Interesting Facts About Mercury
Think you know the facts on Mercury? Well think again. It's time to learn 10 interesting facts about Mercury that we think you don't know.
1. Half of Mercury had never been seen.Until NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft made its first flyby of Mercury in 2008, NASA only had close up pictures of one half of Mercury's surface. These first pictures were captured by NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft, which made a series of three flybys in 1974-75. During its closest flyby, Mariner came within 327 km of the surface of Mercury, and detected its magnetic field. Just after its final close approach, Mariner 10 ran out of fuel, and has probably been orbiting the region ever since.
It wasn't until MESSENGER arrived in 2008, and captured the first close-up images of Mercury that planetary scientists finally got to see the other half of Mercury, up close for the first time. The resolution and details captured by MESSENGER are incredible, and have given scientists data to study for years.
2. Mercury has a magnetic fieldDuring its closest flyby, Mariner 10 detected a faint magnetic field around Mercury. This magnetic field is very similar to the one we have on the Earth, which protects are planet from the Sun's solar wind. Since Mercury cooled down a long time ago, it can't have the kind of dynamo running inside the Earth. So where's the magnetic field coming from? This is one of the big questions that NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will try to answer.
3. There might be ice on MercuryI know, this one's hard to believe, since Mercury is so close to the Sun, and it's baking hot. But the reality is that there are regions on the surface of Mercury which are never heated by the Sun. These are craters around the poles of the planet which are eternally in shadow. And because they're in shadow, they can be hundreds of degrees below zero. Water could form ice in these craters that could last for millions of years. Once again, finding out if there's ice on Mercury will be one of MESSENGER's missions.
4. You can see Mercury with your own eyesMercury is actually a difficult planet to observe. Because it orbits closer to the Sun than the Earth, it appears to stick close to the Sun in the sky. The only times you can actually observe it is when the Sun has just set, or is about to rise. You only have a short amount of time to spot it, and you need a place that has a clear view to the horizon. When you hear Mercury is in the sky, find a clear view to the horizon in either the East for the morning, or the West in the evening. It will be a very bright object that will either set after the Sun, or fade away as the Sun rises.
5. We have known about Mercury for millenniaUnlike Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, which were discovered in the last few hundred years, ancient peoples have known about Mercury for thousands of years. There are recorded observations of Mercury made by the ancient Greeks and Romans; they named it after the god Hermes, who pulled the Sun across the sky.
6. Mercury has an atmosphereMercury is so small that it has too little gravity to hold an atmosphere like Earth or Venus. But it does have a tenuous atmosphere of hydrogen, helium, oxygen, sodium, calcium and potassium around it. They don't form a stable atmosphere. Instead, there's a constant flow of these atoms into orbit around Mercury, and then the Sun's solar wind blasts it away into space.
7. It has the most eccentric orbit of all the planetsNow that Pluto is no longer a planet, Mercury takes the record for the most eccentric orbit. This means that its orbit is an ellipse, varying its distance to the Sun. At its closest point, Mercury gets to within 46 million km, and then it ranges out to 70 million km from the Sun.
8. The orbit of Mercury helped prove Einstein's theories of relativityAs astronomers got more and more accurate instruments, and a way to mathematically describe the motions of the planets, they realized there was something wrong with Mercury's movements around the Earth. They noticed that the closest point of Mercury's orbit (its perihelion) was slowly moving around the Sun. And they didn't know why. It finally took Einstein's calculations of general relativity to predict the motions of Mercury exactly.
9. Hubble can't look at Mercury at allThe Hubble Space Telescope has never been used to observe Mercury, and it never will be. The planet is so close to the Sun that the light from the Sun would overwhelm Hubble, and could permanently damage its optics and electronics.
10. Spacecraft are on their wayAs we mentioned above, NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft is already on its way to Mercury. If all goes well, it'll pass the planet several more times, and finally go into orbit around the planet in 2011. The European Space Agency is working on a mission with Japan called BepiColumbo. This spacecraft will orbit Mercury with two probes; one to map its surface, and the other to study its magnetic field. Unfortunately, the concept of a lander was shelved.
Interesting Facts About Space
- Any free-moving liquid in outer space will form itself into a sphere, because of its surface tension.
- Mercury, Venus, earth and Mars are called the inner planets as they are closest to the sun!
- December 21st 1968, was the first time that humans truly left Earth, when Apollo 8 became the first manned space vehicle to leave Earth orbit and to orbit the Moon.
- Olympus Mons, a volcano found on Mars, is the largest volcano found in solar system. It is 370 miles (595 km) across and rises 15 miles (24 km).
- We know more about space than we do about our deep oceans!
- The space age began on the 4th October 1957.
- If you attempted to count all the stars in a galaxy at a rate of one every second it would take around 3,000 years to count them all.
- The one and only satellite that Britain has launched was called Black Arrow.
- The odds of being killed by space debris - 1 in 5 billion.
- The Earth's revolution time increases .0001 seconds annually.
- Driving at 75 miles (121 km) per hour, it would take 258 days to drive around one of Saturn's rings.
- Astronaut Neil Armstrong (the first man on the moon) first stepped on the moon with his left foot.
- "Moon" was Buzz Aldrin's (second man on the moon) mother's maiden name.
- The first conventional use for rockets was rocket mail and catching whales and deer.
