Living Among the Stars: A Hypothetical Journey Through Our Solar System

The dream of living beyond Earth has tantalized humans for centuries. But what would it really be like to live on other planets in our solar system? While we’re far from establishing colonies in space, scientific research allows us to make educated guesses about the challenges and opportunities of extraterrestrial living. This article takes you on a hypothetical journey through our cosmic neighborhood.

Mercury: The Solar Furnace

Living on Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun, would be a severe test of endurance. With temperatures swinging wildly from 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius) during the day to -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-180 degrees Celsius) at night, human survival would depend on advanced technology to provide stable living conditions. Mercury’s lack of atmosphere and low gravity also pose significant challenges.

Venus: The Sulfuric Hell

Despite being closer in size and composition to Earth than any other planet, Venus is incredibly hostile to life as we know it. Surface temperatures reach up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit (475 degrees Celsius), and the atmosphere is a crushing, toxic mix of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid. To live here, we would need floating habitats in the planet’s upper atmosphere, where conditions are more Earth-like.

Mars: The Red Frontier

Mars, our next-door neighbor, is the most likely candidate for human colonization. With a day length and axial tilt similar to Earth’s, Mars offers familiar rhythms of life. However, with temperatures often dropping to -80 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius), a thin atmosphere primarily of carbon dioxide, and cosmic radiation to contend with, life would be challenging. Still, ongoing research into terraforming and life-support technologies makes Mars a compelling prospect for future colonization.

Jupiter: The Gas Giant

Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is a gas giant with no solid surface. Living on Jupiter would mean living in the clouds, with floating habitats or airships. However, Jupiter’s intense radiation, massive storms, and cold temperatures make it an inhospitable place for humans.

Saturn: The Ringed Beauty

Like Jupiter, Saturn is a gas giant without a solid surface. Its iconic rings, composed of ice and rock, would make for a spectacular sky view. However, Saturn’s extreme temperatures, violent storms, and high-speed winds present significant challenges for human habitation.

Uranus and Neptune: The Ice Giants

Uranus and Neptune, the ice giants, are the outermost of the solar system’s planets. They are composed of heavier volatile substances such as water, ammonia, and methane. The extreme cold, high winds, and super-pressurized interiors make them inhospitable for humans. However, their moons might offer more possibilities.

Conclusion: A Solar System of Possibilities

While this journey through our solar system paints a picture of inhospitable worlds, it’s important to remember that we’re continually advancing our understanding of these planets and our technological capabilities. As we look to the future, the prospect of extraterrestrial living continues to inspire scientists, innovators, and dreamers alike. Who knows what incredible new frontiers we may yet conquer as we reach further into the cosmos?

Ancient Civilizations on Mars: Fact, Fiction, or NASA Cover-Up?

Mars, our enigmatic planetary neighbor, has been the subject of fascination, speculation, and scrutiny for centuries. As scientific advancements have allowed us to explore the Red Planet in greater detail, one question has continued to captivate both researchers and the public alike: did ancient civilizations once exist on Mars? Furthermore, is it possible that evidence of these civilizations has been discovered and subsequently concealed by NASA? This comprehensive, research-based exploration delves into the history of Martian exploration, the theories surrounding ancient Martian civilizations, and the claims of a NASA cover-up, while examining the scientific basis for these intriguing ideas.

I. Mars Exploration: A Historical Overview

Mars has long been a source of wonder, particularly due to its striking red appearance in the night sky. Ancient astronomers, including the Sumerians, Egyptians, and Greeks, all had unique interpretations of the planet and its significance. However, it wasn’t until the invention of the telescope and the subsequent advancements in space exploration that we began to glean a deeper understanding of Mars and its potential for hosting life.

The first successful mission to Mars was NASA’s Mariner 4, which conducted a flyby in 1965, capturing the first close-up images of the planet’s surface. Since then, numerous missions from various space agencies, including NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Russian Federal Space Agency, have been launched to explore Mars further. Landers, orbiters, and rovers have all contributed valuable data and images, deepening our understanding of the Martian landscape, climate, and geology.

