The Best of All Worlds #3: Saturn

The Best of All Worlds

The Miss Universe competition has been a sham for decades now thanks to its Earthling bias. Everyone knows that the real Miss Universe is found elsewhere in our Solar System. God liked it, so he put a ring on it.

Behold: the planet Saturn.

Saturn features the largest and priciest hula hoop in the Solar System.

Saturn features the largest and priciest hula hoop in the Solar System.

As we move on from the gaggle of lousy and mediocre planets littering our Solar System, we arrive at one that I seriously considered for the #2 spot in my ranking of the eight planets.

Saturn is beautiful. Just look at her!

Indeed, the most beautiful of all billiard balls.

Indeed, the most beautiful of all billiard balls.

Now, we could drool all day over photos from the Voyager probes and the Cassini-Huygens mission. But for most of human history, no one had any idea that Saturn was so lovely. It was just another bright wandering speck in the sky that came to be known as a planet. Then finally, Galileo peered through his rudimentary telescope and discovered that this particular planet had a couple of lumps sticking out of the side. Christiaan Huygens had a better telescope and determined that these lumps were—improbably enough—rings! How bizarre an experience that must have been!

Saturn’s rings are composed of a bazillion little chunks of ice and rock, shepherded by a handful of tiny moons that zip around the gas giant. The rings are beautiful, but unfortunately, Saturn really only has two good moons. The first good moon is Mimas, because it looks like the Death Star. The second good moon is Titan, which contains 90% of the mass in orbit around Saturn (rings and moons included), is larger than the planet Mercury, and is the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere. Underneath the yellow smog lie several lakes of liquid methane and ethane, off limits to swimmers even during peak season.

As for Saturn itself, once you peel away the rings, you’re left with a planet that is unfortunately rather low in density, bland in appearance, and a little squashed looking. I’m the sort of guy who prefers planets with a lively and vivacious personality, so despite its serene splendour, Saturn only lands at #3 on my list. If you prefer to put Saturn at #2, that’s OK by me; just don’t hand this planet the Miss Congeniality award or anything.

One last look for you Saturn groupies out there!

I hear that angelic haloes are fashionable in Paris these days.

I hear that angelic haloes are fashionable in Paris these days.

Our rankings so far:

8. Venus
7. Mercury
6. Uranus
5. Neptune
4. Mars
3. Saturn
1–2. ???

How much airfare would you pay to go and watch a beauty pageant of all the planets? Let us all know in the comments below, and then vote for the BEST planet and the WORST planet in our Solar System!

The Best of All Worlds #4: Mars

The Best of All Worlds

Mars. The Red Planet. Where men are from.

Mars has long captured the imagination of the human race, much as men have long captured the imagination of human women. Ever since some dude in ancient times noticed a red star wandering aimlessly across the celestial sphere, humanity has wondered: when will Mars get a real job and settle down? The answer is, like, never. Mars is content to putz around with the surveyor robots we keep sending it, and it has no inclination to start its own family of life forms anytime soon.

This is what yogurt looks like if you leave it in the fridge too long.

This is what yogurt looks like if you leave it in the fridge too long.

Oh, sure, we could assign a few astronauts to Mars to whip the planet into shape. In fact, a team of malcontent Earthlings is already assembling a madcap expedition to Mars, a one-way ticket to colonize our next-door neighbour. When they arrive, however, they may find their new home a little less accomodating than they expected.

You see, because NASA is kind enough to share the photos they’re taking with their wacky RC dune buggies, we often assume that Mars is merely a dusty red desert, like a rusty version of Arizona. But when our migrant workers show up on Mars, they’re going to wish for a border patrol to ship them across the Solar System, back to Earth. The God-forsaken plains of Mars make the driest Earth desert seem like the Garden of Eden.

How did Mars turn out so crappy? Well, it hasn’t bothered to generate a magnetic field like its overachieving older sister, Earth. Troops of Martian Boy Scouts will find themselves lost in its howling wastes, their compasses twirling uselessly in their fingers. Also, they will be dead, because without a magnetic field, Mars is unable to retain a thick and rich atmosphere like Earth’s. Like a screaming drill sergeant with a tenuous grasp of oral hygiene, our Sun is continually blasting its planets with charged particles that Earth’s magnetic field successfully deflects. But Mars got lazy, so the solar radiation has stripped away nearly all of its atmosphere and supplied an electrostatic charge to the Martian dust. This means that not only is Mars practically enveloped in vacuum, but its dust sticks to everything. And it’s nasty, corrosive stuff. If you’re the kind of person who hates the feeling of sand in your swimsuit, don’t go to Mars. The Mars dust will slowly eat away your swimsuit until it disintegrates in the most awkward fashion imaginable at the office pool party.

