The Universe is a Pretty Cool Place...

I found myself watching some of Brian Cox's Wonders of the Solar System today, and much to my surprise I found it to be greatly moving—yes, I said it, moving.

Above is the BBC trailer for the series that showed in the US on the Science Channel. It covered a wide array of solar phenomena, including the birth of our solar system, what's special about each planet (in some cases, besides the obvious), and how the eight planets are interconnected despite the distances between them. Some of the things that really blew my mind were:

> Ice volcanoes (a.k.a. Cryovolcanoes) on Enceladus: I had no idea they existed (missed it somehow). They must look really amazing up close, like a snow-geyser!
False-color Image of Enceladus' Cryovolcanoes
via Cassini spacecraft; Image Credit: NASA

>That if not for Saturn, Jupiter, and Neptune, there would probably be no life on Earth (it has to do with the gas giants causing the comet-bombardment of the inner planets that formed our oceans).

>The sun puts out 1 kilowatt of energy per square meter of the Earth's surface every second... (think of how many kilowatts you use in your house in an hour to get an idea of how much energy this really is).

>Not to harp on Saturn, but I learned that the rings of the planet are a microcosm of the early solar system, and that you can actually see its moons' gravity disrupt the rings as they pass by, making wakes in them like you would if you stroked the top of a pond.

>The sun's direct gravitational influence goes out to about 50,000 AU (50k times the distance between the Earth and the sun or about 3/4 of a light-year), and it hauls around a sphere of icy proto-comets with it as it hurtles through the galaxy (the Oort Cloud). [Note, technically the gravity of every piece of matter is infinite, but the father away things are the less an influence it has, but I'm talking about the Sun's effective influence here.]

There was a lot more, but I'll stop myself here. I guess it all just got to me and I had a moment where I just got choked up at the beauty of it all. It's incredible that out of the chaos such a clockwork-like order can arise, but thanks to thermodynamics and gravity, it did. More amazing, it didn't happen just once. Recently the Kepler team announced the discovery of over 700 new exoplanets (100 of them are Earth-sized!). I can only imagine what the future will bring when we finally get out there to see what we can. If only I had a time machine to jump forward a hundred years or so...

Some people say that science takes the wonder out of life, but I very much disagree. A lot of the time the answers, not the quick ones but the ones that respond to "Why? But why is that? And why is that?", often inspire in me a sense of amazement about the universe. I feel more connected to it, and more in awe the more I know about it. I guess you could say, for me science—and by that I mean the testable knowledge it brings—doesn't take the wonder out of the universe, but instead it makes the universe wonderful.


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