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The Space Tourist’s Guide to the Planets

The Space Tourist’s Guide to the Planets

© Getty Images

By Joan Paquette, Cricket Media

Think you’ve seen and done it all? Think again!

For world-weary travelers tired of the usual vacation spots, here’s something new and different. This handy guide leads the hot new trend in fantasy vacation travel: the planets of our solar system.

Our solar system is teeming with excitement and wide with diversity. Here are some highlights that could await you if you were able to take off from the Sun, at the center of the solar system we call home . . .


MERCURY

© NASA/Reuters ​An image of the planet Mercury, made during the January 2008 flyby of the planet by the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging spacecraft is seen in this image released by NASA.

Roman god of speed 

CATEGORY: Rocky

MOONS: 0

DIAMETER: 3,032 miles

PARTICULARS: There is no sunrise quite like the one on Mercury. No pink pastel streaks on this harddriving planet; one minute it’s night, and the next—ka-blam!—the white-hot Sun pokes its searing face over the planet’s edge. Protective goggles should be worn at all times, since the planet spins a mere 36 million miles from the Sun. For a full experience, plan to stay a whole Mercurian year—just 88 Earth days. With its slightly tilted axis, Mercury meets the Sun’s rays head-on, making it easy for savvy space travelers to choose the right climate for their stay. For a bright, hot day (equal to about six Earth weeks), plan to visit one of the resorts located along the equator. For you cold-lovers, try winter sports at the north and south poles.

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: There are many craters to explore on Mercury’s surface, but be sure not to miss the giant Caloris Basin (“basin of heat”), which stretches 800 miles across!


VENUS

© REUTERS/NASA/Handout This computer-generated perspective view of the highland of Ovda Region on Venus shows Magellan radar data superimposed on topography.

Roman goddess of love 

CATEGORY: Rocky

MOONS: 0

DIAMETER: 7,520 miles

PARTICULARS: Although Venus is similar to Earth in size, there are many differences between the two. Venus is closer to the Sun than Earth is—about 26 million miles closer! For another thing, huge oceans that once covered Venus heated to boiling long ago—and evaporated! You’ll need to wear the usual deincineration suits to withstand the surface’s 900°F heat, and deep-space breathing gear to penetrate the atmosphere’s clouds of poisonous gas. But with those details out of the way, you are free to enjoy the many pleasures of Venus: Watch virga (genuine high-concentration acid rain) fall from the clouds and evaporate on impact! Sit on nonflammable lawn chairs at midnight and watch the planet glow ember-red around you! Scale mountains and hills named for goddesses, hike large craters named for Earth women of science, and walk lowland plains named after other famous Earth women.

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: Be sure your travels include the mountain range Maxwell Montes, the only feature in the Venus landscape named after a man!


EARTH

© ARPL/NASA/Getty Images Earth from space, photographed by spacecraft Apollo 16, April 16 1972. Most of the USA and Mexico and some parts of Central America are visible.

CATEGORY: Rocky

MOONS: 1

DIAMETER: 7,954 miles

PARTICULARS: The only planet not named for a Roman god or goddess, Earth is unique in its ability to support human life. For journeys to Earth, you can put aside your gas masks, heat suits, and gravity adjusters. Be prepared to settle for dull, midrange surface temperatures and lots of greens, blues, and browns everywhere. By interplanetary standards, Earth’s mountains aren’t very high and the valleys aren’t very low. It might be a planet that’s perfect for supporting life, but as far as exploration goes, compared with some of the other planets, Earth is pretty tame.

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: Two-thirds of the planet is covered by deep oceans, not found on any other planet in our solar system. The undersea world is not to be missed by the serious space tourist.


MARS

© NASA/WireImage/Getty Images NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of Mars when it was just 34,648,840 miles (55,760,220 km) away. The picture was taken just 11 hours before the planet made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. Many small, dark, circular impact craters can be seen, attesting to the Hubble telescope's ability to reveal fine detail on the planet's surface. One of the most striking is the 270-mile- (450-km-) diameter Huygens crater, seen near the centerof the image.

Roman god of war 

CATEGORY: Rocky

MOONS: 2

DIAMETER: 4,226 miles

PARTICULARS: A planet of extremes, Mars is perfect for large families with differing interests. Climb sky-high mountain ranges, such as Olympus Mons, rising 15 miles to its peak. Cross wide deserts of red-orange sand stretching in all directions, and dance in swirling dust storms. Tour the highpowered volcanoes of the Tharsis province. Walk hand in hand under the pinkish sky sipping carbon sodas. And if you’re wondering where all that redness comes from, you’ll be cheered to know it’s nothing more complicated than iron-filled dust and clay . . . rusting. Yes, intrepid travelers, when it comes to Mars, rust is the name of the game.

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: The Vallés Marineres is a spectacular string of canyons reaching 2,500 miles across and 6 miles deep. Great for group tours!


