I must say that we live in a solar system rich with variety and intrigue.
Stop for a moment and think about how boring it would be if Earth was the only planet in the solar system. There wouldn’t be anything to look at but the sun and a few moons (hopefully).
But we have eight — eight! — planets to treasure here in our own little area of space.
That got me to thinking. What “gifts” do these other planets give us observers on Earth? While it’s true that no other worlds in our neck of the stellar woods are suitable for human habitation, they still hold value to us — from the smallest, to the largest, to the closest, to the farthest away.
Mercury: The Gift of Visibility: It is a real treat to catch the tiny world with a telescope, binoculars or even the naked eye. Why? It’s just an unremarkable sphere of rock. Well, as its name suggests, it zips around near the sun, and is only visible at, say, sunrise or sunset, until it is lost below the horizon after dark or in the midst of the morning sunlight. It seems to be a forgotten world, but I feel like if you take the time to find it, you are doing something right.
Venus: The Gift of Companionship: Structurally, Venus might be totally different from Earth, what with a surface temperature twice as hot as an oven. And yet it shines as this bright beacon in the night. Whenever I am out in the early evening and I see Venus shining brilliantly, it gives me some sort of comfort, a feeling that something is watching over us.
Mars: The Gift of Intrigue: This one is probably the easiest to figure out. I feel like one of the greatest moments in human history will be when we put footprints on another planet besides our own. It will truly be a new era because of the potential discoveries that await.
Jupiter: The Gift of Color: Jupiter might look white from Earth, but one look into a telescope and you’ll see reds, creams, possibly hints of blues. Up close, it is almost a world you’d see in your nightmares, and yet it is an awe-inspiring planet.
Saturn: The Gift of Beauty: Not to steal from Venus at all, but there’s a lot more Aphrodite in Saturn than there is in the second planet from the sun. The orange-gold orb, the golden rings, the variety of moons — some which could harbor life. There’s a lot to love about Saturn.
Uranus: The Gift of Green: The seventh planet from the sun has a very unique color. If you’ve never seen it, make sure to make it part of your observing plan one night. You will not see anything with a color like that, at least in our corner of space.
Neptune: The Gift of Imagination: Neptune is a very far away world, and naturally with it being so far away, we don’t know as much about it as we do about, say, Mars. What is it like so far out in the solar system?
Come see Jupiter, Saturn and other things 8 p.m. tonight at Crosslin Park as I partner with Public Library of Enid and Garfield County for a fun night of stargazing. If you have telescopes or binoculars, bring them! The more the better.
Joe Malan is presentation editor and astronomy writer for the Enid News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.