Animation: Visualizing the Gravitational Pull of the Planets
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Visualizing the Gravitational Pull of the Planets

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    Visualizing the Gravitational Pull of the Planets

    Gravity is one of the basic forces in the universe. Every object out there exerts a gravitational influence on every other object, but to what degree?

    The gravity of the sun keeps all the planets in orbit in our solar system. However, each planet, moon and asteroid have their own gravitational pull defined by their density, size, mass, and proximity to other celestial bodies.

    Dr. James O’Donoghue, a Planetary Astronomer at JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) created an animation that simplifies this concept by animating the time it takes a ball to drop from 1,000 meters to the surface of each planet and the Earth’s moon, assuming no air resistance, to better visualize the gravitational pull of the planets.

    Sink like a Stone or Float like a Feather

    Now, if you were hypothetically landing your spacecraft on a strange planet, you would want to know your rate of descent. Would you float like a feather or sink like a stone?

    It is a planet’s size, mass, and density that determines how strong its gravitational pull is, or, how quick or slow you will approach the surface.

     Mass (1024kg)Diameter (km)Density (kg/m3)Gravity (m/s2)Escape Velocity (km/s)
    Mercury0.334,8795,4273.74.3
    Venus4.8712,1045,2438.910.4
    Earth5.9712,7565,5149.811.2
    Moon0.0733,4753,3401.62.4
    Mars0.6426,7923,9333.75.0
    Jupiter1,898142,9841,32623.159.5
    Saturn568120,5366879.035.5
    Uranus86.851,1181,2718.721.3
    Neptune10249,5281,63811.023.5
    Pluto0.01462,3702,0950.71.3

    According to Dr. O’Donoghue, large planets have gravity comparable to smaller ones at the surface—for example, Uranus attracts the ball down slower than on Earth. This is because the relatively low average density of Uranus puts the actual surface of the planet far away from the majority of the planet’s mass in the core.

    Similarly, Mars is almost double the mass of Mercury, but you can see the surface gravity is actually the same which demonstrates that Mercury is much denser than Mars.

    Exploring the Outer Reaches: Gravity Assistance

    Knowing the pull of each of the planets can help propel space flight to the furthest extents of the solar system. The “gravity assist” flyby technique can add or subtract momentum to increase or decrease the energy of a spacecraft’s orbit.

    Generally it has been used in solar orbit, to increase a spacecraft’s velocity and propel it outward in the solar system, much farther away from the sun than its launch vehicle would have been capable of doing, as in the journey of NASA’s Voyager 2.


    Gravity Assist

    Launched in 1977, Voyager 2 flew by Jupiter for reconnaissance, and for a trajectory boost to Saturn. It then relied on a gravity assist from Saturn and then another from Uranus, propelling it to Neptune and beyond.

    Despite the assistance, Voyager 2’s journey still took over 20 years to reach the edge of the solar system. The potential for using the power of gravity is so much more…

    Tractor Beams, Shields, and Warp Drives…Oh My!

    Imagine disabling an enemy starship with a gravity beam and deflecting an incoming photon torpedo with gravity shields. It would be incredible and a sci-fi dream come true.

    However, technology is still 42 years from the fictional date in Star Trek when mankind built the first warp engine, harnessing the power of gravity and unlocking the universe for discovery. There is still time!

    Currently, the ALPHA Experiment at CERN is investigating whether it is possible to create some form of anti-gravitational field. This research could create a gravitational conductor shield to counteract the forces of gravity and allow the creation of a warp drive.

    By better understanding the forces that keep us grounded on our planets, the sooner we will be able to escape these forces and feel the gravitational pull of the planets for ourselves.

    …to boldly go where no one has gone before!

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Science

Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

All living things have a genetic system made up of DNA. This graphic explores the basics of DNA composition and structure.

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Explainer: The Basics of DNA and Genetic Systems

While there is great diversity among living things, we all have one thing in common—we all rely on a genetic system made up of DNA and/or RNA.

But how do genetic systems work, and to what extent do they vary across species?

This graphic by Anne-Lise Paris explores the basics of DNA and genetic systems, including how they’re structured, and how they differ across species.

Composition of Genetic Systems: DNA and RNA

A genetic system is essentially a set of instructions that dictate our genetic makeup—what we look like and how we interact with our environment.

This set of instructions is stored in nucleic acids, the two main types being deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA).

While most living things rely on a mix of DNA and RNA for cellular reproduction, some viruses just use RNA to store their genetic information and replicate faster.

DNA is made up of four molecules, known as nucleotides: Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Cytosine ( C), and Guanine (G). These nucleotides are grouped in sets of two, which are called base pairs.

Size of Genomes Across Different Organisms

Human DNA is made up of approximately 3.2 billion base pairs that are tightly wound up and stored in our cells. If you were to unwind and measure the DNA stored in a single human cell, it would be about 2 meters (6.5 feet) long!

