The solar system is a vast, amazing place. From our Goldilocks-zone planet of Earth we’ve been able to observe and learn quite a lot about our solar neighborhood. Most of that knowledge has come from high tech probes and telescopes, letting us peek at the other celestial bodies that make up our solar system.
Getting there in person has proved a considerable challenge for our tenacious drive to explore. The whole solar system is hundreds of millions of kilometers of space, inhabited by objects that make up an infinitesimal fraction of that volume. And even if you could live long enough to make the voyage, these places aren’t exactly hospitable, with all manners of intolerable cold, heat or toxicity.
But let’s just assume we all had a TARDIS or something. What cool things in the solar system could you visit? What outer space tourist sites would be your favorite destinations in an age of space tourism? Once you’ve considered this important question, why not rank your favorite Star Wars planets also?
Sail Along Saturn’s Rings
One of the most visually distinctive features of any planet in the solar system, the rings extend from approximately 6,630 to 120,700 kilometers outward from Saturn’s equator, but on average they are only 20 meters thick. They provide excellent views of Saturn’s atmosphere and the surrounding moons.
Dive Below the Ice Surface of Europa to the Oceans Beneath
Jupiter’s moon Europa is a very exciting world! Scientists have found plenty of evidence to suggest that Europa has persistent liquid oceans under its frozen surface, prevented from freezing by heat-releasing tectonic activity, similar to Earth. These conditions could be harboring primitive deep sea life, if we could look closer.
Sit on the Rim of Olympus Mons on Mars
Olympus Mons is the largest known volcano in the solar system. It’s part of a mountain range that extends for approximately 300,000 square kilometers. The summit itself is approximately 60 by 80 kilometers across.
Watch from the International Space Station as it Orbits Earth in 93 Minutes
The International Space Station, or ISS, is made up of 16 pressurized modules and various other equipment modules, maintaining an altitude of at least 330 kilometers above Earth’s surface. It orbits the Earth at an average speed of 27,724 kilometers per hour, completing a full Earth orbit every 93 minutes! Beat that, Magellan!
Swim in the Methane Lakes of Titan
Saturn’s moon Titan has actual seas and lakes of liquid methane and ethane. It is so abundant and dynamic that there is actually a methane weather cycle similar to the water cycle on Earth.
Cruise Around the Solar System on Halley’s Comet
This spectacular bad boy is visible from Earth only every 75 to 76 years. In its orbit through the solar system, Halley’s Comet goes from in between Mercury and Venus’s orbits to approximately as far out as Pluto. Sightings of the comet have inspired philosophical, naturalistic and scientific inquiry for millennia. During its 1910 appearance, the relativistic velocity of Halley’s Comet was calculated at 70.56 kilometers per second, or 157,838 miles per hour.
Ski on the Frozen Slopes of Pluto’s Norgray Montes
Despite it being classified a dwarf planet now, Pluto is still a worthy destination for interstellar tourists. Although instead of frozen liquid snow, you’ll be skiing through nitrogen ice on Norgay Montes. You could get some serious height with Pluto’s reduced gravity compared to Earth’s.
Walk Along the Base of Valles Marineris on Mars
Valles Marineris is the largest canyon in the solar system at 4,000 kilometers long and 7 kilometers deep. Compare that to the Grand Canyon which is only 446 kilometers long a 1.6 kilometers deep. It lies near the equator of Mars and comprises about a fifth of the planet’s total equatorial circumference.
Storm Watch in the Eye of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
This colossal anticyclonic storm in Jupiter’s southern hemisphere is 24–40,000 kilometers west to east and 12–14,000 kilometers south to north. Two heavenly bodies with Earth’s diameter could fit comfortably inside it. The Great Red Spot is believed to be at least 300 years old.
Watch the Hexagonal Cloud Pattern on Saturn’s North Pole
Each side of this hexagonal cloud pattern at Saturn’s north pole is 13,800 kilometers across, or longer than Earth’s diameter. Scientists are still speculating what causes this standing wave pattern, but it might have something to do with the rotation of Saturn’s core.
See the Globe-Spanning Volcanic Activity on Io
150 active volcanoes have been directly observed on Jupiter’s moon of Io, although astronomers believe there could be as many as 400. Io is the most geologically active body in the solar system, primarily due to the competing gravitational pulls of Jupiter itself and its other moons; they pull poor Io in opposite directions. The resulting friction and tidal heating deforms the planet and releases in the form of volcanic activity. Pretty cool!
Witness the Lava Flows from Maat Mons on Venus
The highest volcano on the planet Venus and second highest mountain range, the lava flows from this volcano extend for hundreds of kilometers around.
Watch a Western Sunrise from Venus
Unlike all the other planets in the solar system, Venus’s rotation is retrograde to the direction of it’s orbit. In other words the planet goes counterclockwise around the sun, but spins clockwise on its own axis. This means you could watch the sun rise from the west instead of the east, if you could see through the clouds from the surface.
Chill Out in Hermite Crater on the Moon
Our own moon experiences quite a wide range of temperatures. In 2009 NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded the temperature in the basin of the Hermite Crater at 26 degrees Kelvin or -413 degrees Fahrenheit. Colder than the average surface temperature of Pluto. How does it get this cold? Being permanently shadowed craters at nighttime and in winter, that’s how.
Watch Liquid and Plume Eruptions from the Cryovolcanoes on Triton
Neptune’s moon Triton is a home to an unusual geological phenomenon called cryovolcanism. Instead of molten rock, cryovolcanoes erupt in geysers or plumes of volatile liquids like water or ammonia. With a mostly frozen surface, the heat that leads to an eruption is believed to come from either tidal friction or a subterranean greenhouse effect.
Enjoy a 42-Year Day or Night from Uranus’s Poles
Uranus has a weird axial tilt. The planet’s poles are tilted sideways, almost parallel to the plane of Uranus’s orbit around the Sun. That means that for half of its “year,” or orbit, you’re either stuck with the sun in the sky for about 42 Earth years, or with darkness for about 42 Earth years. Pick your hardcore party challenge!
Hike Across the Basin of the Valhalla Crater on Callisto
Jupiter’s second largest moon of Callisto is the most heavily cratered object in the solar system. It also boasts the largest multi-ringed impact crater basin in the solar system, Valhalla, measuring 3,800 kilometers in diameter.
Get Swept Up in 2,100 KPH Winds in Neptune’s Atmosphere
You could get some serious glide going in Neptune’s atmosphere. We don’t fully understand Neptune’s particularly powerful wind systems yet, but we can hypothesize that differences in the gaseous mass of the planet create strong gradient differences in air pressure. Wind speeds can reach up to 1,500 miles per hour on Neptune.
Climb to Rheasilvia Peak on the Vesta Asteroid
Vesta is one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt with a mean diameter of 525 kilometers. Rheasilvia is a presumed impact crater on the southern hemisphere of the asteroid. In the center of the crater is a mountain 200 kilometers in diameter and 22 kilometers high, making it the highest mountain in the Solar system from base to peak.
Get a Tan in Mercury’s Caloris Basin
Every other time Mercury reaches it perihelion (aka the point in its orbit closest to the Sun), the Sun will appear directly overhead this massive impact crater. With that much direct, proximate sunlight and very little atmosphere, it can get as hot as 700 degrees Kelvin or about 427 degrees Celsius (800 degrees Fahrenheit) on Mercury’s surface. Toasty!