II. Theories of Ancient Martian Civilizations

The idea of ancient civilizations on Mars has long captured the imagination of the public and fringe researchers alike. Various theories have been proposed, fueled by images and data from Mars exploration missions. Some of the most popular theories include:

  1. The Face on Mars: In 1976, the Viking 1 orbiter captured an image of a landform in the Cydonia region of Mars, which appeared to resemble a humanoid face. This discovery sparked a wave of speculation that the “Face on Mars” was an artificial structure, evidence of an ancient Martian civilization. Later, higher-resolution images taken by the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed that the “face” was merely an optical illusion created by natural geological formations.
  2. Pyramids and Structures: Other images of the Martian surface have revealed what some claim to be pyramid-like structures, city ruins, or other artificial formations. Proponents of these theories argue that these structures are remnants of ancient Martian civilizations. However, mainstream scientific consensus maintains that these formations are the result of natural geological processes, such as erosion and volcanic activity.
  3. Martian Fossils: Some researchers have claimed that images from Mars rovers, such as the Mars Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity, contain evidence of fossilized remains of ancient Martian lifeforms. These purported fossils range from microbial life to larger, more complex organisms. However, no definitive evidence of past or present life on Mars has been confirmed by the scientific community.

III. Allegations of a NASA Cover-Up

As theories of ancient civilizations on Mars have gained traction, so too have claims that NASA and other space agencies are concealing evidence of these discoveries. The reasoning behind these allegations varies, with some suggesting that the truth is being withheld to prevent panic or to maintain control over the narrative of human history. Others argue that the cover-up is financially motivated, with space agencies profiting from the continued exploration of Mars.

However, there is no concrete evidence to support these claims of a cover-up. Many of the images and data cited by proponents of these theories can be readily explained

by natural geological processes or optical illusions. Furthermore, the scientific community at large, including researchers from various countries and institutions, has not corroborated the existence of ancient Martian civilizations or any attempts to suppress such information.

IV. Scientific Perspective on Life on Mars

While the idea of ancient civilizations on Mars is largely considered to be speculative, the scientific community has not entirely ruled out the possibility of past or present microbial life on the Red Planet. The discovery of water ice on Mars, as well as evidence of liquid water in the planet’s past, suggests that the necessary conditions for life may have once existed.

Additionally, the detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere has raised questions about its origin, as methane can be produced by both geological processes and biological activity. However, no definitive evidence of life on Mars has been found to date. Ongoing and future missions, such as NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and ESA’s ExoMars program, will continue to investigate the potential for life on Mars, both past and present.

V. Conclusion

The question of ancient civilizations on Mars and the possibility of a NASA cover-up is undeniably intriguing and has captured the public’s imagination for decades. However, despite the numerous theories and claims, there is no definitive evidence to support the existence of ancient Martian civilizations or attempts to conceal such information.

While the notion of advanced civilizations on Mars remains speculative, the search for life on the Red Planet, particularly microbial life, continues to be a major focus of scientific inquiry. As our understanding of Mars and its potential for hosting life deepens, the prospect of uncovering the secrets of our enigmatic neighbor will undoubtedly remain a driving force in the ongoing exploration of our solar system.

Exoplanet Alien Worlds Viewed With Unprecedented Detail

exoplanet imager first image

The exoplanet imager’s first image: not an exoplanet.

To date astronomers have discovered well over 1,000 exoplanets, or planets that circle stars outside of our own solar system. According to NASA, there are 3603 objects that are candidates for being an exoplanet, and 1015 confirmed exoplanets (verified by several different observers with several different instruments, reaching a minimum confidence level of 99.9999%).

All of these planets were found by NASA’s Kepler telescope, which also happens to be a solar powered spacecraft. Unfortunately Kepler does not allow us to know the composition of each planet, only that a planet is or isn’t there. Now, due to the creation of a new, high powered observational tool, all that is changing.

