The solar system is home to some of the most spectacular mysteries of our universe, and since it is sprawling over an unmeasurable amount of distance, there are countless wonders that we have yet to explore.
The solar system is extremely large, much larger than anything our imagination could possibly fathom. And from the grand canyons of mars to the ice geysers of Enceladus and Miranda’s giant cliff face, it is home to countless stunning marvels that are simply larger than life itself.
The incredible vastness of the solar system is home to countless celestial miracles and space wonders, for instance, the geological life and giant oceans of Earth, the stunning clouds that dominate Jupiter, the spectacular rings of Saturn, and the plasma surface that lights up the sun are just a few of the wonders that the solar system contains.
NASA and its team of dedicated astronomers and planetary scientists are always conducting new explorations and discoveries across the solar system by sending out space mission to far-off planets and undiscovered corners of the solar system. Even though there is a great deal left to explore, the discoveries that we have made are nothing short of breathtaking astonishment.
In this article, we will introduce you to 10 famous and some lesser-known wonders of the solar system that will leave you exalted with their beauty and mystery.
Here, take a look:
1. The Canyon of Valles Marineris on Mars
The glorious and gigantic canyon of the Valles Marineris on the surface of Mars happen to be four times grander and deeper than the Grand Canyon of Arizona. It happens to the greatest and vastest canyon across the solar system, and it has been observed to be larger than 2,500 miles, which is around 4,000 km. The depth is even more astounding at 23,000 feet, which is basically 7,000 meters deep within the surface of Mars.
Reports released by NASA reveal that Valles Marineris is most probably a tectonic crevice on the crust of the red planet, and it occurred when Mars began to cool down. Other researchers have put forward different theories. For instance, Valles Marineris is likely to be a channel that was formed by the flow of lava erupted from a closely situated shield volcano.
Despite its origins, the diversity of Mar’s geographic landscape and Valles Marineris’ potential part in drawing water when the red planet was undergoing its wet years pose it as a suitable location to conduct human space mission to Mars. Come to think of it, climbing atop these canyons and enjoying a splendid view of the solar system is a vision that will keep us up for nights.
2. Vesta, the Highest Mountain of the Solar System
The asteroid Vesta, with a diameter of around 330 miles or 530 km, hosts the highest mountain in the solar system. This 14-mile tall peak sprawling over 23 km is yet to be named, and it is surrounded by a dense impact crater that is named as Rheasilvia. This mountain is tall enough to encompass two Mount Everest-like peaks within its enormous expanse.
This gigantic mountain is said to have emerged 1 billion years earlier, after colliding with a celestial object that has been observed to be at least 48 km or 30 miles away. The collision created a massively powerful force that carved out a gigantic quantity of material and waste, and nearly 1% of the surface of Vesta was erupted into the space and it was distributed through the solar system.
Scientists reveal that nearly 5% of all the space rocks present on Earth have been ejected from Vesta, and scientists have managed to obtain samples from some space objects aside from Earth, including the Earth’s moon and Mars.
3. Utopia Planitia: The Largest Impact Basin in the Solar System
Mars hosts the Utopia Planitia, which is observed to the largest impact basin across the solar system. Utopia Planitia has a massive crater that sprawls over more than 2,000 miles, which is roughly around 3,300 kilometers across the northern plains of the red planet. Since this impact basin is thought to have been formed in the earliest history of Mars, it is highly possible that Utopia Planitia could have been an ancient ocean once upon a time.
In 2016, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter sent into space by NASA featured an instrument that provide evidence to substantiate these claims upon discovery massive deposits of subsurface water ice underneath the impact basin. Planetary scientists believe that this basin holds the same amount of water volume as Lake Superior, and its deposits are embedded 3-33 feet, which is roughly around 10 meters underneath the surface.
The existence of such a dynamic water resource will prove to be incredibly advantageous in supporting and sustaining human visits and missions to Mars. Scientists believe that these deposits on Mars will prove to be a more reliable water supply as compared to the majority of water ice found on the red planet since it has a comparatively low latitude, and is buried in a surface that is flat and smooth. Therefore, it is much easier and accessible to land a spacecraft in its surrounding surface as compared to the surface that features dense ice.
