10 Summer Vacations You Could Be Taking — In Space, which one would you be taking?
Who wants to take a summer vacation in same old places all the time? Sometimes you just need to pack your space suit, and head out to parts unknown in an effort to take in space summers. But don't go unprepared! Take a look at ten places to head when summering off-word.
10. Mercury's Summer, and Sun, Are Not for the Easily Confused
After a long, chilly winter perhaps you want to go to the planet closest to the sun to heat up. Until the 1960s, they didn't even think Mercury even rotated. It was only then that astronomers realized that Mercury has three 'days' - three rotations - every two of its years, which are about 88 Earth days. Mercury also has an eccentric orbit, so it's nearly impossible to tell what season is ending, and what season begins. However, those who do go to Mercury for a roughly 90 day Earth summer will see a pretty interesting light show. Physics really rolled up its sleeves and went to work on this one. An approximately 52 Earth-day Mercury day begins when the sun rises and climbs high into the sky, seeming bigger as it approaches its zenith. Then the sun, seemingly, reverses its course, going backwards for a little while, before resuming and heading back towards its original destination. Meanwhile, the visible stars would be racing across the sky. The only problem is, when night begins, the temperature drops to well below zero, so perhaps its best to spend just half a 'day' on Mercury and then retire to Aruba for the rest of the summer.
9. Triton and Mars Put on the Pressure and Look Like Horror Movies
Summers on Mars and Triton don't have a lot in common. Mars is a planet, Triton is a moon. Mars has seasons of seven months. Triton has season of forty years. What they both have is summers that must look a little like the part in the Dracula movies where he turns himself into mist and pours himself into the attractive woman's bedroom. Both Triton and Mars are celebrated for having liquid water, but they have a great deal more carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, when exposed to the freezing conditions of winter, freezes solid into dry ice at the polar caps. In summer, however, the temperature climbs and the polar caps melt away into hissing gas. This, again, would make the entire polar region look like a Gothic horror movie. (Do bring flowing nightgowns, ladies. And gentlemen will be expected to wear a cravat.) It also bring the pressure in the atmosphere up. A gas takes up a lot more room than a solid. Mars atmospheric pressure goes way up in the summer, and Triton's atmospheric pressure quadruples. This is good, since both have rather thin atmospheres, and if your space suit fails, you don't want your eyeballs to explode. (Yes, that only happens in Total Recall, not in real life, but since we're talking about movies anyway, we might as well embrace the cliche.)
8. Titan's Polar Summer Could Be Perfect for Anosmic Marine Science Geeks
Titan is one of the moons of Saturn. It has a methane-based atmosphere, so there's no reason to go there if you have a functioning nose. If, however, you either don't have a nose, or want to ability to never wince at the smell of a fart in an elevator ever again, head to Titan's poles for its summer. In the winter, the poles are covered with clouds of methane, which rain down methane, which you can never wash out of your hair. During the seven-year-summers, though, the clouds lift, to give you beautiful lakes of liquid methane with the promise guarantee of the kind of organic molecules that swam around early Earth, and possibility of a wholly-new methane life form. It's not a beach bunny's dream, but for those science geeks reading this - and I suspect they might be a few on this site - the best place to head is Titan.
7. Saturn's Summer is a Parasailor's Dream
Recently, NASA was surprised to see a change in Saturn. This came as a surprise, since the gas giant in the outer atmosphere was thought to have no real seasonal variation. When they observed a side coming out of its long observable summer, though, they noticed that the wind speed in the atmosphere dropped 700 meters per hour . . . to a mere 1000 meters per hour. What I'm saying is, if flying kites and kite surfing a parachuting and parasailing - basically anything in the 'kite' or 'sail' category gets you going, you know where to head in summer.
6. Watch Parts of Uranus Finally Get Some Summer
As anyone who has been following the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic knows, even horrible things are considered neat if you have to wait a really long time for them. Uranus is tilted so severely that life probably couldn't survive there in any conditions. At a tilt of 82 degrees, the sun shines directly over one pole or another for a quarter of the Uranian year. But we're seeing the sun climb down from the pole, and spread a warmth across part of the planet that haven't seen the sun in twenty years. And it will kick off storms the size of North America, just at 300 degrees below zero.
5. Word Geeks Summer at GJ 667C
Of course, there are planets outside our solar system. The only problem with them is having to make up a new definition for summer when you're dealing with something like a triple star system. There might be up to four rocky planets, scientists think, right in the habitable zone around a red dwarf star. But that star is orbiting around two larger, brighter stars. Is it summer when the planet tilts toward its near star, or the brighter stars that its star orbits. And, when that orbit is closest to those stars, or tilted towards them, is that meta-summer? Work geeks, hoping to coin a new term, will appreciate a summer stay here.
4. Get Two Summers in One In the Kepler System
Kepler 34b and 35b are a pair of planets orbiting a binary star system in 289 days and 131 days respectively. Meanwhile, the two stars eclipse each other. The seasons, such as they are, come with not only differing exposures of sunlight, but also differing gravitational pulls. They will also repeat themselves several times a years. This means that, if you plan it right, you can take a ninety day Earth summer and get two summers on 35b, or get one 35b and one on 34b. Everyone loves two for one deals, especially if the gravitational squishing of your face - or pulling you off the planet - come free.
3. The KOI-961 System: When You Only Have a Few Hours
Three small planets orbit around KOI-961, a star just seventy percent bigger than Jupiter. All three make it around the star in two days of our time, so if you're working this summer and only have a few hours to spare, you might be able to take in an entire season on another world.
2. Spend a Spectacular Summer on the Methuselah Planet
This is the oldest known planet in the universe. PSR B1620-26 b is approximately twelve billion years old, to the universe's 13.7 and the Earth's approximate five. It orbits a binary system, and I would like to think 'summer' on this most ancient world is when a person could see both the red dwarf glowing in the sky and the the pulsar sun lighting up the clouds in its upper atmosphere. It's a gas giant, so any summer home here would have to be an enclosed hovering habitat, which has to be perfect for seeing the stars. The Methuselah Planet - the only planet so far given a biblical name - inhabits a globular cluster, and so the stars surround it, instead of streaking across one area of the sky, like the Milky Way does for Earth. Spend a summer wrapped in a continuous glow.
These are all good options, but the best summer, the most famous summer, is the Endless Summer, and there is only one world where you can get that. Gliese 581 d is one of the few planets in the world that is, in theory, habitable by human-like life. It's in the right zone of space around its sun to have liquid water on its surface. In fact, astronomers think that much of its surface is covered with an ocean. The planet doesn't rotate. This shrinks the zone where life can exist down considerably, to a strip of the world between the sweltering light half and the freezing dark half of the planet. Life can exist to either side of that margin. And the light side will see a perpetual hot summer on the beach, with hot wind coming from one side of the planet, and cold water from the other. I like to think whatever life might exist in the area has invented surf boards. I like to think that coming back from that summer vacation is optional.