Interesting Facts about the Planets

by Abby Cessna on June 26, 2009

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Eight Planets

Eight Planets

1. Mercury is hot but it might have ice
Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun and is one of the hottest planets in the Solar System, but it may contain ice. Mercury slowly rotates around the Sun, exposing all of its sides to the Sun’s relentless rays, so it seems hard to imagine where the ice could remain solid. Scientists speculate that the ice is located in craters near the poles of the planet. These craters are deep enough and close enough to the top of the planet to keep the ice out of direct sunlight.

2. There’s definitely water on Mars (ice, anyway)
Mars has always captivated the imagination of writers and scientists alike. Ever since canals and canyons were discovered on the planet’s surface, the search for water on Mars has been ongoing. You may be surprised to know that scientists have discovered water on Mars, although it does not come in liquid form. This discovery was first detected by the NASA’s spacecraft Odyssey. In 2008, the presence of water on Mars was confirmed by the NASA’s Phoenix. The Phoenix Lander collected samples of what was later determined to be water ice. The patch that the Phoenix Lander collected its samples from was termed the “Snow Queen” by scientists.

3. Venus is actually the hottest planet in the Solar System
Even though Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, Venus is the hottest planet in our Solar System. Venus’s thick atmosphere traps the heat from the Sun, a kind of greenhouse effect, and retains it. Sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are compounds that help trap the heat. The temperature on Venus is about 465°C (870°F). Venus’s extreme temperatures and toxic atmosphere make it an unlikely place for the existence of life.

4. Jupiter’s big. No, really really big. And massive too.
Jupiter has the most mass of any planet in the Solar System. You may be wondering exactly how massive this planet is. Not only is Jupiter’s mass 318 times the mass of the Earth, but it is also two and a half times the mass of all the planets in the entire Solar System. Even though the planet is massive, it has a density lower than Earth’s. This causes Jupiter to have a gravity approximately two and a half times greater than Earth’s gravity.

5. And yet, Jupiter is the fastest rotating planet
Despite Jupiter’s large mass, it is the fastest planet to complete a full axial rotation. It takes just under ten hours for the planet to do a full rotation. As a result of its extreme speed, Jupiter has actually flattened at both ends and expanded in the middle like a ball that is being compressed between someone’s hands.

6. The Earth’s magnetic field protects it
Earth has a magnetic field with magnetic poles close to the North and South geographic poles. This magnetic field is so strong that its influence reaches thousands of kilometers from the surface of the Earth to the magnetosphere. The magnetosphere is one of the reasons why life can exist on Earth. It acts as a kind of shield, diverting harmful radiation from the Sun away from the Earth where it would severely damage, if not destroy, life. Scientists theorize that the currents of the Earth’s liquid outer core cause this magnetic field.

7. Our view of Saturn’s rings are constantly changing
Saturn is famous for its distinctive rings that were first seen by Galileo in the beginning of the 17th century. Saturn’s rings, which can be seen with the unaided eye from Earth, sometimes disappear from sight. Every 14 to 15 years in its orbit around the Sun, Saturn turns a specific way. At that angle, the planet’s rings become so thin viewed from Earth that they seem to simply disappear. Here are 10 facts about Saturn.

8. Uranus is flipped over on its side
Uranus is the only planet to rotate on its side; it rotational tilt is very strong – approximately 97.9°. Uranus’ unique tilt results in extreme seasonal changes. The planet goes through seasonal cycles of 21 years each. There are 21 years of a normal night and day cycle on Uranus, which is followed by 21 years of day in the Northern Hemisphere. After another normal 21-year period, there are 21 years of night in the Northern Hemisphere. Then the planet begins its cycle all over again.

9. And Uranus is the coldest place in the Solar System
Uranus, the second furthest planet from the Sun, is the coldest planet in our Solar System. That distinction used to belong to Pluto , which was the ninth planet until it was reduced to the status of dwarf planet. Uranus’ temperature can drop to -224°C, which is less than -371°F. Those kind of drastically cold temperatures seem unimaginable. Even though it is closer to the Sun than Neptune, it is colder than the final planet. Uranus’ extreme temperature is a result of its core. Unlike the other planets, Uranus actually releases less heat than it absorbs from the Sun because its core is much cooler than the cores of the other planets.

10. Neptune has the fastest winds of any of the eight planets.
The winds on Neptune reach at least 2,100 km per hour and are capable of ripping buildings to shreds. Considering the strongest hurricanes, such as Hurricane Andrew, only have winds exceeding 251 km per hour, Neptune’s winds are incredibly powerful. Scientists are not certain how the planet’s winds can be that fast, but some believe it is due to a combination of frigid temperatures and Neptune’s atmosphere. Here are 10 facts about Neptune.

The Solar System is full of wonders and incredible features, which astronomers have only just begun to discover. Each planet in our Solar System has something new and different to offer, and scientists are learning more about them every day. These are only a few of the interesting facts about the planets, so if you found these intriguing check out more information about the planets. The more you read, the more amazed you will be.

Universe Today has many articles on interesting facts about the planets. Start with 10 facts about Mercury  and 10 facts about Venus. You may also want to check out the 10 facts about Mars.

You can find more information about the planets from NASA on the planets and from Nine Planets on an overview of the planets.

Astronomy Cast also has a number of podcasts about the planets including one on Earth.

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