Gemini Planet imager function

A look at how Gemini functions.

Throughout history hundreds of different observational tools have been created to observe the universe. Even before it was understood that we are part of a galaxy, let alone surrounded by exoplanets, human eyes looked to the stars in wonder and awe. Now we have the power to not only view those stars close up, but to also view the very composition of their planets. The tool that affords us this power is called the Gemini Planet Imager. The imager is an optical enhancement currently being used in the Gemini South telescope in Chile. It was built by a team of U.S. and Canadian institutions, funded by the Gemini Observatory, which is an international partnership comprising the U.S.A., U.K., Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil & Chile. Gemini is also partially funded by NSF, NASA, the University of California and the Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Humanity already has multiple massive telescopes including the Kepler and Hubble orbiting the Earth, why can’t they just do Gemini’s job? The purpose and function of the Gemini Planet Imager is uniquely different when it comes to exoplanet detection. Kepler locates exoplanets indirectly by focusing on a star and finding the “dark” spot the planet produces on the image when orbiting between the star and the telescope. Gemini on the other hand takes a more direct approach by directly detecting the light an exoplanet gives off. According to the Gemini Planet Imager website,

GPI will detect DIRECTLY the light from an extrasolar planet…Almost 1,000 extrasolar planets are known today, but mostly through indirect Doppler techniques that indicate the planet’s mass and orbit or transit events that measure the planet’s size and orbit. If we can directly pick out a planet from the star’s glare, we can use spectroscopy to measure the planet’s size, temperature, gravity, and even the composition of its atmosphere. By targeting many stars we will understand how common or unusual our own planetary system may be.

exoplanet totals

The periodic table of exoplanets as of January 2013.

The Gemini Planet Imager saw light for the first time in November 2013, and has been working without a hitch ever since. Being eight times more sensitive than any existing imaging device, Gemini is the crowning achievement on an entire year of exoplanet discovery and analyzation in 2013.  It can even scan and processes images 100x faster, taking only 60 seconds.

Related Article: Triple Star System Paves Road to Understanding Gravity

The galaxy is a huge place, and although the Kepler telescope has detected thousands of planets and stars, that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the 300 to 400 billion stars in the Milk Way Galaxy. The Gemini Planet Imager will at least give us a little more quality to the small quantity of planets we have in our planet image menagerie.

potential habitable planets

Our potential new homes.

The Kepler telescope and the Gemini Planet imager focus specifically on finding exoplanets similar to Earth. Scientists generally categorize discovered exoplanets by size relative to Earth. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on October 22, 2013, Scientists stated that after observing 42,000 Sun-like stars analyzed by Kepler, they had found,

603 planets, 10 of which are Earth size and orbit in the habitable zone, where conditions permit surface liquid water…22% of Sun-like stars harbor Earth-size planets orbiting in their habitable zones.

Along with Earth-like planets, astronomers have also discovered a solar system that shares a relatively large number of similarities with our own. It’s a good thing there isn’t a precise Earth analogue in the system otherwise there would be no way to prove that the system isn’t just one cosmically gigantic mirror. Our collective sanity has been spared.

Great technology will of course give rise to greater technology ad infinitum. That means a Google Galaxy ‘planet surface view’ is in humanity’s future. Awesome.

kepler solar system star

The orbits of different solar systems found by the Kelper telescope.





Hurricane on Saturn’s North Pole

After orbiting Saturn for nine years, the Cassini space probe has made another incredible discovery about the ringed giant. NASA has recently released the above photo of an enormous hurricane centered on the planet’s north pole. The images are astoundingly beautiful and will hopefully help shed light on the composition and structure of Saturn and the other gaseous planets.

