Out the Comet's Ass

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Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Cosmic Bull's Eye - Our Solar System, Who Knew?

Explanation of the planets in our Solar System as presented in a sales email from the Teaching Company called New Frontiers: Modern Perspectives on Our Solar System. Man, I want this thing. Today it's being sold in a special packaged deal along with another set called "Cosmology: History and Nature of Our Universe" for $150.00 bucks plus shipping. (This isn't an advertisement, I just want it and figure I can't afford it right now and would probably not watch most of it -- but, what a great thing to actually understand what I'm talking about here, even a little bit). I will be carrying the 800 number around with me all day and have until midnight to decide (or I'll turn back into either a rat or a pumpkin).

Remodeling the Solar System

Not only does New Frontiers allow you to see the solar system with fresh eyes, it also offers you a new model to serve as an organizing guide. Gone is the familiar diagram you find in many old reference books depicting the Sun and nine planets forming a neat, straight line. Dr. Summers provides key points as to why this perspective is so outdated:

* A straight-line alignment of the planets occurs only every three quadrillion years—600,000 times the present age of our solar system!
* The distances between planets and their relative sizes compared to the Sun are wildly out of scale.
* Most importantly, there is so much more to the solar system than just these 10 objects.

You discover what Dr. Summers, an expert astrophysicist who headed the development of exhibits for the opening of the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space, calls the "21st-century solar system." He suggests that, instead of a straight line, the solar system is best seen as a bulls-eye with six concentric circles, each of which represents the six families of objects in our solar system. Working outward from the center, you have the following alignment:

* The Sun: The only star in our solar system.
* The rocky planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Composed of rock, they are close to the Sun and have few or no moons.
* The asteroid belt: A band of small, mostly rocky bodies between Mars and Jupiter.
* The giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Orbiting far from the Sun, these large planets have gaseous atmospheres, rings, and moons.
* The Kuiper belt: The region beyond Neptune now known to be the reservoir of the short-period comets containing mostly icy bodies (including Pluto).
* The Oort cloud: The reservoir of the Sun's long-period comets, located almost a quarter of the way to the nearest star.



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