Saturday, February 6, 2010


The 8 planets (9 if you're counting Pluto) are too distant to get emotionally involved with, and most of them are poorly named.

SATURN is the 6th planet from the sun and has been known since prehistoric times, which strikes me as odd. I wasn't aware that cavemen were big on celestial diaries. In case you missed school on the day this was discussed, the wind on Saturn blows at high speeds, reaching 1100 miles an hour near the equator. In the unlikely event that the wind is accompanied by rain, it would be wise to leave your umbrella at home.

MARS is the 4th planet from the sun. As you no doubt are aware, its reddish appearance is due to the prevalence of iron oxide. What makes no sense to me is that the planet is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. Why link war with Mars? What battles have they fought? The only war I'm aware of dates back to 1938 when Martians invaded New Jersey in a classic radio episode narrated and directed by Orson Welles. Given our tenacious combative history, it would have made far greater sense for EARTH to be called MARS.

EARTH, as you no doubt recall from the old TV show, is the third rock from the sun. So far it's the only planet in the universe where life is known to exist. An interesting fact is that over 70% of the earth's surface is covered with oceans. So why do we call it EARTH? Why not call it WATER or OCEANUS? Or we could get fancier, a little more upscale, and call it AQUEOUS.

PLUTO used to be, without question, the 9th planet. But in 2006, it was reclassified as a “dwarf planet” by astronauts who didn't consider it a planet at all. They were put off by its diminutive dimensions and loopy orbiting patterns. Personally, I wish they would stop picking on PLUTO. And why name a planet after Mickey Mouse's pet dog? But at least it's better than GOOFY.

NEPTUNE was named after the Roman god of the sea. It's believed to have a rocky core and be surrounded by a huge ocean of water, hence the NEPTUNE reference. It's also assumed that methane gas gives the planet its “blue planet” nickname. But I believe the blue comes from the severe cold. The temperature of one of its moons, Triton, is minus 391 degrees Fahrenheit. But my favorite thing about NEPTUNE is that scientists think the carbon in its atmosphere causes it to rain giant diamonds. But don't start packing as there's no surface to stand on to show off your priceless new bling.

JUPITER is the largest planet in the solar system. All the other planets could fit comfortably inside it. In fact, it would take 318 EARTHS to fill it up. There's a big red spot on JUPITER cleverly named “The Great Red Spot.” It's a 300-year-old storm that's as wide as 3 EARTHS. So instead of playing it safely and naming it after some Roman god, they should have called it GIGANTIS or HUMONGUS or BIG MOTHER.

MERCURY was named by the Romans after the fleet messenger of the gods. It seems the Romans spent a lot of time thinking up names for planets. If they spent less time on this and more time on fighting off the hordes of invading barbarians, maybe The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire could have been avoided.

Here's something for people struggling with their weight to consider. If you weighed 200 pounds on EARTH, you would only weigh 76 pounds on MERCURY. The only catch is –and there's always a catch—it's impossible to breathe there. So your impressive weight loss would be brief.

VENUS is obviously named after the Roman Goddess of Love. And it's the only planet named after a female. While this may or may not be a coincidence, VENUS is also the hottest place in the solar system. Because of its brightness, it's also known as “The Morning Star” and “The Evening Star.” Obviously there are definite romantic aspects to this planet. So on behalf of this sizzling hot planet, let me wish you all a very Happy Valentine's Day.

And don't get me started on URANUS.



Howard Portnoy said...

One of your best ever, Milt. Some VERY funny lines, though my vote for funniest goes to "Why don't they call earth OCEAN."


Bernie Most said...

I agree with Howard Portnoy
Mr. Thistle.
I thought your latest was out of this world!