5 Mind-Blowing Things Found in Our Own Solar System
One of our running themes here at Cracked is "Man, space is just weird as hell." It's easy to forget that, after mankind went to the moon and found out it was just a boring, dusty ghost town. Space is full of mysteries, and you don't have to go far to find them.
Saturn Has a Hexagon-Shaped Storm
Most storms are easily recognizable from space. The giant hurricanes on Jupiter and Neptune make circular formations, just like the storms on Earth. Saturn, on the other hand, likes to do things differently. As in "impossible to the point of being ridiculous" differently.
That there, friends, is a close-up image taken of a perfectly ordinary day on Saturn's north pole. You may notice a couple of things that would make it a bad place to spend your holiday. One, the whole pole appears to be perma-covered in a giant, demonic-looking storm; and two, said storm is a perfect hexagon.
It's not exactly small, either -- each wall of the hexagon is around 8,600 miles long, wider than the Earth's diameter.
Above: Saturn rocking a nipple piercing.
The walls of the hexagon are the most vigorous part of the giant storm called the eyewall, and the area in the middle is the eye of the storm. This is, incidentally, the only time an eyewall formation has ever been found outside of Earth, and it's definitely the only time an eyewall cloud has been seen shaped like a goddamn hexagon.
"You know of what I speak, Gandalf: a great eye, lidless, wreathed in flame."
The entire formation remained a complete mystery until a crack team of elite scientists found they could replicate the pattern with a cunning test -- by filling a bucket with water and spinning it around. When the water was spinning fast enough, they were able to produce similar geometric shapes to those of the Saturn mystery storm. However, a few questions remain.
For one, the hexagon on Saturn never shifts from its longitude, unlike any storm ever seen. And weirder than that, the storm structure also rotates every 10 hours ... which is suspiciously in sync with the planet's natural radio emissions.
Since those tend to be linked to the rotation period of a planet's interior, the hexagonal formation might be somehow linked to Saturn's core.
"Well, then it has to be ... no, I have no idea either."
Well, that, or it's an alien craft feeding off Saturn, perching on top of the planet like a giant spider and ready to pounce at us like the fly that we are.
Saturn Has a Moon Shaped Like a Freaking Walnut
Seriously, look at it. That's Iapetus, the third largest of Saturn's 62 known moons, and it has a perfect little ring exactly in the center, making it look like you could pry it apart and find a prize inside:
Or that God is too lazy to trim the flash off of his new models.
That band is a mountain range, one that's ridiculously massive and runs almost all the way around the moon. Oh, and it also runs perfectly straight along the equator, making the whole moon look like a cosmic scale prototype for a walnut.
Iapetus has a diameter of 914 miles, so it's about 10 times smaller than Earth. Yet somehow, that little speck of debris has managed to raise one of the most colossal mountain ranges in the solar system. Its average height is around 8 miles, but in some areas, the formation rises as high as 12.4 miles above surface level, making the ridge over twice as tall as Mount Everest. And no, of course we have no clear idea how the damn thing formed.
"No, no, you called the right guy, I just ... PFguh."
Here's what we do know:
Many impact craters can be seen on the ridge, so we know that it must be ancient.
Aaaand -- that's pretty much it.
Science: Because learning new things shouldn't always make you feel smarter.
One hypothesis is that because the ridge is very old, it must have been formed when Iapetus was spinning much faster, and the mountains were pulled up from the force of the rotation. However, that doesn't explain why the ridge is not an even circle of lifted landscape, but rather a neckband of spiky mountaintops. What's more, the ridge is not even present on some areas of the equator. They're like weird, jagged boobs on the waist of the planet.
Other theories suggest that the moon might have had a Saturn-like ice ring around it that crashed down in a perfect circular formation, thus hammering the ridge into existence. And if that's not convoluted enough, there's the one that says Iapetus might have been impacted by another celestial body, which knocked out a little piece of it. This piece then started to orbit Iapetus as a little moon of its own. Then it succumbed to gravitational force and broke into hundreds of tiny moonlets ... which then did the "forming a ring and raining down" thing the last theory mentioned.
"I mean ... maybe?"
But that's all just the kind of guesswork that is to be expected when you're talking about the sort of phenomenon that scientists straight up refer to as "the weirdest thing in our solar system."
Pretty Much Everything About Jupiter Defies All Reason
With its hulking size, vividly colored tiger stripes and famous red spot the size of three Earths, Jupiter stands out in our solar system like a drag queen in a police lineup of truck drivers. The first things that you learn about Jupiter in school are already pretty weird: it's gargantuan, it's made entirely of gas and the red spot is a huge, hellish, perpetual hurricane. But the more you find out, the weirder it gets.
For example, Jupiter's 12-year "disco seasons."
Take the red spot, for example: The only thing we know for certain about the storm is that it's, well, a storm. We have no idea what's powering it, or even why it's red. Maybe it's the misted blood of a billion former inhabitants shredded by that storm. All we know is that there are other hyperstorms in Jupiter that can and totally will change their color. During the formation of a lesser known storm named Oval BA, three small white storms merged to form a big one, comparable in size to the red spot. The weird thing is, after the merger, the storm turned red. It straight up changed colors like a cartoon character who just got kissed.
