In the times before modern science, we used to think Earth was the center of the universe. Of course, we know better than that now. We’re not even the center of our own solar system, let alone the entire universe. And as science progresses, we are learning more and more about all the strange things in our solar system alone. These 30 solar system facts will probably surprise you, because most of them even surprise scientists.
1. Venus Is Super Windy
Venus’ upper winds blow at speeds up to 50 times faster than the planet rotates. Those are hurricane force winds that seem to be relatively constant, and getting stronger and stronger as time passes.
2. At The Far End Of Our Solar System, There Might Be A Gigantic Planet
Behind the orbit of Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt, which contains large icy objects that move in ways scientists can’t seem to explain. However, one explanation is that a gigantic ninth planet (for now called Planet Nine) may exist far past Neptune. Only time will tell.
3. The Biggest Volcano That We Know Of Is On Mars
The largest volcano in the solar system is Olympus Mons, which is about the size of Arizona and the height of Mount Everest. It is located on Mars. Mars’ relatively low gravity compared to earth allows its volcanoes to grow to these massive heights.
4. The Methane In Mars’ Atmosphere Is Mysteriously Fluctuating
Methane as a substance is a biproduct of life and other natural processes, like volcanic activity. The methane in Mars’ atmosphere is not constant, so scientists are having trouble determining where it is coming from. Might there actually be life on Mars?
5. We Have Pictures Of Every Planet In Our Solar System
In our 60 or so years of space travel, we’ve been able to reach every planet in our solar by spacecraft, allowing for close-up photographs of each of them. Most came from NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft, which left Earth in 1977, and is still out there capturing and sending data back to us.
6. Mercury Keeps Getting Smaller
It used to be believed that Earth was the only planet in our solar system that is tectonically active, but that’s not the case. On Mercury fault scarps, which are landforms that look like cliffs, have been found. The fault scarps are small in size, which seems to indicate that tectonics on the planet are the reason why Mercury is shrinking at such rapid rates.
7. Organics Are Everywhere In The Solar System, Not Just Earth
Organics are the building blocks of life, molecules that reside in both life and nonlife processes. They are abundant on Earth, and as it turns out, they can be found in many spots around the solar system too. They’ve been found on comets, Mercury, Mars, and Saturn’s moon Titan.
8. Uranus Sits On Its Side
Scientists are not sure why Uranus rotates on its side, but they are working on figuring that out. They suspect ancient titanic collisions to be the culprit. The reason this positioning is so curious is because Uranus is the only planet that sits on its side like this.
9. Jupiter Has The Largest Ocean Of Any Planet
Jupiter is the largest planet, so it makes sense that it would have the largest ocean. However, it isn’t the kind of ocean you might be thinking of. The ocean is not made of water, but of metallic hydrogen. It’s estimated that the ocean is 25,000 miles deep, which is about the same as the diameter of Earth.
10. Water-Ice Exists All Over The Solar System
At one point, we believed water could generally only be found on Earth. Now we know it exists in plentiful amounts all across the solar system. For instance, it is quite commonplace on asteroids and comets. Very surprisingly, some of it has now been found to have a different chemical makeup than that of Earth’s water.
11. One Of Saturn’s Moons Is Two-Toned
Lapetus, one of Saturn’s moons, has one hemisphere that is quite dark and another that is quite light. Nothing like this has been seen anywhere else in the solar system. Scientists have guesses as to why Lapetus is so two-toned, but nothing is certain.
12. The Atmosphere Of Pluto Is Quite Strange
The atmosphere of Pluto rises higher above its surface than Earth’s atmosphere, which scientists find highly surprising. On top of that, Pluto’s atmosphere has around 20 layers, which are colder and more condensed than anyone would have predicted.
13. Jupiter’s Proportion Of Heavy Elements Is Greater Than The Sun’s
Scientists find it strange that Jupiter could have more heavy elements than the sun, but it does nonetheless. One theory is that the intense gravitational field of Jupiter that pulls in asteroids and comets is the cause.
14. The Sun’s Atmosphere Is Way Hotter Than Its Surface
The surface of the sun is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but that’s nothing compared to its upper atmosphere, which has temperatures that reach millions of degrees. This drastic temperature differential is not common, and scientists are not sure why it is this way. Though, they suspect explosive bursts of heat might have something to do with it.
15. The Biggest Valley We’ve Ever Found Is On Mars
More than 10 times the size of Earth’s Grand Canyon is Mars’ Valles Marineris. Valles Marineris is a valley about the size of the whole US. This is a wonder to scientists, considering that Mars does not have much in the way of active plate tectonics.
