The Rocky Planets

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THE ROCKY PLANETS

Why do you want to get off this one?

There are no gods to visit on those spinning orbs, and they are not very nice places on which to live. Let’s take a quick look in our scientific shuttle.

THE SUN

Nope. Don’t want to go there. Nuclear explosions. Fusion. The conversion of hydrogen gas to helium. You know. Energy equals the quantity of mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. The loss in mass equal to the weight of one million elephants every second.

If you heated the head of a pin to the temperature of the center of the sun, it would instantly vaporize everything within 60 miles. And loops of energy extending off the sun’s surface have the power of millions of volcanoes. Yikes!

Sun God? Phooey! But if the sun were mysteriously extinguished, you wouldn’t know it for eight minutes. That’s how far away it is. And those would be the last eight minutes of your life. Without it, we are lost. Sun God? Maybe!

A MNEMONIC

I wonder if they still teach it in school. I do. Here goes, in order of planetary position: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.

Yes, I still consider Pizza a planet!

 

MERCURY

 

An iron ball with a thin crust and gravity one-third of that on Earth. Stand on the surface at midday and you will melt. It’s 800 degrees Fahrenheit! But at nighttime, the shadows will bring on the deep freeze. Minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit! No atmosphere. No wind or rain. No home for us!

VENUS

Now this planet is different. The very word Venusian conjures up all kinds of romantic images. And in alternate months, it puts us to bed and wakes us up as the evening and morning star. Mysteriously cloaked too, to keep away prying eyes. Edgar Rice Burroughs went there three times in the 1930s, and Flash Gordon in 1955. Let’s go there now!

Ah, no, I don’t think so. Those clouds are made of sulfuric acid. Burning rain drops. Yikes! Isn’t that like what Anne McCaffrey writes about on her planet, Pern?

And the air you breathe in is choking you with carbon dioxide. Ninety-six percent CO2! Doesn’t that cause a greenhouse effect? Yup, big time.

That is why it is 900 degrees Fahrenheit on that planet. Hotter than Mercury! Canyons of molten rock, and volcanoes spewing forth boiling phloem and belching out gas. You will suffocate, assuming you are not crushed by the atmosphere with a pressure ninety times that on Earth at sea level. Assuming that there is enough of you left after the sulfuric acid burns you. And get this. There is little water in the sky, but when it gets there, it explodes on contact with the sulfuric acid. Yikes!

MARS

Ah, now that’s a planet. Burroughs sent John Carter there in 1912. His books were Ronald Reagan’s favorites as a summer lifeguard in his youth.

Mars was named after the mythological God of War. Why war? Because it appears red. Like the color of blood? That’s the color of iron oxide in the soil of Mars. Rust to you. And what of its two moons, Phobos and Deimos? Fear and terror in Greek mythology!

There’s not much atmosphere on Mars. But there was once. And there is still enough to generate a wind. Dust devils. Pictures have been taken of them by our landers. Robotic extensions of our laboratories and sense. And those machines are almost like humans. Well, not that much like us, I suppose, but I still think of them as friends. The United States has sent four Rovers to Mars: Sojourner (1997), Spirit (2004-2010), Opportunity (2004-2018), and Curiosity (2012 and still rolling). They are wonderful machines. I build models of them!

There is no magnetic field on Mars to hold its atmosphere or deflect the high-energy radiation from the sun. You would be assaulted there by blistering solar blasts, burning you as you stood on the surface. No magnetic shield to sweep that radiation aside and into polar auroras. Earth does that trick very nicely.

And there is no oxygen-derived ozone barrier on Mars to bar further harmful solar and cosmic radiation from penetrating to the surface. Like we have on Earth.

But it wasn’t always so on Earth. Free oxygen is new here. And so is ozone. Life began generating free oxygen on Earth about 2.5 billion years ago. That’s right. Earth wasn’t ready for us. Life had to “terraform” Earth to its liking. Just like we will have to do on Mars if we move there. And there is water hidden there. Maybe then we can soar through the Valles Marineris⎯the biggest canyon in the solar system. Or climb Mons Olympus⎯the tallest mountain amongst our rocky planets!

 

EARTH

Ah, home. I like it here. An earthly paradise, I think. Blue oceans with earth-colored continents. And sweeping slips of white clouds adding a curtained proscenium to our stage in life!

 

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