For centuries, the planetary giants - Jupiter with its distinctive red spot and Saturn with its massive rings - have been the most glamorous of the planets, while the outer orbs - Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto  have been viewed, when they've been visible at all, as dim, remote, drab, and mysterious stepsisters. Then 11 years ago Voyager 2, its mission to Jupiter and Saturn completed, was allowed to fly by and snap a few pictures of Neptune.  What it eventually sent back to Earth changed everything. Neptune was literally seen in a new light with images of a gorgeous blue orb with swirling white clouds that seemed, well - Earth-like.  Three  years later, the discovery of the Kuiper belt, a field of remote icy objects that includes Pluto, redefined Neptune as a major force in the arrangement of the entire solar system.  Astronomers now believe Neptune's gravity not only skewed the orbits of the small, distant bodies in the Kuiper belt but also affected the position of the giant gas planets.


Jupiter reigns supreme among the nine planets, containing two-thirds of the planetary mass of the solar system.  In composition it resembles a small star.  Its interior pressure may reach 100 million times the surface pressure on Earth.  Jupiter's magnetic field is immense stretching millions of miles into the solar system.  Electrical activity in Jupiter is so strong that it pours billions of watts into Earth's own magnetic field every day.  Is atmosphere bristles with lightning and swirls with huge storm systems, including the Great Red Spot - a storm that has persisted for at least 100, and perhaps as long as 300 years.


Newsday -  11/13/80

Twenty years ago, Voyager I swept past the golden world of Saturn providing views of the planet's spectacular rings. The photos revealed a netherworld of numerous glistening rings, at least two of them which appear to be braided together in a fashion that defies easy description by the laws of orbital mechanics.  "I have no idea what causes the braiding," said Brad Smith of the University of Arizona, a Voyager scientist.  "It boggles the mind that they even exist."  The braids have huge kinks in them that also defy explanation.  "We're seeing new things so remote from our experience that we're not able to come up with even a hint as to what some of them are," Smith said.  The rings intertwine in a fashion resembling the double helix of the DNA molecule, one scientist said.



Pluto is the farthest planet from the Sun and by far the smallest.  Pluto is smaller than the seven of the solar system's moons (the Moon, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan and Triton).  

Pluto was discovered in 1930 by a fortunate accident.  Calculations which later turned out to be in error had predicted a planet beyond Neptune, based on the motions of Uranus and Neptune.  Not knowing of the error, Clyde W. Tombaugh at Lowell Observatory in Arizona did a very careful sky survey which turned up Pluto anyway.  After the discovery of Pluto, it was quickly determined that Pluto was too small to account for the discrepancies in the orbits.  The search for Planet X continued but nothing was found.  Nor is it likely it ever will be - the discrepancies vanish if the mass of Neptune determined from Voyager 2 encounter with Neptune is used.  There is no tenth planet.

In Roman mythology, Pluto (Greek:  Hades) is the god of the underworld.  The planet received this name perhaps because it is so far from the Sun that it is in perpetual darkness and perhaps because "PL" are the initials of Percival Lowell.

Pluto is the only planet that has not been visited by a spacecraft.  Even the Hubble Space Telescope can only resolve the largest features on its surface.

Pluto and its satellite, Charon



Solar Eclipse

When the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth a solar eclipse occurs; a lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon.  Astrologers believe that prior to birth (between conception and the first breath of life) there were at least two eclipses - one solar and one lunar and that these prenatal eclipses have a profound influence on an unborn child, and the energy pattern dispensed during these eclipses follows you the rest of your life.  The magnetic pull of the Sun and the Moon eclipsing is strong enough to open the Earth's sheath temporarily so that these energies can be received.  

At the time of the Solar Eclipse the planet is seeded with the energy pattern that correlates to the psychodynamics of the constellation the Sun is in at the time.



the planet that rains diamonds

Discover Magazine
September 2000

Unlike Earth, which has only a very thin layer of atmosphere, a thick swath of gas surrounds Neptune's small core.  Last year, a team at the University of California at Berkeley came up with a hypothesis about what might be occurring in the planet's atmosphere to explain Neptune's extraordinary internal energy.  Robin Benedetti, a graduate student in physics, put some methane in a pressurized chamber and used a laser beam to create "pressure and heat conditions that you might find about a third of the way toward the planet's center."  Methane is composed of four hydrogen atoms that surround a carbon atom.  Benedetti found that under extreme pressure the  bonds holding the hydrogen atoms onto the carbon dissolved, and the carbon atoms began binding to one another.  Under different conditions, carbon atoms would form a coal-like substance, but under this extreme pressure, they formed diamond dust.  "We're not sure how big diamond crystals might form on Neptune," she says, but they could conceivably make the Krupp diamond on Elizabeth Taylor's finger seem like a chip.  If those conditions exist on Neptune, it's possible that diamonds are literally raining down toward the planet's center, releasing heat as a result of friction. 


The Big Bang Theory

new star nebula

The idea that perhaps the "Big Bang" is suspect is starting to be realized and postulated by a few scientists and astronomers.  In a new magazine published by Scientific American called the Magnificent Cosmos, there was an article by Andrei Linde, a Russian- trained professor of physics now at Stanford. He championed a theory of a self-reproducing  cosmos, which is now being studied for its merits.  The universe (he postulates) started with one small creative event, which then over a period of time led to another, than another - explaining what we are actually seeing as we look out with our telescopes, and also the paradox of age that was reported last year when the Hubble telescope discovered stars at the edge of our known universe that were younger than we were!  If the Big Bang theory was correct, they should have been the oldest.




Spring on Uranus is 21 years

If you lived on Uranus, spring would probably not be your favorite season. Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, scientists can study the planet's climate like never before.  They came up with some surprising results.

On Earth, spring is often considered a wonderful season.  The snow is melted, the grass is green and the temperatures warm up.  On Uranus, spring signals a time of violent storms and cold temperaturesThere are hurricanes larger than half of the United States, and the temperatures dip below 300 degrees F!

While spring on Earth lasts for a few months, it won't be summer on Uranus until the year 2007 because one Uranus year is equal to 84 Earth years!  

The aquamarine face of Uranus confirms the fact that Uranus is covered with clouds and the sameness of the planet's appearance shows that the planet's atmosphere is mostly composed of methane gas which traps the red light and does not allow that color to escape.  Beside clouds of methane crystals low in the atmosphere, smog, composed of ethane (the fuel we use for automobiles), is also present high in the atmosphere.  


Life on Mars?

"The Face"

There is much more to be gleaned from the Face Mesa.  It is an oddity in more than its resemblance to a face under the right light conditions.  It may be the Rosetta Stone for the terminal phase of Martian Geology.  That may be considered hyperbole by the non-geologists, but the Face is one educational piece of real-estate if you know how to read the words.


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