Saturday, November 3, 2012

31 Days of Planets: Wannabes

Day 31

You know, not everyone is a planet. But some have tried very, very hard to be - it's not their fault that astronomical conditions didn't work it out so that they orbited the sun and were big and... you know, everything else that categorizes a planet.

In this month of planets, I think it is time to recognize the honorable mentions - those that almost could have been a planet, if things were different. Which they're not.

The first honorable mention goes to Vesta!
Vesta is one of the largest asteroids in the solar system (second in mass only to the dwarf planet Ceres). It is the brightest asteroid visible from Earth. It is home to the Snowman Crater!

Why is Vesta a wannabe planet? Primarily because she has large cracks which scientists call graben, or areas where the ground sinks when two faults move apart. Research suggests that this beautiful asteroid was formed in the same way as planets. Thus - she tried, but didn't quite make it. Instead, Vesta is an asteroid  and quite an impressive one at that.

The second wannabe planet is Phoebe! One of Saturn's moons.
Why is Phoebe a wannabe planet? Pheobe, one of Saturn's oddly shaped moons, orbits in the opposite direction from all of Saturn's other 60+ moons. The data shows that Phoebe formed in the first 3 million years of the universe. In addition, it appears that Pheobe actively evolved before freezing up and drifting into our solar system. Now Phoebe is a moon, and a special one at that: she was the first to be discovered using photography.

Our third wannabe planet is Titan! Everyone has heard of Titan - one of Saturn's great moons. In fact, Titan is remarkably similar to Earth, except with different chemical composition. Titan is larger than Mercury, and if it revolved around the Sun instead of Saturn, we would probably be much more interested in investigating all of its plentiful resources. It is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and along with Earth, there is evidence that stable bodies of water exist on its surface. Titan is awesome. Let's go there. 

Look, we even have a picture of the surface:
It's amazing.

In conclusion, we humans may think in terms of planets, but there is an incredible amount of everything to be found in the universe. I suggest that we not quit looking.

Pictures from Wikipedia.

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