Did you know that the Moon and space itself have a smell? Space has a lot of surprises. Here are the 10 lesser-known space facts.
Table of Contents
1. You could fit all the planets in the solar system between the Earth and the Moon
All the planets of the Solar System could fit in the distance between the Earth and the Moon, which is around 384,400 km (238,855 miles).
2. The Moon and space have a smell
The Moon smells of burnt gunpowder, space smells like hot metal and seared steak.
Moondust. “I wish I could send you some,” says Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan. Just a thimbleful scooped fresh off the lunar surface. “It’s amazing stuff.”
Feel it-it’s soft like snow, yet strangely abrasive.
Taste it-“not half bad,” according to Apollo 16 astronaut John Young.
Sniff it-“it smells like spent gunpowder,” says Cernan.
3. The Sun is the most difficult place to get in the solar system
It sounds counter-intuitive, but despite it contains 99.8 percent of the mass in our solar system, the Sun is the most difficult place to get in the solar system.
Why is it so difficult? The answer lies in the same fact that keeps Earth from plunging into the Sun: Our planet is traveling very fast – about 67,000 miles per hour (108,000 km/h) – almost entirely sideways relative to the Sun. The only way to get to the Sun is to cancel that sideways motion.
In more technical terms, the Δv to enter Hohmann orbit
from Earth’s orbit is 29.8.
In astrodynamics and aerospace, a delta-v budget is an estimate of the total change in velocity (delta-v) required for a space mission.
Compare that number (29.8) the Δv to go to Saturn (10.3), to Pluto (11.6), or to infinity (12.3).
4. Jupiter’s satellite Ganymede is the only moon in the solar system known to have its own magnetic field
Jupiter’s moon Ganymede has a diameter of 5,268 km (3,273 mi) and is 8% larger than the planet Mercury, although only 45% as massive.
It is s the largest and most massive moon in our solar system.
But, it has many more amazing features other than being the largest moon – for example, it is the only moon known to have a magnetic field, which is probably created by convection within its liquid iron core.
5. There is water ice on Mercury
The smallest and innermost planet in the solar system, Mercury has an average surface temperature of 332 °F (167 °C).
But, it displays the most extreme range of surface temperatures of any celestial body in the Solar System. Regions that receive direct sunlight at the equator reach maximum temperatures of 700 K (800° F), whereas regions in permanent shadow in high-latitude craters can drop below 50 K (-370° F).
At these very low temperatures, water ice is thermally stable over billion-year timescales, according to NASA.
Observations from the Messenger probe that orbited the planet Mercury between 2011 and 2015 (“MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging” – MESSENGER) showed that the permanently-dark (hence very cold) areas on Mercury definitely have water ice. That water ice is partially covered by dark organic deposits.
6. Nothing can move through space faster than the speed of light, but space itself can expand faster than light
Meaning in the distant (very distant!) future we won’t be able to see galaxies outside our own.
About 1034 years in the future, as the expansion of the Universe accelerating, it will begin to spread matter apart faster than the speed of light. By this point, even the light can’t travel between the stray matter – the secrets of the cosmos will be locked away forever.
7. Saturn is not the only ringed planetary body in the Solar System
The other three giant planets (Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune) also have ring systems. But, the most prominent and most famous planetary rings in the Solar System are those around Saturn, as everybody knows.
But, the gas giants aren’t the only celestial bodies that have rings: in 2014, for example, astronomers discovered rings were discovered around the asteroid (a centaur -a small Solar System body with either a perihelion or a semi-major axis between those of the outer planets) named 10199 Chariklo.
So far, six ring systems discovered in the solar system: around (in order of discovery) Saturn, Uranus, Jupiter, Neptune, 10199 Chariklo, and Haumea, a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt.
2060 Chiron, another centaur, is also suspected to have a pair of rings.
8. The Sun’s upper atmosphere is 300 times hotter than its surface
The sun’s surface is blisteringly hot at 10,340 degrees Fahrenheit (5,730 degrees Celcius), but its atmosphere is another 300 times hotter. And nobody knows why, for now. But there are some theories.
9. There’s a special type of a neutron star called “magnetar”, and if you get too close one of them, your molecular structure would be disintegrated
Magnetars have the strongest magnetic fields known.
They are so strong that if you get within a thousand kilometers of a magnetar the magnetic field kills you by stripping the electrons from the atoms in your body. That is strong!
The most powerful magnet on Earth right now is about 410,000 Gauss.
A magnetic field of a magnetar can be as strong as one quadrillion gauss. That’s a one with 15 zeros behind it.
10. Galaxies can have satellite galaxies – our Milky Way has too
Galaxies can have satellite galaxies – galactic moons if you will.
In other words, just like the Moon orbits the Earth, and the Earth orbits the sun, galaxies orbit each other.
More than 50 discovered satellite galaxies orbit our own galaxy, the Milky Way.
What’s more, according to a new study, quite a few of them were stolen from other galaxies.
“The Mysterious Smell of Moondust” on the NASA website
“Water Ice on Mercury: How It Stays Frozen” on Space.com
“25 weirdest facts about the Solar System” on Space.com
“It’s Surprisingly Hard to Go to the Sun” on the NASA website
Delta-v budget on Wikipedia
Ganymede on Wikipedia
Ring system on Wikipedia