In the magazine Physics World (on-line version here), produced by the UK Institute of Physics, I recently read a neat little article about physicists visiting primary schools. The essence was that young children can ask some pretty insightful questions, but also that they can see science in a different way to adults. For example, the writer (Pete Edwards) frequently gets asked ‘What’s your favourite planet?’
That got me thinking. What’s my favourite planet? I had to admit that I don’t actually have one. I tried thinking back to when I was five, but that didn’t help me. (Of course, there were more planets to choose from back in those days…)
I guess if I had to pick one, I’d pick Mars. There’s something rather neat about seeing Mars in the night sky. Given its orbital period is about two earth years, that means it only appears every second year, and it is only at its brightest for a couple of months. That makes seeing it a bit more special. And it has a clear orangey tint to it rather than the boring high-visibility white of Jupiter and Venus. Plus it has two moons, reassuring close to, but different from, the Earth. We have photos of its surface, and it’s just possible that someone might visit it in my life time (me, me, pick me!). And martians live there too.
As for the rest of them, Mercury is just too close to the sun, Saturn’s pretty but it’s rings don’t quite do it for me, and the rest are just too far away to be of much use. Mars it is.