A Day On Another Planet
Name: bess amaral
Date: 1993 - 1999
What would a "day" look like on Mercury? on Uranus? with respect to
the apparent path of the sun to an observer on the surface of these planets...I
had read an article that the sun would appear to make a retrograde movement on
Mercury...is that true? Why?/Why not?
...and which orientation does Uranus take as it rotates on its side around the
sun (does it keep one pole always facing away?) this is my first note.
An interesting question. I'll try to sketch out an answer, though I'm
not entirely sure. First imagine that the earth rotated on it's axis at the
same rate it does, but in the opposite direction. Then a "day" would be the
same length, but the sun would "rise" in the west and "set" in the east rather t han rising in the east
and setting in the west as we observe. This is how such things could be
No suppose that we could slow down the rotation so that the earth rotated on its
axis in one year instead of one day.
Then the rotation would cancel the motion of the earth around the sun, and the
sun would never rise or set on a given spot.
One side would always be "day" and the other side always " "night". This is the
situation with the moon, which always keeps the same face towards the earth.
That's why the moon always looks the same to us.
Now let's consider Uranus. It rotates on it's side, but this doesn't really
affect the way a day looks as long as Uranus rotates in much less time than it
takes for it to go around t sun. What will get really wacky are the seasons. A
minor point here is that the "surface" of Uranus we see is really the cloud tops , which do indeed
rotate in much less than a "year" on Uranus. But there's nothing to stand on to
watch the sunset there, and none really knows where the "surface" is if there is
Let me back up a bit. A day is the time the planet takes to spin on it's axis,
like a top spinning. A year is the time for a planet to go around the sun.
(You probably already knew this, but just in case.)
Now let's try Mercury. This planet is in a resonance where it rotates in 2/3
the time it takes to go around the sun (or maybe it's 3/2, but off the top of my
head, I think it's 2/3). Since it "spins" more slowly than it goes around the
sun, the sun will indeed "rise" in the west instead of the east. (Think about t he case where the
sun "stands" still. If rotation is faster, then the sun must move "forward"
i.e. the way it does on earth. If rotation is slower, the sun must move
backwards.) Since this is already a long answer, please send another question if you are interested in the
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Update: June 2012