August 5, 2021

Solar System: Uranus, Neptune and … Duende | Science

Solar System: Uranus, Neptune and ... Duende | Science

Let's review the Solar System, our tiny cosmic neighborhood: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and … Goblin! Ah, maybe you expected to hear Pluto at the end of the track record, but if so, you're very old-fashioned. Pluto was added to the list when it was discovered, in 1930, but it fell in 2006, 12 years ago. They had discovered it badly. There were then laments and protests from primary teachers and amateur astronomers. Who has stolen Pluto ?, they said. But scientists have a much greater gift on the agenda than that "dwarf planet" that we lost then. It is a hypothetical "supertierra", a giant the size of Neptune, which is farther than any other thing we have known in the orbit of the Sun, as you can read in Matter. And yes, this possible new member of our neighborhood is called Elf, at least informally. So I do not know if I advise you to go learning the list of the beginning of this text.

How is it possible that we have discovered 3,851 exoplanets (planets that revolve around other stars) and we have escaped so far a huge one that lives in front of our noses? Well, the truth is that this fact is nothing extraordinary. On another scale, geologists often complain that we know the surface of Mars better than the bottom of our oceans. None of these are our hobbies, but the consequence of the very different technical feasibility of each exploration, which is not always greater the smaller our distance from the object.

The surface of Mars puts us within range of a telescope, and even of the naked eye, while investigating the bottom of the terrestrial oceans requires bathyscapheus, robots, satellites, budgets and other penalties of the life of the oceanographer. Science has always been opportunistic, and has dealt with the things we could know in each epoch, given the state of theory and technology. However close we may have it, the living cell only became known after the invention of the microscope, which was later than that of the telescope. There is nothing unusual in that we make suffer what we have closer.

However close we may have it, the living cell only became known after the invention of the microscope, which was later than that of the telescope

Consider the discovery of Neptune, the outermost inhabitant of the Solar System according to the current list. Despite being a giant planet, it is the only one of them that we can not see with the naked eye. Its brightness in the night sky is five times weaker than that of the weakest stars observable with the naked eye. Some of Galileo's drawings, the first person to look at the sky with a telescope, indicate that he was able to see it on December 28, 1612, April Fool's Day, but even when it was like that he could not identify it as a planet. A century and a half later, however, the Prussian astronomer Johann Titius discovered a mathematical formula that seemed to perfectly express the distance of each planet from the Sun. And that formula predicted that there must be an unobserved planet beyond Uranus. It is what we call Neptune today, and this neighboring giant would not have been discovered had it not been for that formula … which in the end turned out to be false! The ways of discovery are long and tortuous.

The distant planet Duende has not yet been observed, and may never be. But everything goes according to plan and, believe me, I would put my money in that will end up being observed. If by then we are both dead, I will not accept claims.


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