The solar system is cool. Here are 10 things you might not know.

The hottest planet isn’t closest to the sun.

Pluto is smaller than the USA.

George Lucas doesn’t know much about “asteroid fields.”

You can make volcanos using water as magma.

The edge of the solar system is 1,000 times farther away than Pluto.

Almost everything on Earth is a rare element.

There are Mars rocks on Earth (and we didn’t bring here).

Jupiter has the biggest ocean of any planet.

Even really small bodies can have moons.

We live inside the sun.

This artist's concept puts solar system distances in perspective. The scale bar is in astronomical units, with each set distance beyond 1 AU representing 10 times the previous distance. One AU is the distance from the sun to the Earth, which is about 93 million miles or 150 million kilometers.  NASA's Voyager 1, humankind's most distant spacecraft, is around 125 AU.  Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech

1. The hottest planet isn’t closest to the sun. Many people know that Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, well less than half of the Earth’s distance. It is no mystery, therefore, why people would assume that Mercury is the hottest planet. We know that Venus, the second planet away from the sun, is on the average 30 million miles farther from the sun than Mercury. The natural assumption is that being farther away, it must be cooler. But assumptions can be dangerous. For practical consideration, Mercury has no atmosphere, no warming blanket to help it maintain the sun’s heat. Venus, on the other hand, is shrouded by an unexpectedly thick atmosphere, about 100 times thicker than our own on Earth. This in itself would normally serve to prevent some of the sun’s energy from escaping back into space and thus raise the overall temperature of the planet. But in addition to the atmosphere’s thickness, it is composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas. The carbon dioxide freely lets solar energy in, but is far less transparent to the longer wavelength radiation emitted by the heated surface. Thus the temperature rises to a level far above what would be expected, making it the hottest planet. In fact the average temperature on Venus is about 875 degrees F, hot enough to melt tin and lead. The maximum temperature on Mercury, the planet closer to the sun, is about 800 degrees F. In addition, the lack of atmosphere causes Mercury’s surface temperature to vary by hundreds of degrees, whereas the thick mantle of carbon dioxide keeps the surface temperature of Venus steady, hardly varying at all, anywhere on the planet or any time of day or night!

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2. Pluto is smaller than the USA. The greatest distance across the contiguous United States is nearly 2,900 miles (from Northern California to Maine). By the best current estimates, Pluto is just over 1400 miles across, less than half the width of the U.S. Certainly in size it is much smaller than any major planet, perhaps making it a bit easier to understand why a few years ago it was “demoted” from full planet status. It is now known as a “dwarf planet.”

3. George Lucas doesn’t know much about “asteroid fields.” In many science fiction movies, spacecraft are often endangered by pesky asteroid fields. In actuality, the only asteroid belt we are aware of exists between Mars and Jupiter, and although there are tens of thousands of asteroids in it (perhaps more), they are quite widely spaced and the likelihood of colliding with one is small. In fact, spacecraft must be deliberately and carefully guided to asteroids to have a chance of even photographing one. Given the presumed manner of creation, it is highly unlikely that spacefarers will ever encounter asteroid swarms or fields in deep space.

4. You can make volcanos using water as magma. Mention volcanoes and everyone immediately thinks of Mount St. Helens, Mount Vesuvius, or maybe the lava caldera of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Volcanos require molten rock called lava (or “magma” when still underground), right? Not really. A volcano forms when an underground reservoir of a hot, fluid mineral or gas erupts onto the surface of a planet or other non-stellar astronomical body. The exact composition of the mineral can vary greatly. On Earth, most volcanoes sport lava (or magma) that has silicon, iron, magnesium, sodium, and a host of complicated minerals. The volcanoes of Jupiter’s moon Io appear to be composed mostly of sulfur and sulfur dioxide. But it can be simpler than that. On Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Neptune’s moon Triton, and others, the driving force is ice, good old frozen H20! Water expands when it freezes and enormous pressures can build up, just as in a “normal” volcano on Earth. When the ice erupts, a “cryovolcano” is formed. So volcanoes can operate on water as well as molten rock. By the way, we have relatively small scale eruptions of water on Earth called geysers. They are associated with superheated water that has come into contact with a hot reservoir of magma.


