Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Backward Planets

Astronomers are revisiting their theories about how planets form after finding evidence of planets that orbit their stars opposite the star's rotation. You've seen the animation of the interstellar dust cloud turning majestically in space. Over time, the dust clouds coalesce and planets form, all following the same path around the central star. It's a lovely idea that has now been called into question given the new data. Personally, I love the image of a planet going the wrong way round its star if only because I suspect most of us feel like that defines us and our lives. Now. How can I work a retrograde planetary orbit into some character's daring escape from overwhelming odds?


  1. Consider all the possibilities. I'm thinking that a non-standard orbit could mean a rogue planet, thrown off course by a nova, or other disaster, and moving into a new solar system.

    Or the planet could be on a degrading orbit.

    Both offer very fun plots. Maybe a solar flare knocks a planet back, reversing their orbit backward, singeing the planet, and putting them into peril of falling into the sun. Rescue operations and panic, anyone?

    Or you could have a rouge planet with a new species knocked into your solar system. What do you do when a new planet blocks your view, and the power of your solar energy plants? Could be fun.

  2. Oh, this is TOO weird - I was JUST NOW reading about this very thing on the Bad Astronomy blog...

  3. Very interesting. This is news to me. I like Liana's hypotheses on the matter.

  4. James A. Schmidt wrote Witches of Karres and Mercedes Lackey wrote Warlock of Karres. In the Warlock book, Karres orbits backwards.

    It seems I read somewhere that Venus rotates (not orbits) backwards of all the other planets?

  5. I'm not sure how it would make much of a difference to the the story on the ground. A person living on such a planet would not notice this particularity of her home. The situation though might make for some nice metaphores relating the themes of being different.
    To incorporate it would take a character with access to this knowledge. Hmm.
    I've also heard that Venus spins backwards. But a better way to see it is that Venus is upside down with the north pole pointing the direction of the sun's south pole. From the ground the sun always is seen to travel east to west regardless of the direction of spin/oriantation of poles. East is defined as the direction from which the sun rises, and north as the direction to the left when a person faces east. By definition, The northern hemisphere of a planet spins counterclockwise. The southern hemisphere spins clockwise.

    I haven't read the article yet but it seems likely that a planet such as venus could intially spin the same as the other planets and then over time turn upside down.
    could maybe the entire orbit of a planet turn upside down? It would start by going out of the plane of the other planets, tilting until it goes beyond 90 degrees. It reverses, not east to west, but north to south which is way easier to do.
    I think and rotational axle tilt which is almost perpendicular(in the middle of such a turn over) to the sun is more interesting. The effect is much more noticable from the ground. It would produce year long night along with an ice band at the equator.


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