Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Kids Are Far Out - part two

As a rule, kids like planets, and the kids at the recent Cosmic Carnival event were no exception.

Phillip from Albuquerque, age 8, commented on his favorite planet:

“I like Neptune because I think there might be life there.”

Phillip, that’s as good a reason to like a planet as I’ve ever heard! Wouldn’t it be exciting to discover evidence of extraterrestrial life in our own solar system?

Image source: NASA

Along with Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus, Neptune is one of the gas giant planets, which means it has no solid surface on which we could walk. Its thick atmosphere has 1,000-mile-an-hour winds and a bone-chilling temperature of minus 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Brrrrr! Beneath the harsh atmosphere is a hot “ocean” of water, ammonia, and methane, and perhaps a small core of rock and ice.

It’s safe to say any life form that can survive on Neptune is pretty darn tough.

Julia from Rio Rancho, age 9, asked:

“Why did Jupiter become a moon?”

Thanks for your question, Julia. Jupiter is actually a planet, not a moon. In fact, Jupiter is the biggest planet in our solar system!

The planets to scale
Left to right: Outer edge of Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune
Image source: NASA

A planet is a celestial body with a nearly round shape that orbits the Sun. A moon, on the other hand, is a celestial body that orbits a planet. Jupiter has over 60 moons going around it! The four largest ones were discovered by the famous Italian astronomer Galileo. You can read more about Jupiter here.

Melissa from Albuquerque, age 12, wondered:

“How long does a day last on Pluto? How long does it take for it to orbit around the Sun?”

A great pair of questions, Melissa! Although distant Pluto has been reclassified by professional astronomers as a dwarf planet, we still love it, don’t we?

A day on Pluto, that is, the time it takes for Pluto to complete one rotation around its axis, is a little more than 6 Earth days. A year on Pluto, that is, the time it takes for Pluto to complete one orbit around the Sun, is 248 Earth years.

Life on Pluto is life is the slow lane.