ask what that bright spot on Ceres was before anyone knew that there was a bright spot on Ceres.

Another fictional question we don’t know to ask–why is there an anomoulously high amount of argon in the spectra of the atmosphere of the 4th planet of Epsilon Eridani?

There certainly can’t be a factual answer to the question, but we’re in IMHO, not GQ at least. We may need to get Rumsfeld in here to tell us about the different categories. I think we’re in the one called “unknown unknowns”. :wink:

Or we can try the Tao Te Ching: The unknown that can be named is not the unknown unknown.

Seems I picked the wrong source.