Facts About Planets That Made Us Say 'Whoa'

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Vote up the coolest planet facts you just learned today.

It's easy to forget that Earth has neighbors. They generally keep to themselves, and don't seem to get any visitors. And yet, we've all been circling the same sun for billions of years; we have that much in common, at least.

Learning some facts about planets may pique your curiosity about Earth's extended family. You probably know Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system, that Saturn has rings, and that Pluto has been demoted from planet to "dwarf planet." But, did you know Jupiter's Great Red Spot is super loud? That there's a giant hexagon on Saturn's north pole? Or that there's a dwarf planet in our solar system that's way closer to us than Pluto?

The following planet facts include both our nearest neighbors and some incredible worlds far beyond our solar system.

  • For decades, scientists were aware of a discrepancy in Jupiter's temperature: given how far it is from the sun, it should be a lot colder than it is. That means there must be another source of energy on the planet that causes its atmosphere to heat up. A 2016 study arrived at this theory: the extra heat is coming from Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

    The Great Red Spot is a massive, centuries-old storm 1.3 times the size of Earth, where average temperatures are more than twice as hot as the rest of Jupiter's atmosphere. Researchers believe the extreme turbulence of the Great Red Spot generates both acoustic waves and gravity waves that release energy when they collide.

    As Discover Magazine explains, this type of weather phenomenon isn't unique to Jupiter:

    On Earth, tsunami, volcanoes, storms and earthquakes can all shake up the atmosphere and warm it, by generating high-frequency acoustic waves that get stronger as they move higher into the atmosphere. Even passive mountains can do this. Erratic wind gusts blowing over bumpy terrain can create hotspots, sometimes hundreds of degrees warmer than the air a few miles away.

    359 votes
  • Axial tilt can cause variations in a planet's weather patterns, and Earth's 23-degree tilt is a major reason why we have seasons. By comparison, Mercury has zero tilt and also zero atmosphere, leaving it with zero seasons. 

    Uranus is tilted a full 97.7 degrees off its axis, making it rotate practically on its side. Its seasons last as long as 21 Earth years. As NASA explains, the shift from season to season is turbulent:

    The Northern Hemisphere of Uranus is just now [2014] coming out of the grip of its decades-long winter. As the sunlight reaches some latitudes for the first time in years, it warms the atmosphere and triggers gigantic springtime storms comparable in size to North America with temperatures of 300° F below zero.

    One group of researchers believe Uranus was struck by an Earth-sized object that not only tilted it on its side but left it with nine new moons. The planet has 27 moons in all, 18 "regular" ones that orbit its equator, and nine "irregular" ones that are tilted away from it.

    317 votes
  • There Is A 20,000-Mile-Wide Hexagon On Saturn's North Pole
    Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    First discovered in 1988, Saturn's hexagon is a pattern of clouds that stretches about 20,000 miles wide and extends 60 miles down. According to Andrew Ingersoll, a member of the satellite imaging team that captured photos of the hexagon:

    The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable. A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades - and who knows - maybe centuries.

    The hexagon's ability to maintain its shape over such a long period of time may be due to the fact that Saturn is a gas giant, with no land or ice to get in the way of the jet stream.

    326 votes
  • Scientists Have Identified 24 'Superhabitable' Planets That May Be More Favorable To Life Than Earth
    Photo: Ph03nix1986 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
    693 VOTES

    Scientists Have Identified 24 'Superhabitable' Planets That May Be More Favorable To Life Than Earth

    Astronomers have identified more than 4,000 planets outside our solar system (exoplanets), but not all of them would be nice places to live. For a planet to foster life as we know it, it needs to exist within a star's "habitable zone" - where liquid water can pool on a planet's surface. 

    Of course, there's a literal world of difference between a planet being "habitable" and it being optimal for carbon-based life forms. With that in mind, scientists have discovered 24 planets that are older, larger, warmer, and possibly even wetter than Earth - all criteria that would make them more conducive to life than our own. Some even circle stars that will outlive the sun by tens of billions of years.

    Unfortunately, all of these planets are more than 100 light-years away, making them impossible to travel to with present-day technology.

    693 votes
  • 5
    428 VOTES

    The Dwarf Planet Ceres Is Located Between Mars And Jupiter

    Ceres, like Pluto, is a dwarf planet, and also the largest object in the asteroid belt. Located between Mars and Jupiter, it is about 1/13th the size of Earth, and takes about 4.6 Earth years to make a complete rotation around the sun.

    Despite its relatively small size, Ceres might be 25% water, which means there could be more water on Ceres than there is on Earth. Because of this significant water content, and the fact that Ceres has a thin atmosphere, the dwarf planet has the potential to harbor some type of microbial life.

    428 votes
  • It May Be Raining Diamonds On Uranus And Neptune Right Now
    Photo: NASA / Voyager 2 Team / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    414 VOTES

    It May Be Raining Diamonds On Uranus And Neptune Right Now

    Despite their value, diamonds are not particularly rare on Earth - or space! We've found diamonds inside meteorites, and within our own solar system, two planets may possess the perfect conditions for diamonds to literally rain from the sky.

    According to Nova, Uranus and Neptune may be the most bejeweled planets in our neighborhood:

    Scientists believe that, beneath an outer layer of hydrogen and helium, the gaseous atmospheres of both planets contain 10 to 15 percent methane, a hydrocarbon. Deep within the extremely dense atmospheres, above a rocky core, these planets are also thought to bear temperatures ranging from 3,000 to 12,000°F and pressures varying from 200,000 to 6,000,000 times the pressure of our own atmosphere.

    The intense pressure and heat may compress the carbon atoms in the atmosphere into diamonds, which would then rain on the gassy planets' cores until they created "miles-thick" piles. Scientists have tested this hypothesis and were able to form diamonds under these conditions.

    414 votes