- The only married couple to fly together in space were Jan Davis and Mark Lee, who flew aboard the Endeavour space shuttle from September 12-20, 1992.
- The first millennium, 1 - 1000 AD, consisted of 365,250 days. Our current millennium, 1001 - 2000 AD, will consist of 365,237 days. The third millennium, 2001 - 3000 AD, will consist of 365,242 days. The reason for the differences is the calendar system that was in use during the milleniums.
- If you shouted in space even if someone was right next to you they wouldn't be able to hear you.
- Feb 1865 and Feb 1999 are the only months in recorded history not to have a full moon.
- The first man-made satellite in space was called sputnik.
- Venus is the only planet that rotates clockwise.
- Just 20 seconds worth of fuel remained when Apollo 11's lunar module landed on the moon.
- The first woman in space was a Russian called Valentina Tereshkova.
- One Day on the planet Pluto is about the length of a week on Earth.
Interesting Facts about the Planet Mars
14 Million Miles
Length of year:
12,295 Earth days
Length of Day:
49 hrs, 12 minutes
.65 (highly eccentric)
.86 degrees (leans to the left)
97 quadrillion tons
Nearly four times that of Earth.
Tilt of Axis:
Often called "The Orange Planet" because of its citrus-like hue, Mars was largely ignored until it was first identified as the fifth planet in our solar system by pioneer astronomer and lens-crafter Hans Smickel in 1710. For almost a century following this discovery, astronomers dismissed the planet as a transient piece of stellar ice and speculated that it would be completely melted by cosmic rays sometime early in the nineteenth century. This hypothesis, obviously, did not prove correct.
On Mars, one would find spectacular scenery: giant chartreuse mountains with icy peaks thirteen thousand times the size of our Mount Everest, massive, natural pyramids which reflect the spectacular light that bounces, kaleidoscope-like, off the planet's 82 moons; icy lakes filled with fresh water larger in area than the North American Continent, and breath-taking, but impassable, realms of spickland, vast plains that are populated by three hundred foot mineral spikes, each spaced only inches apart. These Titanic towers, surrounded at their tops by bands of wine-colored maloxin gas, are perhaps best compared to overgrown stalagmites, the protuberances found on the bottom of certain caves and caverns here on civilized Earth, as well as in parts of northern and central Kentucky. The largest area of spickland on Mars, a region known as "the devil's hairbrush," lies near the planet's south pole and can be easily seen with a simple telescope or pair of binoculars. No traveler to Mars would want to miss a trip to "The Navel," the six thousand mile, circular canyon that resembles the hole on the top of a navel orange. The Navel is nearly perfectly centered on the north pole of Mars, and topographically, it is nearly a perfect concave bowl shape. This "bowl" is nine thousand miles deep at its deepest point, and the lower third of the valley is filled with a sea of creamy liquid helium.
The key to this discovery was a Martian ice sample which contained a dormant form of life scientists have dubbed martia primatia, a simple animal most closely related to what we know as "Sea Monkeys" here on Earth. Martia primatia are about a third of an inch long in their desiccated, dormant, form, but it is speculated that if scientists could successfully reconstitute the creatures, they would average about an inch in length and exhibit their original back cilia--hairs which they would use to propel themselves in the Martian seas--and also have the animated and friendly little faces that prompted many legions of children to order sea monkeys by mail-order in the mid twentieth century, Why can't scientists bring these Martian creatures back to life when kids did so by the thousands in their suburban dens throughout the 1960's? The problem lies in replicating exactly the environmental conditions on Mars. First of all, the water on Mars is heavily chlorinated, not unlike a working-class Earth family's ill-maintained above-ground pool. Secondly, the atmosphere of Mars contains an unusual amount of tritium, a heavy metal not unlike our copper, the stuff from which we fashion American pennies.
A sample of Martian ice in which pink martia primata, a form of life not unlike "sea-monkeys,"
can clearly be seen
Of course, those obstacles, alone, are by no means insurmountable. So, what really prevents scientists from creating a simulated Martian environment and, thus, bringing Martian "Sea Monkeys" back to life? In a word: pressure. Mars is under extremely high pressure, The Martian environment has an universally-indexed pressure quotient of over 6.2 baraunits, almost seven thousand, six hundred, and fifty-three times greater than the pressure we experience at sea level. Thus far, all attempts to create extreme Martian surface conditions in a man-made chamber on Earth have failed, some with deadly results. In early December, 2003, for example, three space scientists, a biologist, and "Becker," a laboratory iguana and favorite pet at the Department for Space Research at the University of Arizona at Mezcal, were blown to bits when their Martian simulator spheriod chamber, dubbed "the Big Red Machine," exploded, claiming not only their lives, but much of the science wing complex and the southwestern end of a girl's dormitory. As a result of this tragedy, and several other abortive attempts to reanimate Martian life, scientists have all but given up on seeing the smiling faces of Martian sea-monkeys beaming to them from fish-bowls here on Earth anytime soon.
So--Does life exist on the planet Mars? Almost certainly, scientists agree, but as Melvin Schperling, head of the astronomy department at Vanderlitz University and winner of the 1989 Nobel Prize for Science once quipped, "Until we actually catch the space-bus to Mars, lay our money down on the hallowed, orange dirt, and get these darned Martian sea monkeys kickin' after their seven thousand year nap, there will always be those who will doubt what pure science has revealed as the obvious."
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