Adventures in Ethics and Science

Dr. Free-Ride: (to younger offspring) Could you teach me all the words to your song about the planets.

Younger offspring: It’s secret.

Dr. Free-Ride: Please?

Younger offspring: Oh, alright!

Nine planets, fine planets,
In our solar system.
Nine planets, fine planets,
See if we can list ‘em.

Mercury is planet number one,
It’s right there close to the Sun.

Then there’s Venus, the planet of love,
Brightest planet in the heavens above.

Earth is planet number three,
It makes a home for you and me.

Mars, the red planet, is number four.
Old man Mars is the god of war.

Then there’s Jupiter, number five.
Biggest planet in the skies.

Saturn really makes me sing,
It’s the one with the beautiful ring.

Uranus and Neptune, nothing between,
Far from the Sun it’s hard to be seen.

Pluto is the next place to go.
It’s the last planet we now* know.

Nine planets, fine planets,
In our solar system.
Nine planets, fine planets,
See if we can list ‘em.

Dr. Free-Ride: Thank you!

Elder offspring: I wish I could visit Pluto.

Dr. Free-Ride: I bet it would be pretty cold there.

Younger offspring: Yeah, it’s really far from the Sun.

Elder offspring: Venus is the hottest planet.

Dr. Free-Ride: Really?

Younger offspring: No, Mercury should be the hottest — it’s closest to the Sun.

Elder offspring: No, Venus is really the hottest. Wait a minute — I’ll get the book.

Younger offspring: I think Mercury is really the hottest.

Dr. Free-Ride: That makes sense to me, but let’s see what she’s got.

Elder offspring: Here, I found it. The book [Carole Stott, I Wonder Why Stars Twinkle, and Other Questions About Space] says:

Venus isn’t the closest planet to the sun, but it is the hottest. The temperature can reach 900 F (500 C) — that’s about eight times hotter than it gets in the Sahara Desert, the hottest place on Earth.

Although Mercury is closer to the Sun, Venus is hotter! This is because Venus is covered by clouds of gas which act like a blanket, keeping in the Sun’s heat.

Younger offspring: OK, Venus really is the hottest.

Dr. Free-Ride: You two handled that disagreement really well.

Younger offspring: I thought Mercury was hottest, but I was wrong.

Older offspring: That’s OK. I wouldn’t have known it was Venus if I hadn’t read it in the book.

_____
*There is some chance that this line is officially, “It’s the last planet we know.” The “now” may have been added by the younger offspring as a concession to the older offspring’s claim that Xena is a newly-discovered planet.

Comments

  1. #1 Corkscrew
    March 17, 2006

    I feel kinda sorry for whoever it was named the planet/moon system Xena and Gabrielle. You just know that it’s going to stick and that they’re going to be wincing every time they hear those words for the rest of their life :-/

  2. #2 Dave S.
    March 17, 2006

    Very nice bit of hypothesis formulation and testing, followed by the correct conclusion that the hypothesis was falsified. Sounds like you have some good budding scientists there.

    I am a bit dubious of the statement “The temperature can reach 900 F (500 C) — that’s about eight times hotter than it gets in the Sahara Desert, the hottest place on Earth.” The temperature is about 8 times higher on the celius scale (which doesn’t really mean its 8 times hotter), but only 6 times higher in fahrenheit. I think that bit could be written better.

    [Clearly, the proportions only count if we put it in Kelvin!]

  3. #3 Joe Shelby
    March 17, 2006

    I’m still calling the planet beyond Pluto “Rupert”, in memory of Douglas Adams. ;-)

  4. #4 Dave S.
    March 17, 2006

    Edited comment:

    [Clearly, the proportions only count if we put it in Kelvin!]

    In that case the number falls to about 2.3 times.

    I see what Dr. Stott is trying to do here … to illustrate that Venus is way hotter than even the very hottest temperature we’d get on Earth. But I worry that such statements could lead to confusion later on.

    Maybe I’m just being too anal.

  5. #5 Magenta
    March 17, 2006

    Reminds me of this one, my kid’s favorite at one point:

    Oh, the Sun’s a hot star
    Mercury’s hot too
    Venus is the brightest planet [& hottest!]
    Earth’s home to me & you
    Mars is the red one
    Jupiter’s most wide
    Saturn’s got those icy rings
    Uranus spins on its side
    Neptune’s really windy
    and Pluto’s really small
    Well, we wanted to name the planets
    And now we’ve named them all.

    I also vaguely remember another one that started

    The Sun is a mass
    of incandescent gas,
    A gigantic nuclear fur-nace
    Where hydrogen is fused into he-li-um
    At a temperature of millions of degrees…

    Everybody!

  6. #6 James
    March 17, 2006

    The “vaguely remembered” song is by They Might Be Giants.

  7. #7 Thomas Winwood
    March 17, 2006

    “The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas” is by They Might Be Giants, Magenta.

    Incidentally, if we’re going to be anal, should Pluto be included in a song listing the planets of the solar system? =P

  8. #8 Janet D. Stemwedel
    March 17, 2006

    I stand by my earlier assertions about Pluto:

    • It was a planet when I was a kid.
    • It hasn’t gotten significantly smaller since then.
    • Thus, it’s still a planet.
  9. #9 Abel PharmBoy
    March 18, 2006

    Janet, I LOVE Friday Sprog Blog. I learn something every week, mostly about how to be a good parent and how cool you and your kids are. Some friends got us the The Might Be Giants CD and I recommend it highly.

    Only question is how technical should we parents be about Saturn being the only planet with rings?

  10. #10 Dr. X
    March 18, 2006

    Only question is how technical should we parents be about Saturn being the only planet with rings?

    Technically, the song claims only that Saturn is the only planet with beautiful rings. I think pointing out to kids that other planets also have rings, but we can’t see them from earth and only discovered them after our spaceships visited can only be a good thing.

  11. #11 grhabyt
    March 20, 2006

    “The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas” predates They Might Be Giants by 40 years — see (and hear) http://www.niehs.nih.gov/kids/lyrics/whysunshine.htm on the National Institutes of Health website with charming midi soundtrack. Though I agree that the TMBG’s version (along with their fabulous album “No”) is more highly rated by 4 to 7 year old demographic in my house.