Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Planets

I won't mention all nine in this post, but here's some interesting information on our nearest planetary neighbors. There's a good book on the subject called Astronomy: A Visual Guide by Mark A Garlick. Lots of cool pictures (the universe is pretty to look at), along with interesting facts in an easy-to-digest format. Here's a small sample:

Diameter: 4221 miles (53.2% of Earth)
Mass: 0.11 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -10 F (-23 C)
The second-smallest planet in the Solar System, Mars has a thin atmosphere of carbon dioxide, polar caps of dry ice, and an active weather system. There are even indications that Mars may once have had oceans of liquid water, but this issue is still in debate.
Since antiquity Mars has been known as the Red Planet due to the surface, strewn with a fine red soil of oxidized Iron. In effect, Mars is a rusty planet.

Diameter: 89,405 miles (1127.9% of Earth)
Mass: 317.7 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -240 F (-150 C)
Jupiter is easily the Solar System's largest world, in fact it's big enough to contain all the other planets and more. It's composed mostly of fluids rather than rock or metal, but may have a dense icy core. The surface's most outstanding feature is its great red spot, a hurricane three times the size of Earth, which has existed for centuries. The planet has several dozen satellites, our knowledge of the exact number increases all the time.

Diameter: 74,898 miles (944.9% of Earth)
Mass: 95.2 x Earth
Mean Surface Temperature: -110 F (-80 C)
The second-largest planet. Like all gas giants, it has a system of rings, but those of Saturn are without a doubt the finest and most easily visible. They are composed of countless icy blocks tumbling around the planet, some as large as a house. Another interesting feature of Saturn is its shape: because of its rapid rotation (once in 10 hours, 14 minutes) it is noticeably flattened at the poles.

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