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5. The edge of the solar system is 1,000 times farther away than Pluto. You might still think of the solar system as extending out to the orbit of the much-loved dwarf planet Pluto. Today we don’t even consider Pluto a full-fledged planet, but the impression remains. Still, we have discovered numerous objects orbiting the sun that are considerably farther than Pluto. These are “Trans-Neptunian Objects” (TNOs), or “Kuiper Belt Objects” (KBOs). The Kuiper Belt, the first of the sun’s two reservoirs of cometary material, is thought to extend to 50 or 60 astronomical units (AU, or the average distance of the Earth from the sun). An even farther part of the solar system, the huge but tenuous Oort comet cloud, may extend to 50,000 AU from the sun, or about half a light year – more than a thousand times farther than Pluto.

6. Almost everything on Earth is a rare element. The elemental composition of planet Earth is mostly iron, oxygen, silicon, magnesium, sulfur, nickel, calcium, sodium, and aluminum. While such elements have been detected in locations throughout the universe, they are merely trace elements, vastly overshadowed by the much greater abundances of hydrogen and helium. Thus Earth, for the most part, is composed of rare elements. This does not signify any special place for Earth, however. The cloud from which the Earth formed had a much higher abundance of hydrogen and helium, but being light gases, they were driven away into space by the sun’s heat as the Earth formed.

7. There are Mars rocks on Earth (and we didn’t bring here). Chemical analysis of meteorites found in Antarctica, the Sahara Desert, and elsewhere have been shown by various means to have originated on Mars. For example, some contain pockets of gas that is chemically identical to the martian atmosphere. These meteorites may have been blasted away from Mars due to a larger meteoroid or asteroid impact on Mars, or by a huge volcanic eruption, and later collided with Earth.

8. Jupiter has the biggest ocean of any planet. Orbiting in cold space five times farther from the sun than Earth, Jupiter retained much higher levels of hydrogen and helium when it formed than did our planet. In fact, Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium. Given the planet’s mass and chemical composition, physics demands that way down under the cold cloud tops, pressures rise to the point that the hydrogen must turn to liquid. In fact there should be a deep planetary ocean of liquid hydrogen. Computer models show that not only is this the largest ocean known in the solar system, but that it is about 40,000 km deep – roughly as deep as the Earth is around!

9. Even really small bodies can have moons. It was once thought that only objects as large as planets could have natural satellites or moons. In fact the existence of moons, or the capability of a planet to gravitationally control a moon in orbit, was sometimes used as part of the definition of what a planet truly is. It just didn’t seem reasonable that smaller celestial bodies had enough gravity to hold a moon. After all, Mercury and Venus have none at all, and Mars has only tiny moons. But in 1993, the Galileo probe passed the 20-mile wide asteroid Ida and discovered its one-mile wide moon, Dactyl. Since then moons have been discovered orbiting nearly 200 other minor planets, further complicating the definition of a “true” planet.

10. We live inside the sun. Normally we think of the sun as being that big, hot ball of light 93 million miles away. But actually, the sun’s outer atmosphere extends far beyond its visible surface. Our planet orbits within this tenuous atmosphere, and we see evidence of this when gusts of the solar wind generate the Northern and Southern Lights. In that sense, we definitely live “inside” the sun. But the solar atmosphere doesn’t end at Earth. Auroras have been observed on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and even distant Neptune. In fact, the outer solar atmosphere, called the “heliosphere,” is thought to extend at least 100 A.U. That’s nearly 10 billion miles. In fact the atmosphere is likely teardrop shaped due to the sun’s motion in space, with the “tail” extending tens to hundreds of billions of miles downwind.

This post is based on a talk called “Ten Things You May Not Know About the Solar System,” given by  Dr. Victor Andersen of the Community College of Aurora, Colorado, in October, 2010.

Reblogged from: http://earthsky.org/space/ten-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-solar-system

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Ten Things You May Not Know About The Solar System.

