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For many of us, the motivation for reading science fiction is the opportunity to explore worlds beyond our own. Only in fantasy can we fly to faraway planets and see the unusual sights they afford us. But, as I try to convey in this column, science can also reveal places every bit as interesting as the those that are the fruits of imagination.

For instance, there are eight planets besides the Earth whirling around the sun, each of them a wildly different orb from ours and each other. Moreover, while we are still on the eve of a new era of observation, utilizing space probes like the recently failed Venera and the ambiguously targeted Pioneer 5, yet the progress of technology has revolutionized even ground-based observation. Our conception of the planets has evolved significantly in the last half-century (to say nothing of a full century ago). It boggles the mind to imagine what we might know in another fifty years.

Let me show you these worlds, as we know them today, and as we used to know them. I've written about Venus, and I've written about Pluto. Today is Mercury's turn.



(see the rest at Galactic Journey!)
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