Sunday, 16 May 2010

Top Five Planets

For the longest time there were only the nine planets that were known to us, with this number of course being controversially reduced in eight in more recent years, and they have become incredibly familiar to those of us who care to glance skywards now and then, but now countless more have been discovered orbiting alien stars. Many of these appear to be even stranger than we could've imagined but for most of us, none of them will ever hold the allure of the more familiar worlds that are closer to us. Perhaps one of them was the first sight we gazed upon when first looking through a telescope; perhaps one was the subject of a favourite childhood science-fiction tale; perhaps it's simply a particular alien quality of one of them that we find appealing, but I'm sure we all have our favourites. And these are mine:

5 - Venus

Long considered Earth's twin, this comparably-sized planet features hellish conditions that no life from our home could endure. Its atmosphere has constant lightning and is so dense the first few Venera probes sent by the Russians were crushed before reaching the ground. Even the ones that did manage to land unscathed only lasted an hour or so before melting. There is also sulphuric acid rain, every part of the surface features evidence of volcanic activity, and the entire planet leaves a tail behind it in space, much like a comet, due to the Sun's solar wind!

4. Saturn

Many people would pick Saturn for their favourite planet and I can certainly see why. It's probably the most distinctive occupant of our solar system, mainly due to its ring system. Of course, while many of its fans might not be aware that the other gassy planets also have ring systems, none are nearly as spectacular as Saturn's! Apparently it would also float in a bowl of water due to its ultra-low density. I'd certainly like to see someone test that out!

3. Mars

Well, what more is there to say about Mars? During the early-to-mid-twentieth century it was the source of countless science-fiction novels and films, all of which attempted to predict what might reside on the there, in most cases sophisticated (and malevolent) life forms, and in more recent decades it's become the most visited of all the planets. These visits have yet to reveal and scary aliens but they have shown the Red Planet to be a very interesting planet from a geological point of view. Take Olympus Mons, for example - a volcano three times higher than Mount Everest and over 500 km wide at its base, or Valles Marineris (see picture) - an immense canyon 4000 km long (compared with the Grand Canyon on Earth at 446 km). Let's face it though - it will be many people's favourite simply to the imagined Martian civilisation that has thus far managed to hide itself from us!

2. Earth

Ah, our lovely home planet. The largest and most diverse of all the terrestrial planets and home to many natural wonders of amazing beauty and many species of plant and animal life. Unfortunately, the dominant species is an ignorant, self-destructive, and irresponsible one which is slowly destroying the aforementioned natural beauty in the name of comfort and convenience. This amazing but polluted world would be in the number one spot were it not for them...

1. Jupiter

What else? The gargantuan Jupiter is two and a half times as massive as all the other planets in the Solar System combined and has such immense gravity that it 'squeezes' its nearest large moon, Io, causing constant volcanic eruptions (and also stopped the asteroids inside its orbit from coalescing into a fifth terrestrial planet). It also has such an enormous magnetic field that, if visible from Earth, would make it appear as large as the Sun, despite being over five times further away, and has a moon bigger than some planets (coughMercurycough). It even has its own (though lesser known) ring system, but probably the most famous of all its features is The Great Red Spot, a hurricane-like storm three times bigger than Earth that has already lasted for hundreds of years! Yeah, take that, other planets!



  1. Definitely the most random thing I've read all day. But cool, too. :)

    Are the images photos taken from telescopes, or CGI mockups?

  2. Cheers! Hope you liked it. :) I'm not 100% on the origin of each picture, but I believe:

    5 - This is either a radar image or CGI (Venus has thick clouds all over)
    4 - I think this was taken by one of the Voyagers after it passed Saturn
    3 - Taken by the Viking 1 Orbiter
    2 - Taken by Apollo 17
    1 - Approach picture taken by Voyager 1


  3. For some reason, I always liked Neptune the most. Jupiter is epic though. Nothing however beats those images of 'Earth Rising'...I wonder what it must have felt like for Neil Armstrong and co. to stand on the moon and see our planet 'rising' out of the blackness of space...

  4. Yes, it must've been humbling, specially being able to hold up his hand and block out the whole planet with his thumb! Neptune was going to be No.5 actually, it has the fastest wind of all the planets, but Venus was too hectic to leave out! :P