Monday, July 16, 2012

But They're Not Planets!

Today I have a question for any science geeks out there and readers who love learning about the universe.

First, though, let me say that if you're a writer, don't put your heroes and heroines on Jupiter or Saturn. Why? Well, the answer might surprise some of you...they're not planets.

Jupiter and Saturn are nothing more than big balls of gas. Saturn's rings are made up of particles and gases. As for poor li'l Pluto out there, it was taken off the planet list a few years ago and dubbed a moon, but recently I learned that it's now on a list for small planets.

So my question is this: why are Jupiter and Saturn considered planets if they're nothing but gases? If it's due to their sizes, I think that's a lame reason. Why is Pluto on a small planet list if it's a moon? Neither one makes any sense to me.

Writers, if you plan on writing sci-fi or sci-fi romance, plan your universe and planets carefully. If your readers can't suspend their beliefs, you're book's in trouble.

Azura Ice

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  1. Perhaps, it's because they were deemed such well before we possessed the capabilities to know what they were made of noting more unsubstantial than gas. I, for one, thought it sad when Pluto was downgraded...

  2. I'm a native New Yorker, born and raised in Manhattan, and I used to haunt the Haydn Planetarium as a kid. I loved the series of scales that gave your weight on all the planets. It would be kind of difficult to stand on Jupiter or Saturn. Poor me, even in a space suit, I'd sink right down -- and down -- and down.

    I live in Massachusetts now, and the planetarium at the Boston Museum of Science isn't, IMO, nearly as nice or interesting. Not that it stopped me from taking my kids all the time before they grew up and moved out of the house. We were members for years. Members get to go to the front of the line to get into the museum.

  3. I'm a planetarium lover as well! There is something magical about learning about space and what lies beyond!

    Jupiter and Saturn actually are Gas Giant planets according to NASA. They're still fairly solid and you couldn't fly through either planet without having a particularly bad result, LOL! Having said that, it doesn't sound either hospitable or romantic for us to put our heroes and heroines on a gas planet. Now if they find a Maui planet or a Fiji planet, you're talking my language!

  4. I hated to hear about the downgrade, too, Marguerite.

    Hi Margaret! I would be in 7th Heaven if there were museums like that around here, and so would my youngest son.

    Hey there, Val. :-) I think NASA should re-evaluate their labels, lol. A planet should be solid (just my way of thinking so many may disagree with me). Fairly solid makes me think star not planet. Also, even with the technology we have today, I often wonder how they can be so sure something is liquid, gas, or solid. Pictures can be deceiving and we sure as heck can't fly out there to run tests yet.

  5. I read that computer models evaluate the surface of the planets (and non-planets, etc) to determine content and structure. All organic and inorganic matter has particular characteristics in the way it moves, reflects light, holds heat and cold, etc. Plug all that info into a handy-dandy computer program and the nerds have a field day figuring what's what. It's way beyond my comprehension level. I still count on my fingers, for crying out loud.

    The beauty of sci-fi romance is just what you do...make your own world. It's so fun to see that through your eyes (and our other sci-fi authors, too!). Orange plants, green skies, blue rain...oh wait, that sounds suspiciously like a Lucky Charms commercial, LOL!

  6. LMAO @ Val! I swear, lady, you're a card! :-D

  7. They are thought to have been solid at one time. If literally creating them as bases for life as we define it here, even fiction can't cover that. "life" would have to be completely redefined.

    Nice details ;)

    1. Life has been completely redefined in the last decade or so. We've now found life in geothermal vents at the bottom of the deepest ocean trenches that live off sulfer and other poisonous gases. We've also found living creatures in the coldest places and the hottest areas of the world. Life exists in super heated alkaline pools of water and in radioactive waste where nothing is supposed to exist.

      Life is proving to be much more resilient than even most SF novellists ever imagined.

  8. Extremely important information to consider when creating worlds, or using the planets we are more familiar with. Thanks, Faith! :)

  9. Afternoon Fierce and Jessica!

    As for creating/using planets we're more familiar with, that's a lesson I learned early on from reading a non-fic book by Ben Bova on writing sci-fi worlds that sell. That tip made a lot of sense to me.

  10. My step-dad is a Amateur astronomer, oldest founding member of the Central Valley's Astronomy club and retired teacher. He has a huge homemade telescope and on one clear night showed us Saturn, which is my favorite planet in our solar system. He said that the gas giants have a solid core or the gases wouldn't have collected there when our solar system was being created. Like most planets, gas giants have a gravitational pull or they wouldn't have a ring like Saturn or moons like Jupiter.

    I looked this up on Wikipedia: Saturn's interior is probably composed of a core of iron, nickel and rock.

    So yes, gas giants are real planets.

    Pluto was down graded to a dwarf planet because of it size and it was discovered to be a large member of the Kuiper belt (that surrounds our solar system), but it's still a planet only because it would cost too much to remove Pluto from all the school books.

    It reminds me of tomatoes: tomatoes which is technically a fruit is only a vegetable through an act of congress.

  11. WOOT! Way to go, Janice! Thank you so much for answering my question re why Jupiter and Saturn are considered planets. That has bugged me for along time. Well, ever since I watched an episode of The Universe many, many weeks back.

    That's cool re Pluto too. However, it is aggravating that books aren't updated like that should be. Even history has a lot of changes but our kids are still taught what the text books say. I always have to correct my kids and tell them to answer the question per the text books on tests, but tell people the truth verbally.

  12. Hi Faith,

    Well after I had graduated from HS, it came as a shock to me to learn that a lot of things in text books in school are wrong, including history and science.


  13. Sad isn't it? And then the gov wonders why our kids struggle. Write the truth and teach the truth, yanno?

  14. Even Jupitor and Saturn have rocky cores. Jupitor's core is 10-15 times mass of the earth. They also have thick oceans of liquid metallic hydrogen, which becomes more gaseous the further you get from the core. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune all have rings of one sort or another and the rings are composed of particles of ice and rock.

    One of the reasons the facts don't exist in classrooms is that science changes from day to day, but textbooks are only updated every decade or so. If you're learning from an astronomy book written over a decade or so ago you wouldn't even have the information about the hundreds of extrasolar planets discovered orbiting distant stars. If we want real, up to date science talk to our children then we need to abandon the idea of textbooks and go to the source. Of course you also have to teach true science, not junk science.