Thursday, February 01, 2007

2/1/2007 - Master librarians, by Jove

My boys love books. The eldest has recently fallen in love with the Magic Tree House series (as have I) by Mary Pope Osborne. In this series, a brother and sister discover a tree house that takes them to places, far and wide, real and occasionally, less so. In the course of their adventures, they learn something, but not enough to put off a 5-year old boy.

Clearly, these books are operating on the same systems as amphetamines. They have become the most powerful reward in the house. They are requested during bedtime, bath and beyond. When no other form of discipline will work, I can always offer to read an extra chapter (or God forbid, deprive him of his daily chapter).

But there is another bibliophile in the house. One that goes "booch, booch" as he waddles about. Every night, I read him "I love you just the way you are" by Virginia Miller. As I read each page, he cackles with glee. I'm not sure I get the joke, but that's okay.

Of course, what he really wants to read is the magic treehouse series. Peer pressure is a powerful thing.


To preface this bit, I have to start by mentioning that I am quite afraid of heights. Some would say that this is one of the few irrational fears from which I suffer. I would contend that being afraid of heights is extremely rational. So be it.

I have always had difficulty wrapping my head around the difference between our inner rocky planets and our outer gaseous planets. I mean, what is a gaseous planet? Does it have a core? If you tried to step on it, would you float all the way through and come out the other side? Just thinking about that gives me palpitations.

This week, I learned the answer to these (and other) questions. It turns out that I don't have to guess at what would happen when attempting to "land" on Jupiter. The spacecraft Galileo did the work for me, sending a probe to land on the planet. The probe operated for about an hour, sending pictures and information back to the mothership. After that, the combined heat and pressure associated with falling through the planet's crust wrent it assunder. Whew! And I was worried.

When you focus your telescope on Mars, you get to see the rocky contours on the planet. You may think that you are seeing contours when you then turn to Jupiter, but really, all you are seeing is weather. Powerful storms, including hurricanes bigger than the Earth, last seemingly forever with no land to slow them down. But what lies beneath the surface?

As the probe dropped into Jupiter, it encountered hydrogen. But not that run of the mill hydrogen we find Zeppelins, water and high-quality protein shakes. Liquid metal hydrogen. And I thought I had difficulty understanding a gaseous planet.

18,000 terra firma steps today. Praise the Lord.