The Wonders of Our Solar System Are Amazing

By Joe Darby

So, for the last three weeks, we’ve been talking about our Presidents’ dogs, in all their varied sizes, personalities and popularity with the American public of the time. (I mean the dogs’ varied sizes, etc., not those of the Presidents, although that could be another topic of interest some time!)

Now, let’s take an imaginary trip of many millions of miles to explore some of the extraordinary phenomena of our solar system. I suppose I am what they call a “life-long learner” and if I can spend part of my day acquiring new knowledge at my ripe old age, I have to say that has been a successful day. And if I think the newly gained facts are interesting enough, i will want to share them with you all.

The facts I’m presenting here come from The Great Courses’ “The World’s Greatest Geological Wonders.” I don’t think you will have to be a “space buff” to appreciate some of the amazing features of our neighboring planets and other orbiting bodies. So, let’s board our spaceship and take off.

Our first stop is our nearest neighbor, the moon. The moon has taken some mighty blows in its existence, but it is still up there, providing a romantic night light as well as controlling our oceans’ tides. When I say it’s taken some blows I’m talking about colossal collisions with other orbiting objects. For example, the biggest impact crater on earth is in South Africa, at about 180 miles across. That dwarfs the United States’ Arizona Meteor Crater, which is about three–quarters of a mile wide. But the South African crater is in turn dwarfed by the moon’s biggest crater. It is more than 1,500 miles across and almost 10 miles deep. Can you imagine the energy caused by that collision? If it had happened on earth, we all would have been goners.

Let’s take a look at some more solar system superlatives. Looking for the biggest volcano? We need go no farther than to Mars, whose Mons Olympus is 16 miles above the mean surface level of the planet. Thankfully, it is dormant. Mars can also boast of the largest canyon in the solar system. Making our own Grand Canyon look quite ordinary, Mars’ Valles Marineris is about 2,500 miles long, up to 120 miles wide and more than four miles deep. That would be some hike!

Venus will never be a popular vacation spot in our solar system. It is covered with thick clouds of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid. Not only that, the surface of the planet is more than 800 degrees F., rather toasty if you ask me. It’s so hot in fact that much of the surface is covered with flowing lava.

Now let’s go visit some of those outer planets, those real big ones way out there. You may have heard of the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, a gigantic swirling mass of material. What it is, is a hurricane that has been blowing for about 180 years. And it’s about 13,000 miles long. I suppose that would be a Category 500, if there were any Jovian weathermen to observe it, but alas, there are not. The planet’s immense gravity would long ago have smushed the weathermen and their entire studios.

Saturn, the ringed planet, also has a rather large hurricane going. It’s around the planet’s south pole and is almost 5,000 miles long. Earth, with all of its problems, is beginning to sound more comforting and pleasant by the minute, right?

What’s the likelihood of other life forms out there? Slim, and it would be very primitive forms, but there is water on Mars and several of the outer planets’ moons, so there is such a possibility. Then there are the hundreds of billions of other galaxies and planets in the universe. But don’t expect any contacts to be made soon. Those systems are so far away that it would take a space ship centuries or millennia to reach the nearest ones. So that should be an added reason for us to take the best care of dear old earth that we can.