The Space & Beyond Blog
5 bizarre facts about the solar system
Our solar system is a really weird place, and here are just a few of the reasons why.
Every day, astronomers are discovering more and more about our solar system, and what they’re learning would surely shock some of the most imaginative sci-fi writers of days past. It’s hard to deny that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction — and that’s definitely the case for our neck of the woods.
So, without further ado, here are five of the craziest (and coolest) facts about our solar system.
5. Our tiny solar system is still huge
Even though the Sun is by far the closest star to Earth, space is so huge it still takes around 8 minutes for sunlight to reach our planet. That’s because if Earth were a tennis ball, the Sun would be a sphere 24 feet across sitting roughly half a mile away. (For comparison, it takes light from the next closest star, Proxima Centauri, more than 4 years to reach Earth.)
Also consider the asteroid belt. Despite how it’s depicted in films like Star Wars, this girdle of rocky debris is not packed together like Los Angeles traffic. On average, astronomers estimate that individual asteroids are spaced out from one another by about 600,000 miles. So, you likely wouldn’t even be able to see the nearest asteroid — let alone accidentally ram right into it.
4. Space junk is all around us
It’s not just asteroids and comets that pollute the solar system. NASA estimates there are nearly a million pieces of human-made debris orbiting Earth, which range from about half an inch to four inches wide. Plus, there’s roughly 100 million pieces of space junk smaller than about half an inch.
Because orbiting debris zips around Earth some seven times faster than a speeding bullet, even tiny pieces can do real damage. Fortunately, a number of companies and space agencies are already exploring methods to clean up space junk, hopefully keeping our path to outer space free from obstructions.
3. The Moon was once part of Earth
Although the exact origin of the Moon is not entirely settled, the leading theory is that an ancient, massive collision between proto-Earth and a Mars-sized impactor named Theia knocked a significant portion of Earth’s mass into orbit around our planet. Over time, this orbiting disk of debris continued to clump together until it gained enough mass that its own gravity molded it into the beloved spherical satellite we see today.
2. Oceans aren’t always above ground
For the vast majority of human history, we’ve had one world to reference in detail: Earth. And though we’ve always known our oceans are open-air and above ground, we’re now starting to learn that’s not the case for many other worlds.
For example, Jupiter’s moon Europa boasts twice as much water as Earth’s oceans combined, but it hides it beneath an icy shell. The dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, also likely harbors a subsurface ocean. Astronomers now even think that distant Pluto has likely maintained an underground liquid ocean for billions of years.
1. Earth won’t always host life
As far as we know, our planet is the only world in the solar system — and, indeed, the entire universe — where life exist. But it won’t always be that way. In about 1 billion years, long before the Sun enters its red giant phase, it will increase in brightness by roughly 10 percent.
That may not seem like much, but it’s enough extra energy that Earth’s oceans will likely boil away, turning the surface of our planet into an inhospitable wasteland reminiscent of modern-day Venus. So, if our distant descendants make it that far in our solar system’s history, they better learn how to terraform.
For more bizarre space facts, read our 20 unusual space facts blog.