This lengthy DNA is stored in pairs of chromosomes. A full collection of chromosomes, or an entire set of genetic information, is referred to as a genome.

Genomes vary in size, depending on the organism. Here is a look at 24 different species and the size of their genomes, from animals and plants to bacteria and viruses:

OrganismKingdomSize of genomes (number of base pairs)
Poplar treePlant500,000,000
HumanAnimal3,200,000,000
ChimpanzeeAnimal3,300,000,000
Marbled lungfishAnimal130,000,000,000
DogAnimal2,400,000,000
WheatPlant16,800,000,000
PufferfishAnimal400,000,000
Canopy plantPlant150,000,000,000
Mouse-ear cressPlant140,000,000
CornPlant2,300,000,000
MouseAnimal2,800,000,000
MossPlant510,000,000
Fruit FlyAnimal140,000,000
C. ruddiiBacteria160,000
S. pombeFungi13,000,000
S. cerevisiaeFungi12,000,000
S. cellulosumBacteria13,000,000
H. pyloriBacteria1,700,000
E. coliBacteria4,600,000
Panadoravirus s.Virus2,800,000
HIV-1Virus9,700
Influenza AVirus14,000
BacteriophageVirus49,000
Hepatitis D virusVirus1,700

The Marbled Lungfish has the largest known animal genome. Its genome is made up of 130 billion base pairs, which is about 126.8 billion more than the average human genome.

Comparatively, small viruses and bacteria have fewer base pairs. The Hepatitis D virus has only 1,700 base pairs, while E. coli bacteria has 4.6 million. Interestingly, research has not found a link between the size of a species’ genome and the organism’s size or complexity.

In fact, there are still a ton of unanswered questions in the field of genome research. Why do some species have small genomes? Why do some have a ton of redundant DNA? These are still questions being investigated by scientists today.

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Politics

Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?

Beyond the 15 nations under the British monarchy, 28 other countries still have a ruling monarch. Here’s a look at the world’s monarchies.

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monarchies

Mapped: Which Countries Still Have a Monarchy?

In the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the question of monarchy is brought sharply into focus.

However, a surprising number of countries have ruling monarchs, and in this visual we break down the kinds of royal leadership across the 43 countries that still have them.

Types of Monarchies

A monarch in the simplest sense is a country’s king, queen, emir, or sultan, and so on. But before diving in, it’s important to break down the distinctions between the types of monarchies that exist today. Generally, there are four kinds:

① Constitutional Monarchy

The monarch divides power with a constitutionally founded government. In this situation, the monarch, while having ceremonial duties and certain responsibilities, does not have any political power. For example, the UK’s monarch must sign all laws to make them official, but has no power to change or reject new laws.

Here are some examples of countries with constitutional monarchies:

🇯🇵  Japan
🇬🇧  United Kingdom
🇩🇰  Denmark

② Absolute Monarchy

The monarch has full and absolute political power. They can amend, reject, or create laws, represent the country’s interests abroad, appoint political leaders, and so on.

Here are some examples of countries with absolute monarchies:

🇸🇿  Eswatini
🇸🇦  Saudi Arabia
🇻🇦  Vatican City

③ Federal Monarchy

The monarch serves an overall figurehead of the federation of states which have their own governments, or even monarchies, ruling them.

Here are some examples of countries with federal monarchies:

🇦🇪  UAE
🇲🇾  Malaysia

Malaysia is a unique form of federal monarchy. Every five years, each state’s royal leaders choose amongst themselves who will be the monarch, or the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, of Malaysia and the respective states. Furthermore, the monarchy is also constitutional, allowing a democratically elected body to govern.

④ Mixed Monarchy

This is a situation wherein an absolute monarch may divide powers in distinct ways specific to the country.

Here are some examples of countries with mixed monarchies:

🇯🇴  Jordan
🇱🇮  Liechtenstein
🇲🇦  Morocco

Interestingly, Liechtenstein is the only European monarchy that still practises strict agnatic primogeniture. Under agnatic primogeniture, the degree of kinship is determined by tracing descent from the nearest common ancestor through male ancestors.