JUPITER

© REUTERS NASA's Juno spacecraft captures Jupiter's southern hemisphere, as the spacecraft performed its 13th close flyby of Jupiter. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill/via

Roman king of gods 

CATEGORY: Gas giant (the biggest planet)

MOONS: 60+

DIAMETER: 88,864 miles

PARTICULARS: If you’ve never journeyed to the gas giants, you’re in for a treat. On this planet, you don’t have to worry about trudging across rough, stony ground, for there’s no ground at all! Feel the relaxation of sinking through beautiful striped clouds—into a sea of gas. Jupiter’s exquisite hydrogen and helium blend makes swirling around on a gassy surface an experience like no other. Feel the rush of extreme weather in its purest form— tango with a tornado; jig with a jet stream; whirl with winds of all types. No need to worry about missing the action—these storms can last for hundreds of years. For those who really need to feel solid ground beneath their feet, Jupiter has more than 60 moons offering the very best in off-world entertainment. The top four moons— Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto—are each nearly half the size of Earth.

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: The Great Red Spot is a single storm bigger than the planet Earth, which has been raging for well over a hundred years—head on over while the party’s still rocking! Also, check out Jupiter’s rings.


SATURN 

© REUTERS/NASA/The Hubble Heritage Team Hubble Space Telescope images of Saturn, captured from 1996 to 2000, depict the planet in different stages of its 29-year journey around the sun.

Roman god of Agriculture 

CATEGORY: Gas giant

MOONS: 30+

DIAMETER: 74,900 miles

PARTICULARS: If it’s rings you want, make Saturn your destination of choice. By far the clearest, strongest rings in our solar system are found here—seven of them. They are named for the first seven letters of the alphabet, A to G. These swirling masses of rock, ice, and space junk spin around the planet at a breakneck pace. For the very daring, special capsules will hurtle you into the gravitational flow— feel the magnetic pull of Saturn as you lift off!

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: The E-ring is far out—the farthest in distance, that is. The most exciting ring may be the F-ring though, with its satellites, Prometheus and Pandora. On this planet of many rings, the show is a little different every night!


URANUS

© AFP/Getty Images A false color view of Uranus made from images taken by Voyager II, 21 January 1986 from a distance of 4,17 million kilometers.

Roman god of the sky 

CATEGORY: Gas/ice giant

MOONS: 20+

DIAMETER: 32,190 miles

PARTICULARS: While Saturn’s rings are bigger, brighter, and more spectacular, the 13 rings around Uranus come in a close second. At some time in its distant history, something bumped into Uranus, causing this gas giant to roll over on its side. Now the rings swirl around top to bottom, so from afar, Uranus looks like an enormous interplanetary bull’s-eye. On the surface, Uranus is icy, so bring your woolies if you’re planning to stay awhile.

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: If you have extra time, it’s worth the trip to visit Umbriel, a satellite around Uranus that is just 727 miles across. (Uranus has 26 other satellites, if satellites are your thing.) Umbriel’s cratered surface is completely dark, except for the brightly lit craters called Wunda and Vuver. How thrilling to stand on these brightly lit spots in a world of darkness!


NEPTUNE

© AP photo/NASA This image of Neptune was taken during the August 16-17, 1989 period as Voyager 2 photographed the planet almost continuously. This picture shows two of the four cloud features which have been tracked by the Voyager 2 cameras during the past two months - the largest dark oval at left, and the smaller oval at lower right.

Roman god of the sea 

CATEGORY: Gas/ice giant

MOONS: 13

DIAMETER: 30,788 miles

PARTICULARS: Neptune is as much a treat up close as it is from a distance. This lovely planet gives new meaning to the color blue, with stripes of many shades jetting across it—aquamarine, turquoise, navy, and more. Neptune has five rings of its own, but they are not very exciting. Time on this ice planet passes slowly—in fact, one year on Neptune takes almost 165 Earth years. The savvy traveler will clarify to hotel owners whether the week’s rental is an Earth week or a Neptune week! The weather is unpredictably fierce, with winds of up to 1,200 miles per hour.

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: Before you leave Neptune, take a good look at the Scooter, a cheeky white cloud that zips irregularly around the planet. Visitors often see shapes in the Scooter—what does it look like to you?


PLUTO

© REUTERS/NASA/APL/SwRI/Handout Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015, when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles from the surface and released on July 14, 2015. More than nine years after its launch, the U.S. spacecraft sailed past Pluto on Tuesday, capping a 3 billion mile journey to the solar system’s farthest reaches, NASA said. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft's closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the "heart" which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart's interior appears remarkably featureless - possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes.

Roman god of the dead and the underworld 

CATEGORY: Dwarf planet

MOONS: 1 (nearly as large as Pluto itself)

DIAMETER: 1,442 miles

PARTICULARS: Way out in the Kuiper Belt is tiny, icy Pluto, once a “real” planet, now reduced to being a “dwarf” planet. If there were any Plutoids, though, they’d tell you that it’s still worth a visit! What this planet lacks in size, it makes up for in cold. Yes, travelers, Pluto’s ground temperature is around –382 F°—not a walk in the park! In fact, Pluto is so cold that most of its gases are frozen solid. Make sure to pack your mittens and your fur coat, not to mention your antipermafreeze pajamas.

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS: Pluto’s moon, Charon (kar-on), is such a close companion that some call the planet “Pluto-Charon.” It’s as if they’re locked into a double orbit instead of the moon orbiting around Pluto. Charon is a happening place and a great spot for nightlife. Don’t leave without stopping in for a mug of hot cocoa, Charon style.

By the way, after a visit to Pluto, what do YOU think????

Is Pluto a planet or not?




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