Tag Archives: planets

The Rochefort Limit.

Josh, 7, from London, writes:

Dear Hentzau,

            I went to the beach yesterday. The weather was nice. I had ice cream. When I was splashing around in the sea with my rubber ring wedged firmly around my waist to stop me sinking, I thought about the planets. Planets have rings, but they do not have to be prevented from sinking. Why do planet rings always go around the middle?

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Just Another Bug Hunt.

Topical science time! This recent news article caught my eye the other day. Russian scientists have succeeded in drilling through the 3.7 km thick layer of ice covering Lake Vostok in Antartica and hope to be able to extract samples from the lake later this year. Lake Vostok has been completely sealed off from the surface for about twenty million years. This makes it a very interesting place to look for life forms, and what they’re doing in Lake Vostok right now is not a million miles away from the way we’ll likely find the first alien life forms.

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That’s My Favourite Kind Of Planet.

Here’s an interesting fact: if you smooshed together everything in the Solar System that was not a star — all the planets, moons, asteroids and other assorted junk out there — you would end up with a ball of stuff with just one seven-hundredth the mass of the Sun. The Sun has 99.86% of the overall mass of the Solar System.

Here’s another interesting fact: if you took a pea and put it next to a basketball, you would achieve roughly the same visual effect as if you took the largest planet, Jupiter, and put it next to the Sun.

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Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.

The K.B. stands for Kuiper Belt. SCIENTIST HUMOUR.

I picked up a compendium of H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories a couple of weeks ago – mainly so that I could amuse myself by playing Lovecraft Bingo (counting how many times he uses words like ‘accursed’, ‘pnakotic’ and ‘squamous’ ) – and ended up being rather amused when I came across the story “The Whisperer in Darkness”. This consists of about sixty pages of the usual confused rambling while the reader waits for him to get to the damn point already, but ultimately turns out to be about advanced aliens from Pluto who have set up a mining colony in the furthest reaches of the American hills that they’re trying to keep secret. This brought a wry smile to my lips for two reasons:

  1. Lovecraft’s shameless attempt to piggyback off of something that was very much part of the public zeitgeist at the time, what with him starting this story the same month that Pluto was discovered. It’s the literary equivalent of somebody sticking dark matter into their awful sci-fi novel because they think it sounds exotic and dangerous.
  2.  That there was ever a time when people thought Pluto was an important place that might support life of any kind.

 The whole Pluto “controversy” a few years ago stems from a variety of roots: a bureaucracy which ran a sloppy vote, scientists with vested interests and pet theories on both sides of the argument, and –  bizarrely – a great deal of public sentiment for what is essentially a lump of ice and rock out in the middle of nowhere. If you want to trace it back to the beginning, though, you have to start with the discovery of Pluto in 1930. Are you sitting comfortably? Time to Listen with Mother.

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Why Are Planets Round?


A load of old balls.

Kicking off the science portion of this blog, I’m going to start with an easy question I used to get asked a lot when I did Outreach for the university: why are the various planets, moons etc. round? It’s a fairly simple answer with some wide-reaching ramifications.

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