 Ten Things You May Not Know About The Solar System.

Planets

Here’s a collection of 10 unexpected and intriguing facts about our solar system – our sun and its family of planets – you probably did not know, or maybe have forgotten about!

10 ) The hottest planet isn’t closest to the sun
Many people know that Mercury is the closest planet to the sun, well less than half of the Earth’s distance. It is no mystery, therefore, why people would assume that Mercury is the hottest planet. We know that Venus, the second planet away from the sun, is on the average 30 million miles farther from the sun than Mercury. The natural assumption is that being farther away, it must be cooler. But assumptions can be dangerous.

For practical consideration, Mercury has no atmosphere, no warming blanket to help it maintain the sun’s heat. Venus, on the other hand, is shrouded by an unexpectedly thick atmosphere, about 100 times thicker than our own on Earth. This in itself would normally serve to prevent some of the sun’s energy from escaping back into space and thus raise the overall temperature of the planet. But in addition to the atmosphere’s thickness, it is composed almost entirely of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

The carbon dioxide freely lets solar energy in, but is far less transparent to the longer wavelength radiation emitted by the heated surface. Thus the temperature rises to a level far above what would be expected, making it the hottest planet. In fact the average temperature on Venus is about 875 degrees F, hot enough to melt tin and lead. The maximum temperature on Mercury, the planet closer to the sun, is about 800 degrees F. In addition, the lack of atmosphere causes Mercury’s surface temperature to vary by hundreds of degrees, whereas the thick mantle of carbon dioxide keeps the surface temperature of Venus steady, hardly varying at all, anywhere on the planet or any time of day or night!

9 ) Pluto is smaller than the USA
The greatest distance across the contiguous United States is nearly 2,900 miles (from Northern California to Maine). By the best current estimates, Pluto is just over 1400 miles across, less than half the width of the U.S. Certainly in size it is much smaller than any major planet, perhaps making it a bit easier to understand why a few years ago it was “demoted” from full planet status. It is now known as a “dwarf planet.”

8 ) George Lucas doesn’t know much about “Asteroid Fields
In many science fiction movies, spacecraft are often endangered by pesky asteroid fields. In actuality, the only asteroid belt we are aware of exists between Mars and Jupiter, and although there are tens of thousands of asteroids in it (perhaps more), they are quite widely spaced and the likelihood of colliding with one is small. In fact, spacecraft must be deliberately and carefully guided to asteroids to have a chance of even photographing one. Given the presumed manner of creation, it is highly unlikely that spacefarers will ever encounter asteroid swarms or fields in deep space.

7 ) You can make volcanoes using water as magma
Mention volcanoes and everyone immediately thinks of Mount St. Helens, Mount Vesuvius, or maybe the lava caldera of Mauna Loa in Hawaii. Volcanoes require molten rock called lava (or “magma” when still underground), right? Not really. A volcano forms when an underground reservoir of a hot, fluid mineral or gas erupts onto the surface of a planet or other non-stellar astronomical body. The exact composition of the mineral can vary greatly. On Earth, most volcanoes sport lava (or magma) that has silicon, iron, magnesium, sodium, and a host of complicated minerals. The volcanoes of Jupiter’s moon Io appear to be composed mostly of sulfur and sulfur dioxide.

But it can be simpler than that. On Saturn’s moon Enceladus, Neptune’s moon Triton, and others, the driving force is ice, good old frozen H20! Water expands when it freezes and enormous pressures can build up, just as in a “normal” volcano on Earth. When the ice erupts, a “cryovolcano” is formed. So volcanoes can operate on water as well as molten rock. By the way, we have relatively small scale eruptions of water on Earth called geysers. They are associated with superheated water that has come into contact with a hot reservoir of magma.

