About to plunge into some spectacular summer fun in the sun, but lamenting that it’s all too brief? As children it felt as though those big, balmy beach days and insane races to the ice cream truck went on forever and ever. As hard-working, overscheduled adults, it seems like we’ve barely put away our woolens when it’s time to pull them out again.
But did you know summer on Mars can last 199 days?! So if you can put up with its titanic dust storms as a result of intense solar atmospheric heating, Mars may just be your go-to summer hot spot (don’t forget the flip-flops — and the Swiffer!).
Science tells us that several factors influence planetary weather, including the tilt of a planet’s axis which is responsible for the seasons. Additionally, the shape of its solar orbit, the presence or absence of a measurable atmosphere, its distance from the sun, and the length of its day are key factors. Because the Earth’s axis tilts 23 degrees, causing the sun’s latitude to vary from 23 degrees north of the equator at the onset of northern summer to 23 degrees south of it at the beginning of northern winter, this provides for the weather changes we see during the year. Astronomers say planets with smaller tilts may have smaller variations (Mercury, for example), and those with greater tilts may have more extreme ones. In effect when the North Pole of any planet is tilted toward the sun, it is called the summer solstice; when the South Pole is tilted the same way, in turn it is the winter solstice.
What about hurricane season, though? For us, while a category storm can definitely wreak havoc, a hurricane’s fierce rain and winds are usually over and done with a few hours later. However that red spot we see in renderings of Jupiter is actually thought to be a 400-year-old continuously raging hurricane. Probably not the ideal celestial escapade — unless you’re planning to audition for “Storm Chasers.”
With airlines like Virgin galactic revving up for the first passenger trips to the moon, if you’ve a creative eye to interplanetary travel, read on for some tips on when to go and what to take to make the most of your great galactic gambol!
If you’re someone who doesn’t care much about the change of seasons, the planet Mercury might be your ideal destination. Though temperatures may reach 800 degrees F during the day, Mercury actually has no seasons whatsoever due to its smaller tilt toward the sun. The thing is, nights can plunge to minus 280 F, so bring along the polar fleece and the sunscreen!
On Venus, also with a small (3 degrees) axial tilt, seasons run just 55 to 58 days, as opposed to Earth’s 90 to 93. So if your itinerary includes experiencing as many seasons as possible in a given location, a stint on Venus can make that happen for you — without missing a whole Earth year of work! The planet also rotates backwards, meaning the sun rises in the West and sets in the East. Might be a Milky Way mind game!
On Saturn, each season lasts seven Earth years, so if you yearn for summer all year long, Saturn might just be your go-to galactic destination. (Hold on, though, because that means winter is also seven years long…OK if you’re in training for the 2018 PyeongChang, South Korea winter Olympics but maybe not for the rest of us!)
Uranus’ axis tilts 98 degrees, which means each season lasts 21 years. As the planet’s northern hemisphere emerges from its icy slumber, the sun begins to warm its hydrogen and helium atmosphere causing behemoth springtime storms equal in circumference to the continent of North America. If you like walking in the rain, Uranus is your destination du jour (or double decade-plus, that is).
Here’s to pleasurable planet-hopping! Bon galactic voyage!