4. Enceladus’s Thick Ice Geysers
Enceladus happens to the second greatest moon orbiting Saturn, and astronomers reveal that there is strong evidence that it has a geologically active surface brimming with thick ice geysers. Enceladus also hosts a gigantic subsurface ocean filled with liquid water, and the estimated depth is around 6 miles, which makes up 10 km.
The splendid and super-thick ice geysers are by far the most fascinating and unique feature of Enceladus, and astronomers have managed to identify more than 100 of these ice geysers. It has been observed that these geysers emerge from the crevices within the surface of Enceladus, and emit sizeable plumes into the solar system.
Back in 2015, the Cassini spacecraft was sent to travel across one of these plumes, and the astronomers observed the presence of saltwater that was brimming with organic molecules. More specifically, the Cassini mission identified the existence of molecular hydrogen, which is basically a chemical trait that signals the presence of hydrothermal activity.
From the perspective of a microbiologist and the energy of microbes, hydrogen is an incredibly essential chemical to promote energy generation. Hydrogen happens to be one of the vital chemical compounds that indicates the probability of sufficient energy to sustain microbial life. Astronomers and planetary scientists are currently researching whether the spectacular ice geysers of Enceladus are fit to host human life beyond Earth.
5. The Peaks of Eternal Light
Even though the name is inaccurately termed, the Peaks of Eternal Light spotted on the moon orbiting the Earth are an absolutely stunning discovery. Back in the 19th century, a pair of astronauts were the first to discover this gloriously impressive spot, and this term was coined to refer to the certain points on this celestial object that were nearly soaked with sunlight.
NASA collected a detailed lunar topography report through its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that did not identify any such points located on the moon’s surface that were bathing in the light of the sun. However, it did manage to identify four peaks that shine under the sun’s light around 90% of the time.
Planetary scientists strongly believe that if the moon was to become a human colony in the future, the Peaks of Eternal Light are most likely to emerge as the very first human base camps to their beneficial abundance of sun light and solar energy.
Since this spectacular light is only bestowed upon celestial objects within our solar system following a pattern of subtle axial shifts and areas with high altitude, scientists have reason to believe that Mercury is the only planet that experiences this light alongside the Earth’s moon.
6. The Great Red Spot on Jupiter
The Great Red Spot discovered on the surface of Jupiter is said to be thousands of years old, and it is basically an anti-cyclonic storm that is rotating counter-clockwise and happens to be around 1.3 times wider than the Earth. Astronomers are not entirely sure about who this Great Red Spot came into existence, however, one this is evident: it is fading away due to shrinkage.
The observations noted by astronauts and researchers back in the 19th century state that the Great Red Spot sprawls over nearly 35,000 miles, which is around 56,000 kilometers, and four times greater than the diameter of Earth. In 1979, when the Voyager 2 observed Jupiter, the Great Red Spot had shrunk to around twice the size of Earth.
Astronomers believe that over the next three decades, this wondrous storm of Jupiter is all set to vanish altogether. Experts claim that in 10 or 20 years, the spot will be reduced to a Great Red Circle, and soon after, it will only be a memory in the archives of NASA and planetary sciences.
7. Earth’s Magnificent Total Solar Eclipses
The gloriously perfect total solar eclipses that we witness from Earth stand unparalleled across the Solar system and universe at large. After the last total solar eclipse was seen in North America back in August last year, the experts deduced that this breathtaking occurrence is triggered when the moon comes in between the sun and the Earth. It triggers totality when the lunar disk shrouds and takes over the entire surface of the sun, while the fire-filled atmosphere remains exposed.
It takes fortune and mathematic precision to make sure that these two strikingly different and opposing celestial beings manage to line-up so magnificently without causing any damage across the solar system. It is interesting to note that even though moon has a diameter that is nearly 400 times tinnier than that of the sun, it also happens to 400 times nearer to the sun. This is where the art of illusions comes into play, making the moon and sun seem like they have the exact same sizes.
It is also important to note that the moon doesn’t make a static orbit around the sun. Researchers have noted that a billion years ago, the moon was 10% closer and was capable of blocking out the entire surface of the sun. Deductions on the future reveal that given moon’s moving rate of 1.6 inches or 4 cm per year, after 600 million years have passed, it is likely to drift so far away from the sun that it be not able to shroud up the shell of the sun at all.