6 ) The “edge” of the Solar System is 1,000 times farther away than Pluto
Most people have been taught that the solar system just goes out to the orbit of Pluto. Today we don’t even consider Pluto a full-fledged planet, but the impression remains. Still, we have discovered numerous objects orbiting the sun that are considerably farther than Pluto. These are “Trans-Neptunian Objects” (TNOs), or “Kuiper Belt Objects” (KBOs). The Kuiper Belt, the first of the sun’s two reservoirs of cometary material, is thought to extend to 50 or 60 astronomical units (AU, or the average distance of the Earth from the sun). An even farther part of the solar system, the huge but tenuous Oort comet cloud, may extend to 50,000 AU from the sun, or about half a light year – more than a thousand times farther than Pluto.

5 ) Almost everything on Earth is a rare element
The elemental composition of planet Earth is mostly iron, oxygen, silicon, magnesium, sulfur, nickel, calcium, sodium, and aluminum. While such elements have been detected in locations throughout the universe, they are merely trace elements, vastly overshadowed by the much greater abundances of hydrogen and helium. Thus Earth, for the most part, is composed of rare elements. This does not signify any special place for Earth, however. The cloud from which the Earth formed had a much higher abundance of hydrogen and helium, but being light gases, they were driven away into space by the sun’s heat as the Earth formed.

4 ) There are Mars rocks on Earth (and we didn’t bring here)
Chemical analysis of meteorites found in Antarctica, the Sahara Desert, and elsewhere have been shown by various means to have originated on Mars. For example, some contain pockets of gas that is chemically identical to the martian atmosphere. These meteorites may have been blasted away from Mars due to a larger meteoroid or asteroid impact on Mars, or by a huge volcanic eruption, and later collided with Earth.

3 ) Jupiter has the biggest ocean of any planet
Orbiting in cold space five times farther from the sun than Earth, Jupiter retained much higher levels of hydrogen and helium when it formed than did our planet. In fact, Jupiter is mostly hydrogen and helium. Given the planet’s mass and chemical composition, physics demands that way down under the cold cloud tops, pressures rise to the point that the hydrogen must turn to liquid. In fact there should be a deep planetary ocean of liquid hydrogen. Computer models show that not only is this the largest ocean known in the solar system, but that it is about 40,000 km deep – roughly as deep as the Earth is around!

2 ) Even really small bodies can have moons
It was once thought that only objects as large as planets could have natural satellites or moons. In fact the existence of moons, or the capability of a planet to gravitationally control a moon in orbit, was sometimes used as part of the definition of what a planet truly is. It just didn’t seem reasonable that smaller celestial bodies had enough gravity to hold a moon. After all, Mercury and Venus have none at all, and Mars has only tiny moons. But in 1993, the Galileo probe passed the 20-mile wide asteroid Ida and discovered its one-mile wide moon, Dactyl. Since then moons have been discovered orbiting nearly 200 other minor planets, further complicating the definition of a “true” planet.

1 ) We live inside the sun
Normally we think of the sun as being that big, hot ball of light 93 million miles away. But actually, the sun’s outer atmosphere extends far beyond its visible surface. Our planet orbits within this tenuous atmosphere, and we see evidence of this when gusts of the solar wind generate the Northern and Southern Lights. In that sense, we definitely live “inside” the sun. But the solar atmosphere doesn’t end at Earth. Auroras have been observed on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and even distant Neptune. In fact, the outer solar atmosphere, called the “heliosphere,” is thought to extend at least 100 A.U. That’s nearly 10 billion miles. In fact the atmosphere is likely teardrop shaped due to the sun’s motion in space, with the “tail” extending tens to hundreds of billions of miles downwind. Source: Earth & Sky by Larry Sessisons.

Reblogged from AstroSpace News

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

There are those who believe…that life out there began here.

Conversely to the famous Battlestar Galactica television series statement, scientists now believe that any life found in the Solar system may have started here.  But how could that happen?

Most people know that the KPg impact caused by a 6 mile wide asteroid hitting Earth killed up to 90% of all life on the planet and ended the era of the dinosaurs and began the rise of mammals.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn0.cosmosmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/20110324_meteor_hr.jpg

This impressive event also had additional side affects.  Ejecta from the impact actually left the planet.  If you knew where to look, you would find material on the Moon that came from that event.