Here’s how NASA explains it:

To be fair, the actual images are not this glamorous. They were taken in red and infrared wavelengths and the color that you see here was added to increase detail and contrast, but they are nonetheless spectacular to behold. To help you understand the color scheme, NASA explains:

The images were taken with Cassini’s wide-angle camera using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light…At Saturn, this scheme means colors correlate to different altitudes in the planet’s polar atmosphere: red indicates deep, while green shows clouds that are higher in altitude. High clouds are typically associated with locations of intense upwelling in a storm. These images help scientists learn the distribution and frequencies of such storms. The rings are bright blue in this color scheme because there is no methane gas between the ring particles and the camera.

Red indicates depth, and I love how a close-up on the eye of the storm makes Sauron’s look withered and impotent. The top of Saturn looks like lava swirling down a reinforced drain into hell.

The diameter of the storm on Saturn is estimated to be about 1,250 miles, twenty times bigger than the average terrestrial hurricane. The edges of the cyclone are spinning at 330 miles per hour. In comparison, the Hurricane Katrina was about 400 miles wide with sustained wind speeds of about 125 miles per hour. 

The images also expose a rather odd quirk in Saturn’s atmosphere that scientists first discovered from images taken by the Voyager spacecraft about 25 years ago: There is an unusual jet stream that surrounds the north pole in the shape of a hexagon. This jet stream is incredibly large, about the width of two Earths side-by-side. Scientists previously had not been able to discover what was in the center because it had been winter on Saturn and the planet was tipped away from the sun. Without sunlight is was impossible to see the planet’s north pole.

However, with the long winter over (a year on Saturn is about 30 Earth years) the sun has finally risen over the pole. This allowed scientists to take these incredible images and document the giant hurricane that is centered and locked within the hexagonal jet stream.

Weirdly enough, there is also a tremendous hurricane on the other side of the planet as well that was discovered in 2006. Just like its brother in the north, it is fixed in position directly over the its pole. Larger than its northern counterpoint, the southern hurricane is a whopping 5,000 miles across, although it doesn’t enjoy its own polygonal ring surrounding it.

I’ve written about the Voyager spacecraft and my love of stellar exploration before. When Galileo viewed Saturn through his telescope in 1610 he became the first person to see its rings. However, because of the limitations of his lens he thought they were two moons encircling the gaseous planet. It’d be fun to play the time travel game and show him what we now know today, if the logistics involved wouldn’t kill him out of shock. (They most assuredly would.)

Science is such illuminating fun and the pace of discovery has quickened along with the means of acquiring knowledge. I follow a maxim that states that it’s always better to know than to not know, and tomorrow we’ll know just a little bit more. 




Recommended Books About Saturn

Saturn: A New View


Saturn: Exploring the Mystery of the Ringed Planet

Lifting Titan’s Veil: Exploring the Giant Moon of Saturn

Voyager 1: The Final Frontier?

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) issued a press release on March 20 indicating that the Voyager 1 space probe may have travelled beyond the influence of the Sun and become the first man-made object to exit the Solar System. There is considerable discrepancy on whether or not that statement is accurate, however, as there is no real consensus on what constitutes the actual end of our Solar System. For now, though, let’s ignore the specifics of the debate and simply respect and reflect on the enormity of the accomplishment.

The AGU reported that the probe appears to have traversed past the heliosphere:

The heliosphere is a region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles, and which is thought to be enclosed, bubble-like, in the surrounding interstellar medium of gas and dust that pervades the Milky Way galaxy. On August 25, 2012, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft measured drastic changes in radiation levels, more than 11 billion miles from the Sun. Anomalous cosmic rays, which are cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere all but vanished, dropping to less than 1 percent of previous amounts. At the same time, galactic cosmic rays–cosmic radiation from outside of the solar system–spiked to levels not seen since Voyager’s launch, with intensities as much as twice previous levels.”

In a scientific journal for the AGU, Geophysical Research Letters, authors W.R. Webber and F.B. MacDonald state:

“It appears that [Voyager 1] has exited the main solar modulation region, revealing [hydrogen] and [helium] spectra characteristic of those to be expected in the local interstellar medium.”

