Some time ago, I somehow ended up subscribed to daily updates from Quora.com, the website where users can submit answers to other users’ questions. Apparently, I told Quora that I like dinosaurs, because most of the featured questions in my daily digest are about evolution.
Lately, however, I’ve been receiving more questions—and answers!—about astronomy. I love space exploration, and I dream of one day walking on the surface of the moon. It’s an outlandish dream, and one that I know is unlikely to ever be fulfilled, but I yearn for that opportunity.
So I was thrilled to see the kind of question that the science scolds on Quora hate—qualitative, rather than purely quantitative, in nature. The question, simply, was thus: “What is the creepiest planet in our solar system?”
The answer—to the extent such a troublingly qualitative question can be answered (“how does one measure ‘creepiness?'” the finger-waggling armchair scientists surprisingly didn’t write)—was “Saturn.” I found that rather shocking, as I think Saturn is, next to Earth, the greatest planet in our humble solar system. It’s beautiful, mysterious, and ringed—the coy mistress of the planets. I even wrote a power ballad called “The Rings of Saturn” (unfortunately, I have not recorded it, and could not find a fan recording of the tune on YouTube).
After reading Luke Harrison‘s post, however, I am convinced that he is correct: Saturn is pretty scary. It’s an inhospitable gas giant that is deceptively serene from our vantage point here on Earth. The planet is, from Harrison’s account, an endless array of megastorms.
Harrison also embeds a YouTube video of audio recordings of each of the planets in our solar system (including Saturn’s rings). The recordings are derived from electromagnetic waves the planets emit (as sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum, NASA can’t just put a couple of condenser mics on a probe and crank up the gain), and some are eerily beautiful.
Not Saturn’s. Saturn sounds like the soundtrack to a 70s horror movie:
Still, I sure wouldn’t mind visiting those frosty, dusty rings of Saturn. Imagine summering on Titan and seeing the rings rise (science nerds, please correct my whimsy with calculated abandon).
Of course, we’re unlikely ever to get that far—we can’t even get people to Mars, it seems—in my lifetime. As another Quora answer, to the question “Why can’t we go to another galaxy?,” illustrates, astronomical distances are huge. Summering on Titan would likely require taking off work for the next couple of decades.
Who has the time? Besides, I only get three personal days each year.