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No. 97: Jan-Feb 1995

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Solar-system puzzles

In the 30-or-so years that space probes have been visiting the solar system's other planets, much has been learned, but there are now more questions than ever. We now pose four of these -- none of them could even have been asked before the space program.

Tilted magnetic axis of Uranus
Not only is the magnetic axis of Uranus tilted grotesquely away from the planet's axis of rotation, but the latter lies almost in Uranus' orbital plane.
Q1. Why are the magnetic fields of Neptune and Uranus tilted at such grotesque angles with the axes of rotation? A1. Probably because of giant impacts.

Q2. "Why does Mercury have an iron core twice as massive, relative to its size, as any other rocky planet?" A2. Probably because a giant impact tore off its rocky mantle.

Q3. "How can Neptune sustain 1400-kilometer-per-hour winds -- faster than Jupiter's -- when it is so far from the sun, whose heat powers atmospheric circulation?" A3. ??

Q4. "How could Mars -- now more than 50C below freezing -- have been warm enough in its early days to have water flowing on its surface?" A4. Possibly due to geothermal heat.

(Kerr, Richard A.; "The Solar System's New Diversity," Science, 265:1360, 1994.)

Reference. A large collection of solar-system anomalies exists in our catalog volume: The Moon and the Planets. To order, visit here.

From Science Frontiers #97, JAN-FEB 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987