One day, while on holiday in Norfolk, I came across a book called The Planets (written by Dava Sobel) in a charity shop. It reminded me of the fascination I had about the universe when I was a child. A fascination that has never left me. It’s a great book with a lot of absorbing facts but with no overwhelming details on physics that can bog the reader (i.e me!) down. So here’s five facts I learnt, courtesy of Dava Sobel.
- Jupiter, the largest planet and a gas giant, has no solid surface. The features we see is actually weather – the famous great dark spot is a storm for example. Storms can last a very long time, centuries even.
- Luckily, the Earth has a magnetic field. This protects it from the sun’s solar wind – a ‘hot exhalation of charged particles’ which ‘keeps up a constant barrage on the planets’. The Earth’s magnetic field deflects most of the solar wind. Particles in small doses ‘trickle into the upper atmosphere near the North and South Poles’, creating the Northern and Southern Lights.
- Uranus lies on its side and takes nearly 84 Earth years to rotate. It spends 20 years of its orbit with its south pole facing the sun and then another 20 years when the North pole faces the sun. This results in 20-year ‘days’ and ‘nights’. Can you imagine living in such a place?!
- ‘No greater extremes of temperature coexist anywhere in the Solar System ‘ but in Mercury, the planet nearest the sun. Some regions get hot enough to ‘melt metals in daylight’ and then ‘chill to hundreds of degrees below freezing at night ‘.
- Fancy moving to Venus? It boasts a temperature of 800 degrees Fahrenheit all over the planet. It has 90 times the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere and its clouds are made up of sulphuric acid, chlorine and fluorine.
Information courtesy of Dava Sobel’s The Planets
P.s The phrase By Jove, used to indicate surprise, comes from the name Jove, the head of the Roman gods, equivalent to Jupiter (where the planet’s name originates from).