Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne A Day On Another Planet
Name: bess amaral
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1993 - 1999


Question:
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.


Replies:
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 reversed.

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 one.

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 seasons.

Dan Koury



Click here to return to the Astronomy Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory
n b