How do we simulate the conditions on planets we have not been to yet?



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    That’s a very good question. By “simulate the conditions” I assume you mean, how do we determine what planets are like that we haven’t directly sampled through probes or other direct means. We have landed numerous probes on Venus and Mars, but there’s a bit of a gray area when you’re talking about the outer planets of our solar system, such as Neptune, which was observed, but not landed upon or directly sampled, by the probe Voyager 2 in 1989. Clearly from fly-bys like Voyager’s and the data and photographs transmitted back to Earth we can tell that Neptune is cold and inhospitable, with a surface comprised mostly of methane–we know this from spectrographic analysis of light and magnetic readings from the spacecraft. Where no spacecraft are involved, such as very distant planets circling other stars outside our solar system (known as extrasolar planets), we can generally determine a planet’s likely surface temperature based upon how much light it reflects back from its parent star. For example, a planet known only as “OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb” (not a very poetic name) is believed to have a temperature of about 220 degrees below zero, which scientists estimate from light readings. It’s also possible to calculate the density of a planet from factors observed through telescopes and other distant instruments. Planets with very low densities are probably gas giants, like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and thus their conditions are probably similar to what we know of those planets. A planet with a much higher density is probably made of rock or ice and has a solid surface. Of course we will never really know for sure what extrasolar planets are like until we actually visit them, either with unmanned probes or, possibly in the distant future, with human astronauts.

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