Martian Boy Scouts learn to identify landmarks such as grey pointy rocks and red pointy rocks.

Martian Boy Scouts learn to identify landmarks such as grey pointy rocks and red pointy rocks.

So maybe Mars isn’t such a great place to live. And maybe it’s no wonder that the Martians of H. G. Wells lore were so eager to escape their planet and take over our own. But when you consider some of its delinquent siblings, maybe Mars isn’t all that bad. The Red Planet would be a worse place to live than anywhere on Earth, but at least you could live there someday for a while without melting into a puddle of molten slag. And in the meantime, we can send our little robot toys to our neighbouring world to poke at rocks and look for water and stuff. Mars even got off the couch long enough to score a couple dinky moons for itself. So you know, maybe this layabout planet will amount to something after all.

Our rankings so far:

8. Venus
7. Mercury
6. Uranus
5. Neptune
4. Mars
1–3. ???

What would motivate you to move out of your parents’ basement and travel to Mars? Let us all know in the comments below, then scroll back up and vote for the BEST planet and the WORST planet in our Solar System!

The Best of All Worlds #5: Neptune

The Best of All Worlds

Choosing which planet is better—Uranus or Neptune—is like choosing which of your twin daughters you prefer. They’re so much alike! And how could you bring yourself to choose between them? However, I was able to make the decision for you because unlike you, dear reader, I don’t have twin daughters. So you can trust my cold, forbidding judgment in regard to these cold, forbidding gas giants.

If Neptune and Uranus were in a race to see which could get around the Sun faster, Uranus wins, hands down. But sorry Uranus, nobody really cares. In a race to see which planet is the better of the two, it’s twin sister Neptune by a nose. Both are distant spheres of gas and ice, circling the Sun in hypothermic mediocrity, but Neptune has a few positive traits that make it more worthy of its planetary title.

First of all, Neptune has a pretty good moon. Unlike Uranus, which has amassed a rabble of lousy Shakespearean satellites, Neptune has focused nearly all of its extracurricular efforts on capturing a single quality moon which astronomers aptly named Triton, after the son of the Roman god Neptune.

*WHOOOOSSHH* That's the sound effect I imagine for the Great Dark Spot as it zips across the face of Neptune.

*WHOOOOSSHH* That’s the sound effect I imagine for the Great Dark Spot as it zips across the face of Neptune.

Which brings us, stream-of-consciousness style, to the way Neptune itself got its name. This is my favourite trinket of Neptunian trivia. Neptune was the first and only planet to be theoretically predicted before it was discovered. A British astronomer named John Couch Adams and a French astronomer named Urbain Le Verrier independently calculated that the orbit of Uranus was being affected by the gravitational pull of yet another planet. Le Verrier’s friends at the Berlin Observatory were the ones to identify the new planet first. Initially, Le Verrier wanted to name the planet Neptune. Then he decided that this name was failing to feed his mammoth hubris, so he renamed it Le Verrier. Meanwhile, the British were all in a huff that their man Adams wasn’t getting his share of the credit, so finally all the astronomers agreed that Le Verrier’s name was stupid, that the planet’s name would be Neptune, and that everybody should get a trophy for finding it.

Yes, the history of Neptune’s discovery is a tale of political intrigue. That in itself makes it better than Uranus. Beyond this, I suppose Neptune is the more beautiful planet. For some reason as yet unknown, it has escaped becoming a bland cyan orb and has blossomed into a beautiful azure-blue marble, dotted with dark storms and wisps of white clouds. In a beauty contest, Neptune wins the prize over her drab twin sister.

But you know, if you think Uranus is better than Neptune, I will listen to your arguments, perhaps even without falling asleep.

Our rankings so far:

8. Venus
7. Mercury
6. Uranus
5. Neptune
1–4. ???

Leave a comment below expressing your opinion on Uranus and Neptune, then scroll back up and vote for the best planet and the worst planet in our Solar System!