However, Webber notes, scientists are continuing to debate whether Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space or entered a separate, undefined region beyond the solar system.”

NASA scientists also attempt to dampen the celebratory moment of man first dipping his big toe into the interstellar pool of the final frontier:

“It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called ‘the magnetic highway’ where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed.”

None of that matters to me. I’m in it for the science, man. And for its historical significance.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 was designed to investigate the outer gas giants. After collecting data on Jupiter and Saturn and the latter’s largest moon, Titan, the probe was sent out into the interplanetary medium to explore the boundaries of space. The probe is estimated to have enough juice in it to be able to send messages back to Earth until 2025.

To me, the most illustrious accomplishment of the spacecraft was championed by the legendary Carl Sagan. At his urging, the space probe was directed to take a picture of Earth from about 6 billion kilometers away. This picture is called the Pale Blue Dot and it remains one of the most mesmerizing and resonating images of our teal, Goldilocks planet.

The space probe also contains the Voyager Golden Record, a copper time-capsule of man’s scientific and artistic achievements, meant to demonstrate homo sapiens status as intelligent life. Among other things, it records our understanding of DNA and mathematical concepts, spoken greetings in 55 languages and a musical selection that ranges from Beethoven to Chuck Berry. Although these inclusions are unlikely to ever find themselves in an extra-terrestrial iPod, it’s the beauty behind the thought that counts.

We’ll have plenty of time later to determine when Voyager 1 definitively escaped the influence of the Sun.   The specifics don’t seem too important right now, though. At 123.5 astronomical units away from our parental star, it is certainly the farthest we’ve ever roamed from our pale blue dot. For now, let us revel in the gorgeous reality that it is (arguably) the first man-made object to be on the outside looking in, our first child to leave the solar roost.





A Planet Covered In Diamonds diamond planet

Picture: AFP/Yale University/Haven Giguere


Men are from Mars, women are from…Cancri 55 e.

Twice the size of our blue home, Cancri 55 e is a planet 40 light years away from Earth within the Cancer constellation.  A year on Cancri 55 e spans 18 hours and the surface temperature averages 2148 degrees Celsius. Doesn’t sound like the best vacation spot, but there is one thing Cancri 55 e has a surplus of; diamonds.  Oceans and mountains of diamonds.

Rather than water and rock, the surface of Cancri 55 e is completely covered and filled with diamond and graphite.

Looks like Cancri 55 e is a girl’s best, best friend.




Astronomers find diamond planet Cancri 55 e, twice the size of Earth

Yale News- Nearby super-Earth likely a diamond planet

Amateur Astronomer Films Jupiter Explosion


Amateur astronomer Dan Peterson filmed a comet making an explosive entry into Jupiter’s atmosphere and has provided viewers with the video.  For those of us interested in events happening outside of Terra, this is really cool footage.

Apparently the last asteroid strike on the planet in 2009 left a scar the size of the Pacific Ocean on the planet’s cloud tops.  That is huge!

To get a better idea of Jupiter’s size take a look at this image captured by the Cassini spacecraft.


NASA Developing Orion for Human Travel Across Solar System in Next 10 Years

NASA has completed another round of tests on the deployment of the parachute system of the deep space spacecraft called the Orion.  NASA plans to use Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) to expand humanity’s presence across the entire solar system.

Orion’s first test flight will take place in 2014.  It will travel to distances 15 times further than the International Space Station up to speeds of 20,000 mph before returning to Earth. NASA plans to launch Orion from the SLS in 2017.

NASA Developing Orion for Human Travel Across Solar System in 10 Years


NASA has completed another round of tests on the deployment of the parachute system of the deep space spacecraft called the Orion.  NASA plans to use Orion and the Space Launch System (SLS) to expand humanity’s presence across the entire solar system.

Orion’s first test flight will take place in 2014.  It will travel to distances 15 times further than the International Space Station up to speeds of 20,000 mph before returning to Earth. NASA plans to launch Orion from the SLS in 2017.