Twenty-Four Out-of-this-World Facts from your Resident Rock Star
We’ve all been there before. One minute, you’re a three-year-old whose three favorite books have to do with space. The next, you’re on your way to become a planetary geologist, or whatever the kids call it these days. Or maybe that’s just me. I’ve come to terms with the fact that majority of the world’s population is never going to be as obsessed with space rocks as I am, but our Solar System is a pretty rad place, so hopefully you’ll all find something in this list that fascinates you!
1. Pluto loves with all its cold, dead heart. The so-called “heart” has been the subject of many memes, but Sputnik Planum is interpreted to be composed of nitrogen ice. This ice is split into cells where warmer ice rises at the centers of cells, travels outwards, and descends at the edges. There’s still so much to learn, though!
2. Cyrovolcanos exist. Most notably on Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Neptune’s moon Triton, but they show up elsewhere in the solar system, too! They form on these icy planets because water expands when it freezes, and enormous pressures can build up. When the ice finally erupts, it forms a cryovolcano.
3. Io has hundreds of volcanos that can send plumes up 250 miles into its atmosphere. It’s the most active moon in the solar system because of Jupiter’s immense gravity. The moon's insides tense up and relax as it orbits nearer or farther than the planet, respectively. This generates enough energy for volcanic activity.
4. Venus rotates in retrograde. And it has the longest rotation period in the solar system, at 243 Earth days. Don’t judge, guys. It’s the hipster planet. It’s trying to find its own path.
5. Besides, it’s still the hottest planet in the solar system. Average temperature on Venus is around 864 degrees Fahrenheit, while even Mercury clocks in at 800 degrees Fahrenheit. This is because Venus has a very thick atmosphere, while Mercury has virtually none.
6. Mercury has ice on it. Counterintuitive, right? But the Sun’s rays fall in a way that parts of the craters on Mercury are always in shadow, and it’s in these craters that ice has existed for a long, long time.
7. Neptune gives off 2.6 times more heat then it receives from the sun. This is wild, because it suggests that Neptune has some sort of internal heat source and has helped to revolutionize our understanding of what gas giants and icy planets are like. But it’ll be hard to learn more about that until we send another visitor to that side of galaxy.
8. Mars has one of the largest canyons in the Solar System. Vallas Marineris is 2500 miles long, 120 miles wide, and can be up to 23,000 feet deep. By comparison, the Grand Canyon is around 500 miles long, 20 miles wide, and around 5,900 feet deep. But don’t worry, Earth still holds claim to features even longer than Vallas Marineris, thanks to our rift valleys where plates pull apart.
9. When it comes to geologically bizarre moons, Miranda (a moon of Uranus) takes the cake. Its surface is a patchwork of features like sharp boundaries separating ridges, craters, and others. These could be explained by tectonics, but it’s only about 310 miles in diameter, so scientists think it’s too small for such activity. Maybe the moon was smashed into bits and came together again, or maybe meteorites struck the surface, creating small areas of melt.
10. Iaeptus, Saturn’s moon, is half black and half white. Some scientists believe that particles from another, darker moon may be falling on its surface. Others speculate that it's due to volcanic eruptions which would create dark patches. Alternatively, since Iapetus only rotates once every 79 days or so, stretching out the daily temperature cycle, the icy material might move into colder regions as the dark material heats up.
11. Mars has a methane plume. This is important because it could indicate microscopic Martian life below the planet’s surface. But there are also inorganic ways methane could be formed, so we’ll have to do more digging before we figure out this one. We’re probably safe from alien invasions for now.
12. Mercury is still shrinking. Kind of like Edward Elric. Scientists have found tectonic features called fault scarps on Mercury, and since they’re small, it suggests that they weren’t created too long ago.
13. Hyperion, one of Saturn's moons, is half as dense as water and would float in a bathtub. It’s also the largest non-spherical moon in the Solar System. Great thing to tell people at parties.
14. Ceres actually contains more fresh water beneath its surface than all the fresh water on Earth combined. Go figure. I should probably make a pun about asteroids and waters, but I’m too tired.
15. Gas giants aren’t actually just made of gas. Although nearly all of their mass is from hydrogen and helium, it’s likely that the amount of pressure at the center might liquefy their insides, and they may even have rocky or ice cores.
16. Earth is the only place in the solar system where a total solar eclipse can happen. This is because of the slightly tilted orbit that the Moon has (relative to the plane of the Solar System) and the proportions of the sizes/distances of the Moon and the Sun. We’re so special!
17. Mars has a magnetic anomaly. These are particularly concentrated areas of the planet’s magnetic field. The reason they’re notable is that intense crustal magnetization is consistent with assimilation of water at crustal depths.,
18. Pluto has giant ice mountains. They’re about 6500 to 9800 feet, but considering that Pluto is barely the size of the US, those mountains are proportionately huge. Scientists aren’t completely sure why they exist or how they formed.
19. Venus has more volcanoes than any other planet in the solar system, with over 1600. Like I said, it’s a pretty explosive planet.
20. Jupiter is protecting us all. Its gravitational pull is so strong that it often swallows or alters the path of asteroids and comets hurtling through space. As a result, it ends up protecting the Earth and other inner planets from a lot of impacts we would otherwise face. It’s the Solar System’s knight in swirling gases.
21. Seasons on Uranus last twenty years. Pretty wild, huh? I mean, that’s probably around the amount of time a lot of us have been alive. George R.R. Martin should take notes. It’s really cool to see how that affects the weather and distribution of different elements on the planet.
22. Mars has the tallest known mountain in the solar system. Rising to nearly 72,000 feet, it is a shield volcano and the largest known volcano in the solar system. All told, it encompasses an area comparable to that of Italy
23. The North Star hasn’t always been Polaris. In fact, it’s always changing because of precession, or the “wobbling” of the Earth’s axis.
24. Theoretically, there has to be ninth planet in our solar system that is roughly 10 times larger than Earth. Scientists haven't been able to locate it yet but they know it's there because of its gravitational effects on other objects, especially out past Neptune.
So, there we have it! Presumably you’ve all come away with knowledge you didn’t have before. I know I definitely made a discovery or two! Space is a cool place and we’re finding out more about it every passing year, so even if you’re not obsessed with science it’s always cool to keep up to date!