In simpler words, the generation of today is extremely lucky to have witnessed this marvelous wonder of the galaxy, and although temporary, it can be experienced again in April 2024 across North America.
8. Callisto’s Ice Spires
The ice spires of Callisto have been an object of extreme fascination ever since they were first discovered by NASA back in 2001. Callisto happens to be the second-biggest moon that orbits Jupiter, and it consists of some of the most ancient and densely cratered surfaces across the Solar system. For the longest periods of time, astronomers believed the Jupiter had no existing traces of active geological life.
However, they were in for a massive shock when Galileo’s spacecraft flew above Callisto’s surface at a small distance of 85 miles, which is around 137 km. They managed to picture some mysteriously bizarre objects, which were later discovered as 300 feet high ice-caked spires that rose up to 100 meters above Callisto’s surface.
Astronomers claim that these ice spires came into being through the waste material left behind by spatial collisions and meteor impacts, and their differently bizarre and spiked, pointy edges were formed by erosion that occurred due to the sublimation.
Much like the case of the total solar eclipses that we witness on Earth or the glorious Great Red Spot on the surface of Jupiter, these ice spires on Callisto are about to vanish away into the history of the solar system. Astronomers observed this development during the Galileo space mission conducted back in 2001 because the ice spires are constantly eroding and will completely vanish in a matter of time.
In 2033, the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) initiative spacecraft is all set to visit and capture pictures of all three Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter, which are Callisto, Europa and Ganymede. The explorers also intend to research these mysterious ice spires in more detail.
9. The Rings of Saturn
Scientific research has revealed that the glorious rings of Saturn are estimated to be at least four billion years old, and they sprawl over the astounding width of 386,000 km, which makes up 240,000 miles. These rings feature an enormous size, and they are still strikingly thin. The thickness of Saturn’s rings is estimated to be around 30-300 feet, which is no more than 9 to 90 meters.
The rings are one of the oldest relics of the Solar System, dating back to 4.5 billion years, when Saturn first emerged as a planet. Many scientists and researchers have claimed that these rings are basically leftover materials that gathered after Saturn was born, while others argue that they are very likely to be the wasted remains of an old moon that could have been blown up due the dynamically powerful tidal forces of Saturn.
The rings of Saturn are breathtaking and they are dripping with mysterious fascination. Before the Cassini spacecraft blew up back in September 2017, it managed to provide NASA with an astounding amount of data that revealed the nearest D-ring of Saturn. This ring appeared to excreting an abundance of material towards the upper atmospheric layer with every passing second. Although the exact origins and nature of this material is unknown, it is composed of organic molecules as opposed to the familiar blend of rock, dust and ice.
The astronauts aboard the Cassini space mission and the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer group of researchers were extremely astonished to detect methane in the mass spectrometer. The spectrometer also detected traces of carbon dioxide, another unpredictable surprise. Earlier, the researchers believed that Saturn’s rings were largely made up of water, however, the closest rings reveal dense proof of contamination, which is a result of the organic molecules frozen in giant chunks of ice.
10. Moon Miranda’s Verona Rupes
The dizzying and astounding cliff face of the Verona Rupes situated on Miranda, a moon that is one of the tiniest satellites orbiting around Uranus, has been estimated to have a height of around 12 miles. It has been termed as the largest discovered cliff within the solar system, and given the name of Verona Rupes.
The face of cliff was first pictured back in 1986, while the Voyager 2 was flying across Uranus. Experts have sufficient evidence to believe that Verona Rupes has a 12 miles vertical drop, which is around 19 km or a staggering 63,360 feet. When compared with Canada’s Mount Thor, the highest cliff face across our globe, it has a comparatively meagre vertical drop spanning over 1250 meters, which is around 4,100 feet.
This discovery was made when the io9 began deducting the quantitative data and revealed that because of the low presence of gravity on Miranda’s surface, if an astronaut was to take a dive down the top of Verona Rupes, he/she would definitely end up flying in air for at least 10-12 minutes. However, survival might not be impossible at all. Experts from the io9 believe that the low levels of gravity make the drop easy even without the need for a parachute, and even a low-key airbag would be sufficient to ensure survival with its cushioning support as you fall.