Kings, Queens, Emperors, and Sultans Around the Globe

Now let’s break down the different monarchies country by country:

CountryType of MonarchyTitle of Head of StateMonarchTitle of Head of Government
🇦🇩 AndorraConstitutionalCo-PrincesJoan-Enric Vives, Emmanuel MacronPrime Minister
🇦🇬 Antigua and BarbudaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇦🇺 AustraliaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇧🇭 BahrainMixedKingHamad bin Isa Al KhalifaPrime Minister
🇧🇪 BelgiumConstitutionalKing PhilippePrime Minister
🇧🇿 BelizeConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇧🇹 BhutanConstitutionalKingJigme Khesar Namgyel WangchuckPrime Minister
🇧🇳 Brunei DarussalamAbsoluteSultanHassanal BolkiahSultan
🇰🇭 CambodiaConstitutionalKingNorodom SihamoniPrime Minister
🇨🇦 CanadaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇩🇰 DenmarkConstitutionalQueenMargrethe IIPrime Minister
🇸🇿 EswatiniAbsoluteKingMswati IIIPrime Minister
🇬🇩 GrenadaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇯🇲 JamaicaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇯🇵 JapanConstitutionalEmperorNaruhitoPrime Minister
🇯🇴 JordanMixedKingAbdullah IIPrime Minister
🇰🇼 KuwaitMixedEmirNawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-SabahPrime Minister
🇱🇸 LesothoConstitutionalKingLetsie IIIPrime Minister
🇱🇮 Liechtenstein MixedSovereign PrinceHans-Adam IIPrime Minister
🇱🇺 LuxembourgConstitutionalGrand DukeHenriPrime Minister
🇲🇾 MalaysiaConstitutional & FederalYang di-Pertuan AgongAbdullahPrime Minister
🇲🇨 MonacoMixedSovereign PrinceAlbert IIMinister of State
🇲🇦 MoroccoMixedKingMohammed VIPrime Minister
🇳🇱 NetherlandsConstitutionalKingWillem-AlexanderPrime Minister
🇳🇿 New ZealandConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇳🇴 NorwayConstitutionalKingHarald VPrime Minister
🇴🇲 OmanAbsoluteSultanHaitham bin TarikSultan
🇵🇬 Papua New GuineaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇶🇦 QatarMixedEmirTamim bin Hamad Al ThaniPrime Minister
🇰🇳 Saint Kitts and NevisConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇱🇨 Saint LuciaConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇻🇨 Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaAbsoluteKingSalmanPrime Minister
🇸🇧 Solomon IslandsConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇪🇸 SpainConstitutionalKingFelipe VIPresident of the Government
🇸🇪 SwedenConstitutionalKingCarl XVI GustafPrime Minister
🇹🇭 ThailandConstitutionalKingRama XPrime Minister
🇧🇸 The BahamasConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇹🇴 TongaConstitutionalKingTupou VIPrime Minister
🇹🇻 TuvaluConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇦🇪 UAEFederalPresidentMohamed bin Zayed Al NahyanPrime Minister
🇬🇧 UKConstitutionalKingCharles IIIPrime Minister
🇻🇦 Vatican CityAbsolutePopeFrancisPresident of the Pontifical Commission

Constitutional monarchies are undoubtedly the most popular form of royal leadership in the modern era⁠, making up close to 70% of all monarchies. This situation allows for democratically elected governments to rule the country, while the monarch performs ceremonial duties.

Most monarchs are hereditary, inheriting their position by luck of their birth, but interestingly, French president, Emmanuel Macron, technically serves as a Co-Prince of Andorra.

Another unique case is the Vatican’s Pope Francis, who has absolute power in the small independent city⁠—he gained his role thanks to an election process known as a papal conclave.

The Role of Monarchies

One of the most notable and famous ruling monarchies is the United Kingdom’s House of Windsor⁠—also known as Queen Elizabeth II’s family. King Charles III has now ascended to the country’s throne, making him head of state in 15 nations total, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Many see the benefit in having a stable and consistent form of tradition and decorum at the country’s head of state.

“The Crown is an integral part of the institution of Parliament. The Queen [now King] plays a constitutional role in opening and dissolving Parliament and approving Bills before they become law.” – British Parliament

Japan’s royal family has been a prime example of stability, having reigned in the country for more than 2,600 years under the same hereditary line.

Critiques and the Future of Monarchy

Some claim, however, that there is no function of monarchy in the modern day, and complaints of monarchies’ immense wealth and power are rampant.

For example, according to the Dutch government, King Willem-Alexander’s budget for 2022, funded by the state and thus, taxpayers, comes out to more than €48 million.

Beyond tax dollars, with absolute monarchies there is typically a lack of political freedoms and certain rights. Saudi Arabia, for example, has no national elections. Rather its king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, stays in power for life, appoints the cabinet himself, and passes laws by royal decree.

The death of Queen Elizabeth, though, may bring about change though for many of the world’s royally-governed. Since Barbados’ removal of her as head of state in 2021, six other Caribbean nations have expressed the desire to do the same, namely:

🇧🇿  Belize
🇧🇸  The Bahamas
🇯🇲  Jamaica
🇬🇩  Grenada
🇦🇬  Antigua and Barbuda
🇰🇳  St. Kitts and Nevis

The future of monarchy in the 21st century is certainly not a guarantee.

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