However, a new study posits that life spread from Earth to other planets and moons during and earlier era of asteroid impacts, about 4 billion years ago.  These multiple impacts could have carried life here back to the heavens.

But is this likely?   Given the fact that of the 53,000 meteorites found on Earth, 105 have been identified as coming from Mars it is extremely possible that reverse has happened as well.

The technical term for this is lithopanspermia: the idea that basic life forms can be distributed throughout the solar system via rock fragments cast forth by meteoroid impacts.  So it may have happened that comets brought life to Earth and then asteroid and comet impacts took it from here to the rest of the planets and moons.

Patrick Macnee in Lobster man from Mars.jpg

So with extra-planetary life possible in our own neighborhood the words spoken by Patrick Macnee at the start of a classic TV show:

“There are those who believe…that life here began out there, far across the Universe…with tribes of humans…who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians…or the Toltecs…or the Mayans…that they may have been the architects of the Great Pyramids…or the lost civilizations of Lemuria…or Atlantis.

Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man…who even now fight to survive—somewhere beyond the heavens!

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Oh, The Places We’ve Been (https://plus.google.com/+KevinGill/posts/bGA7kwn48f5)

I found this amazing graphic (below) that shows where humans have ventured from the planet.

Kevin Gill used his very own creation, the Orbit Viewer WebGL, and data from the NASA/JPL Horizons ephemeris.

First, the program is very impressive itself (props to Kevin) and the graphics are incredible.

If you would like to play with Kevin’s program you can check it out here.  It is really amazing.

You can find the original article here.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Saturn Has More Than Just Rings.

We all know that Saturn has lovely rings surround it, but did you know it has hexagons also?

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft took the high resolution images above of the hexagon structure around Saturn’s north pole.  The hexagon is a wavy jet stream of 200-mile-per-hour winds (about 322 kilometers per hour) with a massive, rotating storm at the center.

The famous red eye storm of Jupiter is probably the most visible, but not the only one.

Neptune’s storms are quite pretty in blue and white.

Uranus’s green storm and rings are most interesting due to the north to south rotation of the planet.

The annual dust storms on Mars do hint that the god of war seems to be very active on our neighbor.

The magnetic and acid storms on Venus can be terrifying.  To date, no probe has lasted more than a few minutes on the surface.

And our own planet has it share of stormy weather, driven by the Sun and tempered by the planet’s rotation.

Storms around the Solar system are beautiful, varied and terrifying each in their own way.

 

 

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman

Summer Showers with a Chance of Rock.

As we move into the middle of the summer it is time to start planning your meteorite shower parties!

2012 Meteor shower chart

The chart above will help you plan to watch these awesome events.  Well, some are more awesome than others.

Of course some of the most popular meteor showers are the Perseid and the Geminid showers.  As my birthday is in August, I am partial to the Perseids.  Also, it is warmer.  A lot warmer.

I mean really, the Geminid’s are nice and everything, but come on!  All night in the middle of December!  I live in California, I freeze if it drops below 50 degrees F any more.

So what exactly causes these annual displays in the night sky?  Meteor showers always seem to come from one point in the night sky.  Basically these meteors are caused by streams of cosmic dust and debris, called meteoroids, entering Earth’s atmosphere. The dust and debris come from comets.  Every time a comet passes the Sun, it leaves a little trail of debris and dust behind.  As the Earth rotates around the Sun, we run into the remnants.

All the meteorites seem to come from the same place because they are all on  parallel paths, like looking down railroad tracks.

So how do you observe a meteor show?  Lucky for you I have a sure fire method of catching the best view possible for any given meteor shower:

Step 1:  Find a picnic table, or bring your own under a clear, dark sky (it really doesn’t even have to be that dark, just clear).

Step 2: lay back on said picnic table.

Step 3: Open eyes at scheduled time (set alarms as needed).

Step 4: Enjoy the show.

By the way, you can bring the whole family along.  All meteor showers are rated G by the MPAA (Many Perusing Astronomers Association).

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney in Pasadena, California and I am a Rising Star as rated by Super Lawyers Magazine.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities. Connect with me on Google +

Norman