Worrying about the planets

I am worrying a bit about our solar system, having been reading Dava Sobel’s excellent book The Planets.

According to Dava, the sun is one big nuclear explosion, whereby all the hydrogen is getting used up and turned into helium, at the rate of 700,000,000 tons a second, which is really quite a lot of hydrogen disappearing really quite fast. Once all the hydrogen has turned into helium, then things start turning bad.  The helium starts burning, much, much hotter.  So that, when that happens, we are told, the earth will melt.  Now, they say there is plenty of hydrogen left.  Another three to five billions years’ worth.   But talk is cheap.  They said that we had stonks of coal and oil and all, and then a wet weekend later, they are telling us that that is all just about the run out, and what we need to do is to have lots of wind turbines, which will last us for eternity, or at any rate until Al Gore pops his clogs, which feels like pretty much the same thing.  But now we see that the wind turbines are all rusting up, like an elephant’s graveyard; on Hawaii alone (which you might think is a jolly good place for wind turbines, what with it being pretty windy there) there are apparently six wind farms that are now abandoned.

“Wot, me worry?” they say. We can always hop onto some other planet. Oh really?

The next one in towards the sun is Venus, which might sound a good start, bearing in mind that we seem to be heading inexorably into the next ice age, and could do with a bit of warmer weather. But Venus looks like much too much of a good thing in this respect.  There seem to be a few real drawbacks:

  • It is hot. Around 400oC or so.

    Club 18 - 30

    Which is hot, even for the Club 18-30 brigade;

  • What’s more it is not even sunny! It sits beneath cloud cover that is many kilometres thick, and containing far too much sulphuric acid to be any fun at all.  Might be good for wind farms, you might think, but all that acid would rot them faster than a trade union press release on a fast news day;
  • Any anyway, there seem to be volcanoes. Lots of them. And if the sun really is getting hotter, Venus will presumably get all melty as well.

So, no. Venus is not where a happy camper would go.

What about going further out, where it is colder (a bit like going to Scotland or Canada for a holiday). Mars? Might be nice? The pictures from NASA suggest sand, a few cliffs and stuff like that.  But it is cold – even colder than Scotland; according to Wikipedia, it varies from about −87 °C (−125 °F) during the polar winters to highs of up to −5 °C (23 °F) in summers.[50]

And dust storms! Apparently they have the most awful dust storms. Terrible. We wouldn’t like that. And anyway, there is no oxygen in the atmosphere, so that’s no good.

Moons?  Well, our moon is as dull as ditch-water; we know that.  Saturn’s Titan sounds more fun.  Sun, sand, sea.  Lovely view of Saturn, which is a pretty good looking sort of a planet what with its rings and stuff. That all sounds much better, until we take on board that the seas on Titan are actually liquid methane. So it is cold. Very cold.  Even colder than Canada.


And Pluto, of course, is even colder still. And these days, they say it is not really a planet at all. And anyway, it turns out to be not just one non-planet, but two bodies (Pluto itself and Charon) revolving around each other, like a sort of planetary dumbbell, with the centre of gravity somewhere in between.  Even worse, who would want to live somewhere with a moon on your doorstep that sounds like an Essex girl?

Meanwhile, the earth is looking decidedly wobbly.  Here is a picture from the Helmholtz Centre in Potsdam of what the earth’s magnetic field looks like these days, and it is not a pretty sight.  There seems to be a dirty great gravity bulge around Japan, but a huge shortage of gravity more or less where Australia is.  If things keep going on like this, are Australians going, sooner or later, to just drifting off into space?  In which case, we are going to have to put up with one of these unsatisfactory options, whether we like it or not. Either that, or move back to England.

It is, as I say, all rather worrying.


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