16. Saturn Is Not The Only Planet With Rings
The original telescopes showed that Saturn had rings in the 1600s. Now that more powerful telescopes have been invented, it is clear that every single planet in the outer solar system has rings. However, they vary greatly from planet to planet, and no planet has rings as beautiful as Saturn’s.
17. The Hottest Planet Is Not The One Closest To The Sun
Mercury is closer to the sun than any planet, but Venus, the second closest, is hotter. Why? Venus’ atmosphere is ridiculously dense, causing a greenhouse effect. Venus reaches temperatures of 875 degrees Fahrenheit. Mercury’s atmosphere is much less dense, though because it is much closer to the sun, it only trails Venus’ temperatures by about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
18. Jupiter’s Moon Io Has Massive Volcanoes
Earth’s moon is pretty dormant, which is why scientists find it so surprising that Jupiter’s moon Io exists in such constant chaos. Io has hundreds of volcanoes, many of which actively send smoke billowing high into its atmosphere.
19. Our Solar System Is Not The Only One In Our Galaxy
Not only is our solar system not our galaxy’s one and only, but there are billions of other solar systems in the Milky Way alone. Actually, scientists estimate that as many as 100 billion solar systems could be out there in our galaxy, right next door.
20. The Way We See Comets Is Usually Through A Sun-Gazing Telescope
The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory was launched in 1995 with the purpose of observing the sun. However, it also changed the game for viewing comets. It used to be very difficult to spot them, but now over 2,400 comets have been found.
21. The Van Allen Belts Of Earth Are Weird, Even To Scientists
The Van Allen belts, bands of radiation that surround Earth, are old news. They were discovered during the onset of the space age. The recent launch of the Van Allen Probes, meant to explore the belts, have provided some surprising facts to scientists. The belts expand and contract based on solar activity, they sometimes come together into one larger belt, and an additional radiation belt has also been spotted.
22. Jupiter’s Famous Great Red Spot Is Diminishing
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is actually a storm that has been going on for centuries. At long last, recent decades have shown the spot to be shrinking. In 2014, it was only half the size of what it had been in the past. Now the Great Red Spot is only one and half times the size of Earth instead of three.
23. Saturn Has A Storm In The Shape Of A Hexagon
No one knows why the strangely hexagonal storm in Saturn’s northern hemisphere has taken that shape. The storm has been there for decades or longer. Hurricanes often have six sides as well, so that might be some kind of clue.
24. It’s Very Possible Life Exists Other Places In Our Solar System
Just because scientists don’t have evidence of life in the solar system other than on Earth does not mean it does not exist. However, the life that is highly suspected looks less like the intelligent aliens we see in movies and more like tiny microbes that probably live in somewhere obscure location, like in underwater volcanic vents.
25. Uranus Has A Pretty Beat Up Moon
We may have only seen Uranus’ moon Miranda once, but that was enough to notice its deformed surface. It has things like sharp boundaries between ridges, as well as craters. The fact that the moon is only 500km is what makes this so weird, because it would be hard for a planet that small to have the kind of tectonic activity that could cause this.
26. Pluto’s Diameter Is Smaller Than The United States
The longest distance from the US coast to coast is 2,900 miles. Pluto’s distance across is only 1,473 miles, not even half of the US. Pluto used to be considered a major planet in our solar system, but it was reduced to what is called a dwarf planet in 2006 because it is so small.
27. Despite Its Small Size, Pluto Has Great Big Mountains
Because of how small Pluto is, scientists figured its environment was pretty much the same all around. However, they have now discovered that it has huge mountains of up to 11,000 feet. Where the energy to make mountains that big could have come from is a mystery to scientists.
28. Neptune Gives Off More Heat Than It Takes In
One of the greatest mysteries in the solar system is how Neptune, a planet so very far away from the sun, could possibly radiate more heat than it receives. The mystery will only (potentially) be solved when scientists get another spacecraft out there to Neptune to explore.
29. The Liquid Cycle Of Saturn’s Moon Titan Is Not Water
Saturn has another weird moon besides Lapetus called Titan. Like Earth has rain, Titan has a liquid “cycle” that goes back and forth from its surface to its atmosphere. However, Titan’s lakes are made of methane and ethane, which means its cycling liquid is definitely not water.
30. Earth Lives Within The Sun’s Outer Atmosphere
The sun’s atmosphere expands far beyond its surface. In fact, scientists think the sun’s atmosphere might even expand as far as hundreds of billions of miles, due to the fact that it probably has a teardrop shape. That puts Earth, as well as even the most distant planet Nepture, well within its range. We are essentially living inside of the sun.