All of its 27 moons are named after characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope. Merely because of the way it sounds, though, Uranus is the most jeered planet in our solar system.
And the recent discovery that clouds in its upper atmosphere are made chiefly, of hydrogen sulfide—the compound that makes rotten eggs smell so foul—will only seal its comic reputation.
Its unpleasant odor is an extraneous matter. If a human were ever to descend through the Uranian cloudscape, much before they could take in a whiff of it, its bitter cold—minus 300 Fahrenheit—and toxic air, made of hydrogen, helium and methane would have taken their toll.
Uranus is a fine oddball. A blue-green orb, with a volume 60 times that of Earth, it spins around the Sun tipped over on its side. Yes, sideways. This is a world, where winter lasts 42 Earth years and during that time the Sun doesn’t come up at all. It also has a strange magnetosphere (below), a side-effect of its bizarre tilt.
Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) provided a great preview of what space tourism could look like. It featured an orbiting space station in the shape of a rotating wheel, Space Station V, which was a way station on the journey from Earth to the Moon and other planets. It housed an orbital hotel, run by Hilton, a Howard Johnson’s restaurant, lavish lounge areas and Picturephone booths.
Now: Orion Span, a space technology start-up, based in California, has announced plans to launch a luxury hotel in space. “Aurora” will be housed in a space station that will host six people at a time, including two crew members.
It’ll be ready to open its bay doors to rich holidaymakers in 2022. An orbital adventure of a dozen days will set one back by $9.5 million.
In “Mysterium Cosmographicum,” published in 1596, the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed a model of the solar system whose structure was governed by geometry.
Tetrahedron (4 faces.)
Cube (6 faces.)
Octahedron (8 faces.)
Dodecahedron (12 faces.)
Icosahedron (20 faces.)
There are five platonic solids, a.k.a. regular polyhedra, each nested within the other and separated by six spheres. Each sphere represents the six planets known at the time: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. He believed there were only six planets because there were only five platonic solids.
The inner sphere of a polyhedron.
The outer sphere of a polyhedron.
For each solid, there’s an inner sphere (one that the solid encloses) and an outer sphere (one that encloses the solid), such that each platonic solid fits inside a pair of spheres.
From the inside out: Mercury is separated from Venus by an octahedron; Venus from Earth by an icosahedron; Earth from Mars by a dodecahedron; Mars from Jupiter by a tetrahedron; and Jupiter from Saturn by a cube.
By arranging the solids in the correct order, Kepler found that the spheres could be placed at intervals corresponding to the size of each planet’s observable path (or orbit) around the Sun.
Even though this concept has no astronomical merit, it has cunning.