Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Sun Sets on Venus (in the East)

As we’ve seen, Mercury’s peculiar rotational pattern can be explained by its proximity to the sun. But no such gravitational explanation is available for the peculiar behavior of Venus. If at 59 days, Mercury rotates on its axis slowly, Venus is even more sluggish, consuming 243 Earth days to accomplish a single spin. What’s more, it spins backwards! That is, viewed from a perspective above the earth’s North Pole, all of the planets (terrestrial and jovian) spin counterclockwise—except for Venus, which spins clockwise.
Nobody knows why for sure, but we can guess that the rotational peculiarities of Venus were caused by some random event that occurred during the formation of the solar system—a collision or close encounter with another planetesimal, perhaps. A violent collision, like the one that formed the earth’s moon, might have started Venus on its slow backward spin.

No comments: