Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Planets

Our Solar System represents a lot of good blog posts. For one thing, the planets are so pretty to look at and I like to make Hansisgreat as eye-catching and attractive as possible. For another, there are a lot of interesting "tidbit" facts about them that can be shared in a paragraph or two. Most of us don't feel like reading a long essay.
There's a good book on the subject called Astronomy: A Visual Guide, by Mark A. Garlick, if you find the subject interesting and want a high-quality, glossy coffee table book to flip through.
Today, the outer three planets...

Uranus:
Diameter: 31,763 miles (400.7% of Earth)
Mass: 14.5 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -355 F (-215 C)
This is a featureless blue-green ball, the color created by the high methane content in the atmosphere. There are none of the distinctive bands or storms that mark Jupiter or Saturn, and the rings are dark and narrow. Curiously, Uranus is tipped over on its side. It could be that, long ago in its history, it suffered a glancing collision with another massive proto-planet. As a result of its strange axial inclination, the seasons on Uranus last over twenty years.

Neptune:
Diameter: 30,778 miles (388.3% of Earth)
Mass: 17.1 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -265 F (-220 C)
Neptune is similar to Uranus in size and appearance. However, Neptune has more detail visible in its atmosphere. There are a few atmospheric bands, some wispy cirrus clouds made of methane crystals, and even occasional storm systems. The planet also features a very faint ring system and a small army of satellites. Triton, the largest, is very strange since it orbits backward compared to the other satellites. Moreover, despite its cold surface, Triton is volcanically active, with frigid geysers spewing miles into the air.

Pluto:
Diameter: 1429 miles (18% of Earth)
Mass: 0.002 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -380 F (-230 C)
The last planet is smaller than our moon. It is mainly rocky but covered in ice. Pluto orbits the sun in a region known as the Kuiper Belt, home to ice and rock bodies that are remnants from the formation of the Solar System. If discovered more recently, Pluto would be considered a large Kuiper-Belt object, and not a planet at all. Pluto is the most mysterious planet because it's so far away, and exists almost completely in darkness.

It's funny... you spend your whole life in the Solar System but never see these things until someone comes to visit.
Previous post on the planets here.

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