All the Stuff a Second Grader Knows About Space That You Totally Forgot About
Unless you have a way cooler job than we do, there are precious few opportunities in adult life to talk about outer space. You can indulge your interest in other ways — documentaries on the Discovery Channel, the planetarium after dark, conspiracy theory message boards — but out in the everyday world, you won’t get a lot of non-startled responses to an offer to share cool facts about space.
That’s why little kids rule. They just learned that space is a thing, they think it’s amazing and they have no qualms about saying so. Also, grown-ups are obligated to entertain whatever bullshit a child throws at them for a reasonable length of time (it’s the Invisible Telephone Rule of 1957).
So don’t be surprised if one of your nieces or nephews corners you at the next holiday gathering to give you your very own Jerry Maguire moment. If you don’t have any such precocious tykes in your immediate family, allow us to fill that role for you and remind you of all the sweet shit you forgot about space.
The Sunset on Mars Is Blue
Just like the daytime sky on Mars is the color of our sunsets, its sunsets are the color of our sky, i.e. bluer than a George Carlin set. The reason has to do with the different particles in the planets’ atmospheres that reflect different wavelengths of light better than others, but what matters is it looks cool as shit. When space tourism becomes a viable industry, there’s gonna be hella selfie stations at the best Mars sunset viewing spots.
There Are Planets Made of Diamonds
Diamonds are valuable on Earth because they’re relatively rare, but there are planets that are absolutely lousy with the things. One such planet identified in 2004 is likely at least one-third diamond, so keep an eye on next century’s fashion trends for space bling. It’s got the boring name 55 Cancri e, but it’s also known as a “super-Earth,” as if the whole diamond thing didn’t already make us feel inferior.
Saturn’s Not the Only Planet With Rings
Everyone loves Saturn because it comes with ready-made ring puns, but rings, which are really just orbiting masses of dust and rocks, can form around any giant planet with enough gravitational pull. That means plenty of other planets have rings, they’re just not as flashy as Saturn’s. In our solar system, Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus all have rings. Yes, Uranus has rings. Uranus has two sets of rings. Look us in the eye. There is a red ring and a blue ring around Uranus.
The First Chimp in Space Was Named Ham
We’re calling it: There are not enough people named Ham. We only know, like, three, and they all work at the bowling alley. A more important and probably better-smelling Ham also had an incredible nickname: Ham the Astrochimp, the first great ape in space. He was named after the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center at the air force base where he was trained and also the commander of its aeromedical laboratory, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton Blackshear, who was also nicknamed “Ham.” What are the odds? Ham the younger successfully completed a suborbital flight as part of Project Mercury in 1961 that led directly to Alan Shepard’s flight later that year, then retired to a D.C. zoo.
Comets Are Leftovers
They look pretty speeding across the sky, but comets are basically freezer-burned space trash. They’re leftovers from when the solar system was formed billions of years ago, masses of ice, dust and rock that didn’t make the cut to be part of a planet and relegated to the back of the universe’s freezer. They’re sometimes called “dirty snowballs,” inspiring jokes that would be inappropriate for our proverbial second grader (but he might also think of anyway).
Space Junk Is a Problem
Speaking of space trash, to the surprise of absolutely no one, as soon as we started mucking around in space, we started leaving our muck there. Listen, there’s no garbage collection on the moon, and our waste — about 100 bags of it — had to go somewhere. There’s a total of 200 tons of our trash floating or lying around up there, and that’s going to become a problem, but for now, the important thing is to look at the moon and think of all the poop that’s up there.
The Largest Known Body of Water Is a Space Cloud
The Pacific might seem impressive from the boardwalk, but it’s puny compared to the oceans floating out there in space. One 12-billion-year-old vapor cloud surrounding a supermassive black hole called APM 08279+5255, or Fiddy-Fid for short, contains 140 trillion times more water than all of Earth’s oceans. Don’t ask how they date vapor clouds. It’s probably boring.
Does the moon ever seem closer than it usually does? It might not just be a metaphor. Three or four times a year, the full moon coincides with the point in its elliptical orbit closest to Earth, called the “perigee,” making it look especially plump. The official name for this type of moon is the perigee-syzygy, which is probably both fun and hard for a second grader to say.
Telescopes Are Time Machines
Speaking of stuff that sounds poetic, you might recall from your elementary school field trip to the planetarium that the stars you see when you look at the sky may or may not exist anymore. Because of how long it takes the light to reach our eyes, what we’re seeing is a snapshot of the past, as much as thousands or even millions of years ago, depending on its distance from Earth. That means the sky is full of ghosts. That’s right: The moon actually is haunted.
There’s No Wind on the Moon
This one sounds like some kind of folksy aphorism that sounds deep but is really just confusing, but it’s also a literal fact that’s birthed countless conspiracy theories. That means that, unless someone else comes along and rudely brushes them away, all those footprints from the moon landings are probably gonna be there until the moon dissolves. Them and the poop.