The aforementioned stripes of Jupiter, alternating in darker "belts" and lighter "zones," are actually even more confusing. Not only do we not understand what causes them, but sometimes they will just flat out disappear.
"What, because you wear the same pair of pants every goddamn day?"
The strangest hypothesis is that Jupiter's atmosphere is in fact divided into whirling cylinders that run all the way down through the planet, like this:
Honestly, is that even possible? We're thinking that it's not, and that Jupiter doesn't give a shit.
Triton's Surface Defies Logic
Triton is by far the largest of Neptune's moons, and as befits a celestial body circulating a planet that has weird-ass black spot storms running rampant, it's a strange piece of work. Although you probably notice that the second you lay your eyes on it: As it happens, Triton looks less like a moon and more like a giant cantaloupe.
Mm, add a little salt, or maybe some sugar ... damn, this space article is making us hungry.
A little background: Triton is one of extremely few bodies in the solar system that are geologically active. It's believed to be made of a frozen translucent layer of nitrogen with a darker substrate, which creates a sort of solid greenhouse effect. The little bit of sunlight it receives is trapped within the glassy layers. This subterranean warmth melts the ice and causes massive ice- and methane-spewing cryovolcanoes, a word that sounds like it was invented by a disaster movie screenwriter.
This Christmas ... It's Going to Get Hot.
Great, so we seem to know quite a lot about Triton. Creepy place, ice volcanoes. But what does all this have to do with the "looks like a cantaloupe" part? Nothing, that's what. Or maybe something. To be honest, no one has a damn clue.
The thing is, Triton's cantaloupe skin is completely unlike anything science has ever seen, and the cause of its formation is still a mystery. It can't be impact-caused, because the edges of the surface are all smooth and curvy. There could have been some melting and reforming involved -- kind of like ice cream left out on a counter, then returned to the freezer, then brought back out again because you keep changing your mind about whether you want ice cream. But since Triton is so far away from the sun, the source of heat that would have melted its features had to have come from inside it -- like a radioactive core. Some think that the surface is some sort of soft material that's being pushed up through a denser material beneath it, making it more or less like planetary zit residue.
"Crater Face" doesn't even begin to cover it.
But wait, there's more! Triton also seems to be actually warming up, which is pretty unusual for a moon that is 2.5 billion freaking miles away from the sun. The reason Triton continues to warm is -- everyone together now -- unknown. And honestly, science doesn't seem all too eager to delve into it, in case they find out Triton has been an egg of a giant space monster all along.
Mars Shows (Apparent) Traces of Life
Whether we've harnessed it for fear mongering or genuine scientific interest, there's no denying that the Red Planet has always been close to mankind's collective heart. So imagine the gold brick scientists pooped when news emerged that large quantities of methane have been detected in the atmosphere of Mars. What makes this strange is that the ultraviolet in sunlight breaks down methane pretty efficiently, so technically the planet shouldn't be able to have any. That, in turn, means that something on Mars is producing methane.
Geological events are capable of releasing methane, but there is no evidence of recent geological activity on Mars. You know what else is capable of releasing methane? Life.
The methane might of course originate from some hitherto unknown geological activity, but one that would require liquid water and lava flows. So, unless some radically new concept of methane production emerges, it looks like Mars has stashed away either water or life -- or both. That's right -- science might be on the verge of discovering living alien life forms. All of those shitty sci-fi writers in the '50s were right!
Only the '50s, though. The rest are still bullshit.
OK, so we might not need to build a fleet of anti-Martian star cruisers just yet. The reigning theory is that there might be some forms of micro-organisms below Mars' surface, as primitive bacteria on Earth release methane as a byproduct of their biological processes. And then we have that infamous meteorite.
The Martian invasion has had kind of a slow start.
Do you remember this from a few years ago? When people were claiming they found a rock that proved Mars had life? In 1984, a team of meteorite hunters tracked and found it in Antarctica. It has since been dated with four different dating techniques, and was shown to be around 4 billion years old -- the oldest rock on Earth by far. On its surface, many strange mineral formations were found, prompting scientists to study it obsessively ever since. The latest, most technologically advanced analysis done in 2009 concluded basically nothing.
Basically nothing. They did find out one thing: The formations must have occurred in liquid. So they set out sciencing the shit out of the meteorite, dubbed ALH 84001. As years passed, scientist after scientist found they were unable to reproduce the meteorite's formations using inorganic chemical processes, which would seem to suggest they were created by something organic. As in living. Now, that doesn't mean there is life on Mars -- even if there were ancient fossilized alien bacteria, 4 billion years is a long damn time. Surely, their little bacteria civilization would've died out millions of years ago.
Then again ... if they did, who the hell is making all the methane?
It's always the simplest explanation, right?
Budd Erickson is a freelance philosopher and writer, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For reasons to fear space and shoot guns at it, check out 7 Bizarre Sounds From Outer Space and 5 Cosmic Events That Could Kill You Before Lunch.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn about David Wong's moon base.
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