5 facts about The Solar System
1. The hottest planet isn’t closest to the sun. Many people know that Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. 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. 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!
2. Pluto is smaller than the USA. The greatest distance across the contiguous United States is nearly 4600 kilometers (from Northern California to Maine). By the best current estimates, Pluto is just over 2300 kilometers across, less than half the width of the U.S.
3. 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. There are Mars rocks on Earth. 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.
5. 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!
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