The Best of All Worlds #6: Uranus

The Best of All Worlds

Ah yes, Uranus—the butt of all planetary jokes. It’s also the most boring planet in our Solar System. Uranus is like your accountant uncle who spends his evenings sipping V8 juice and organizing his stamp collection. When Voyager 2 swung by Uranus back in 1986, it found a bland, teal, featureless gas giant surrounded by its own collection of uninteresting moons.

You see, in our ranking of the planets from worst to first, we have moved from the ghastly realm of the awful worlds (Venus and Mercury) to the dreary realm of the mediocre worlds. Of these pedestrian planets, Uranus is the worst by the slightest of slight margins. I will admit that I hemmed and hawed on this decision for a while. (Though not the entire three months since my last blog entry; that gap was just me being lazy.)

Uranus

The miscoloured cue ball of the Solar System.

But here’s the deal with Uranus: it’s not a bad planet per se. In fact, it’s the most Cessna-friendly of all the planets, apart from our own Earth. It’s just that there’s only one interesting feature about the planet: it’s lying on its side like a beached whale. Its poles point along the plane of the Solar System instead of perpendicular to it, like all the other planets. Also, it has rings, but so do all the other gas giants, so that’s not remarkable. Also, its moons are named after characters in Shakespeare’s plays—Titania and Oberon being the largest of the moons—but that’s mainly because astronomers got bored of naming moons after obscure Greek nymphs and demigods. Also, it’s tealish-blue because of methane gas, but whatever.

So yeah. What more is there to say? Uranus, everybody.

Our rankings so far:

8. Venus
7. Mercury
6. Uranus
1–5. ???

Vote below for the best and worst planets in our Solar System! (Hint: Uranus is not the correct answer for either.)

The Best of All Worlds #7: Mercury

When you wouldn’t even make it as a remarkable moon, you’re certainly not going to make it as a remarkable planet.

Sorry Mercury. We still bros?

Along with Venus, the planet Mercury is one of two inferior planets—that is, planets closer to the Sun than our own Earth. They are inferior in many other ways as well. We’ve already established that Venus is the worst planet; Mercury escapes that sort of infamy only because our expectations are lower.

This isn’t the Moon, it’s Mercury. I promise.

Unlike the “sister Earth,” Venus, nobody expected Mercury to amount to much. From ancient times, it was obvious that Mercury was hanging around right next to the Sun. Once Copernicus figured out that the Sun was the centre of our (aptly named) Solar System, astronomers realized that Mercury was way too close to the Sun for anything good to be happening there. In fact, Mercury orbits the Sun in 88 days in an eccentric orbit at an average distance one-third that of the Earth’s orbit. As you sciencey types have already figured out, this means that Mercury receives sunlight at nine-ish times the intensity of the Earth. Now I know what you’re thinking: on Mercury it would be so easy to roast ants with a magnifying glass! Sorry to crush your twisted hopes, you horrible creep, but the ants would already be dead, as the surface temperature Sun-side soars to above 400° C. Also there is hardly any atmosphere on Mercury, so the poor ants would suffocate before you could even begin to torture them—unless you fashioned for them, out of bubble wrap, hundreds of ant-sized astronaut suits.

Now, if you and your ants decided to take shelter on the dark side of Mercury, you would be cooled by a refreshing surface temperature of less than –150° C. And there’s probably even water ice hiding in a few polar craters! Yes, Mercury is a world of extremes. It’s also extremely small for a planet. It’s smaller than the two largest moons in the Solar System, Ganymede and Titan. But at the same time, it’s the second densest of all the planets and moons in the Solar System, after the Earth. Crazy!

In appearance, Mercury looks like our Moon: pocked and pitted with craters. Not much to write home about. In fact, there really isn’t a lot of exciting stuff going on around Mercury. It’s basically a big round inert rock zipping about the Sun. Boooooring. But at least Mercury has lived up to our low expectations, unlike crappy Venus.

Our rankings so far:

8. Venus
7. Mercury
1–6. ???

Vote below for the best and worst planet in our Solar System! Listen to your heart and don’t let anyone tell you what to think! (P. S. Venus is the worst and if you think otherwise you’re wrong)

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