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Picnic on Triton, anyone?

Picture this if you will… The ground is a pale pink colour speckled with warm shades of brown. 10ft away from you a gentle fine mist of gas blasts up into the black skies above. The sun’s heat, an unheard high at minus 235 Celsius gently beats down on you and your partner. Ah… A glorious Sunday afternoon near a geyser on balmy Triton, largest moon of Neptune!

To far to go for a picnic? Well, maybe a bit of action closer to home is up your ally! There could not possibly be a bigger adrenalin rush than parachuting into Jupiter’s Red Spot Junior! Red Spot Junior is a new storm the size of Earth, developing in Jupiter’s warming atmosphere, near the mind-boggling Red Spot (you know… the Red Spot… 3 times the size of Earth…. Large storm… been seen for over 300 years???). Imagine the rush as the the 620 km/hr winds begin to buffet your parachute…

We’ve also heard that Pluto’s bracing nitrogen-carbon monoxide-methane atmosphere, still warming as it moves further away from the sun, can certainly make the skin look… vibrant?

Ok. You want to holiday somewhere closer to Earth. Well, you can always go for a stroll over the crunchy dry ice plains of Mars South Pole – but better hurry as they are expected to melt away in the next 1000 years as the planet gradually warms up.

Yes, its odd and bizarre but the reality is, since 1998, scientists have been reporting warming occurring on other moons, dwarf planets and planets in our solar system, with Jupiter being the latest victim of global warming zeal. Crazy right? In the Jupiter article, you can almost see the scientist dancing with glee on his table at his predictions of global warming coming true… And yet, on Earth, scientists are forced to look increasingly grim as they forecast dire consequences of climate change on Earth. Guess for the other solar bodies, its a case of ‘not in my backyard’ making everyone feel safe…. But are we?

In 1998, MIT announced to the world that Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, was warming. Since the Voyager probe had passed in 1989, temperatures on Triton had soared from a mild minus 235 Celsius to a balmy minus 233 degrees Celsius. This was attributed to ‘increased solar absorption in the polar regions.’ To us laymen, that of course means the planet is getting warmer due to more heat from the sun.

Then, in 2002, NASA announced that the Mars south polar ice cap was melting. Initially, this was attributed seasonal changes caused by the tilt of the planet on its 2 year path around the sun (a slightly longer summer and winter if you like). Then it was attributed to Mars coming out an Ice Age. Bit like Earth is as well. By 2007, the ongoing shrinking Mars south polar ice cap was beginning to look grim. Comparing images of the present surface of Mars to those taken in the 1970s by the Viking probe, some planetary scientists concluded that maybe the increase in temperature was due to winds creating more dark patches on the planet thus changing its albedo and causing temperatures to rise. In other words… scientists can’t agree.

At the same time NASA scientists began to sweat like ants under the focused beam of light from a kid playing with a magnifying glass, MIT announced that the temperature on Pluto, our distant dwarf planet, had risen by 2C over the last 14 years, despite the fact it is moving away from the sun. “Puzzled” seems to be the most common word emerging from MIT scientists lips.

And now, horrors of horrors, Jupiter recently emerged from its hiding spot behind the sun and had spawned another ‘Red spot,’ – Red Spot Junior (seriously, that’s what scientists called it). ”

According to Philip S. Marcus, a professor of fluid dynamics at UC Berkeley, analysis of the Hubble and Keck images may support his 2004 conjecture that Jupiter is in the midst of global climate change that will alter temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Celsius, getting warmer near the equator and cooler near the south pole (Source: Science Daily, 22 May 2008)

And then… there are the ongoing barrage of reports that our humble Earth has also warmed by an estimated 0.60.9 degrees celcius in the last 130 years… About the same as Mars, but less than the tropical conditions currently sweeping dramatic climate changes over Jupiter and Triton!

But wait a minute here! Although deeply pleased that warming is making some of our distant solar neighbours potential tropical retreats, how can there be signs of other planets and moons in our solar system warming, at about the same level as the Earth and yet… is there actually civilised life out there also burning fossil fuels on our solar neighbours? Why haven’t we heard from them? Seen their TV signals? How come they haven’t buzzed us to see if we have found a solution for this pesky warming thing?

Or… what if, no…., a stupid idea. What if… dare we say it, the sun is contributing to warming on our planet?! Certainly other scientists have proposed this – and then received the scorn of global warming advocates (which receives a lot more press coverage). Talk about ruining a perfect holiday! If the sun is playing havoc on our solar system, warming up all sorts of places, well, how do we dim the sun’s output? We can’t even successfully geo-engineer anything on our own planet, let alone a rather hot ball of burning helium and hydrogen!

I personally think in the end, no one thing is causing the Earth to warm up at this time, but probably a combination of things including (but not limited to):

  • Lack of large volcanic activity over the last century (decreased dust particles in the atmosphere)
  • Increased solar output (more heat hitting the Earth)
  • Man burning through fossil fuels (increased CO2 emissions)
  • Man clearing natural wood, scrub and forested areas for agriculture (decrease albedo)
  • The Milankovitch cycle (emerging from an ice age)
  • Location of the continents (Antarctica = polar ice = ocean current circulation = temperature variation)

Some of those things… Man has control over. Most of those things… Man can’t control. Isn’t it better to give up the notion we can ‘control the climate’ and get used to a racy, exciting new world where temperature has never been constant. Man excels under those conditions – think of all the inventions we’ve been living off that were developed under the first two World Wars…

Some good stuff could come out of this! If we think of the global warming on Earth coinciding with a sudden depletion of fossil fuel our major energy source, why its almost world war conditions – one ripe for sudden inventions and money being channeled into the ‘right’ kinds of research. Like a vehicle that will allow us to picnic under the geysers of Triton…

Where will you vacation as the solar system becomes a warmer place to holiday in?

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