Starts With A Bang Podcast #47 – Ice Giants At The Solar System’s Edge
What do we really know, and what mysteries are left to solve, about the outer worlds of our Solar System, and about the gas giant and ice giant worlds found throughout the Universe? Remarkably, if you had asked this same question 30 years ago, we would have had a quaint story about how planets form and why our Solar System has the planets it does, and we assumed that these rules would be extended to all solar systems in the galaxy and Universe. But with the deluge of exoplanet data, accompanied by better observations and simulations of our Solar System, that old story isn’t even the half of it.
I’m so lucky to get to interview Heidi Hammel for this edition of the podcast, who, as a bonus, was the lead investigator on the Hubble Space telescope when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted Jupiter back in 1994! Come listen to one of my favorite interviews ever today!
(Image credit: NASA/Voyager 2)
Here’s How To See Uranus And Mars Meet In The Sky This Week
“Although there are eight major planets in the Solar System, most of us never see Uranus or Neptune. Undiscovered until well after the invention of the telescope, both worlds cannot be reliably spotted with the naked eye. On rare occasion, however, one of those worlds will pass close to an easily-visible astronomical landmark, providing a perfect viewing opportunity. This Tuesday night, Uranus will pass within just 1° of Mars, enabling clear views with technology no more complex than binoculars.”
Although we know of the existence of many astronomical objects in our Solar System, most of us have never seen any planets other than the ones visible to our naked eye for ourselves. The easiest way to change that is to take advantage of astronomical conjunctions when they occur. When two planets pass close by one another in the sky, they can both clearly be seen at the same time through the right astronomical tool, like a pair of binoculars. This February 12/13, Mars and Uranus will meet in the night sky, passing within 1 degree of each other.
Here’s how to see Uranus, with extra tips for how to discern the planet your seeking from mere nearby, normal stars!
Don’t forget to follow on instagram! -> funophysics
Ask Ethan: Can We Send A Cassini-Like Mission To Uranus Or Neptune?
“There is a window coming when spacecraft could be sent to Uranus or Neptune using Jupiter for a gravitational boost. What are the constraints on using this but being able to slow sufficiently for entering orbit around the “ice giants”?”
Going to the outer solar system is challenging. You have to launch with a tremendous speed, and then take advantage of planetary alignments and the gravity assist technique to bring you to an outer planet. If you want to go into orbit around a world out there, the challenge is even greater: you need to slow down and insert yourself into a stable, long-term orbit. That involves bringing fuel on board, and more fuel means more weight devoted to that, and less weight devoted to science instruments. In 2034, a spectacular opportunity will arise: a launch window that’s perfect for sending twin orbiters to Neptune and Uranus. The proposed ODINUS mission, a joint NASA/ESA venture, would teach us more about these outer worlds with hypothetical liquid oceans beneath their atmospheres than any other mission would. They may turn out to be as different as Earth and Venus are from one another.
We can send a Cassini-like mission to Uranus and Neptune, but there are some serious obstacles to overcome. Here’s how we just might do it!
In Science, And In Life, ‘Once A Failure’ Does Not Mean ‘Always A Failure’
“Adams initial failure to calculate and find Neptune did not prevent him from having later success with the Moon’s orbital motion. It in no way inhibited him in his greatest achievement: identifying the source of meteor showers, and confirming that Comet Tempel-Tuttle causes the Leonids. Similarly, Le Verrier’s immediate success in predicting the existence of Neptune didn’t lead to future success; his prediction of the existence of Vulcan, a proposed planet interior to Mercury to explain its orbit, failed to materialize.
In science, making a successful advance not only requires skill, talent, and persistence, but also a fair bit of luck. You can make mistakes along the way, in theory, in practice, and in judgment, but every new problem you tackle is a new chance to get it right. Treat your failures for what they are: momentary setbacks. In no way do they define your destiny.”
We all have our heroes, whether in sports, politics, war, art, music, or science. We like our heroes flawless: always right and victorious, never mistaken or beset by failure. But real life isn’t usually so clean. In fact, some of science’s greatest achievements were made by people who had colossal failures early in their careers. Perhaps no one exemplifies this more than John Couch Adams, who spectacularly failed to discover the planet Neptune in the mid-1840s, getting scooped by Urbain Le Verrier and his correspondents, led by the observers Galle and d’Arrest. Adams never blamed his corresponding observers, Airy and Challis, for their errors in judgment, and went on to solve one of astronomy’s greatest open problems: the origin of meteor showers.
Come get the incredible success-after-a-failure story of John Couch Adams, who should be known for much more than his failure to discover Neptune!
Go tell your ex this fact