National Geographic's 'A Traveler's Guide to the Planets' Is Ultimate in Adventure Travel

travelers guide to the planetsCourtesy Hive Studios
traveler's guide to the planets

It's an adventure like none you've ever experienced -- an out-of-this world journey through the solar system, compliments of earth's most advanced telescopes and state-of-the-art animation.

This week, National Geographic Channel's six-part series "A Traveler's Guide to Planets," takes viewers on heart-racing ride from the solar flares of Mercury to the canyons of Mars to the icy terrain of the dwarf planet Pluto, and beyond. The program premiered last night and continues tonight and tomorrow.

VIDEO: Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on why Pluto is no longer considered a planet.Play

Combining views from high-tech telescopes with computer-generated imagery, the series explores Earth's neighbors in the most personal way technology can afford. National Geographic says, "It's the ultimate in adventure travel, but it's not for the faint of heart."

Below are a few of the stops on its spectacular tour of the planets.

Saturn and Its Moons

About a billion miles from earth, Saturn is the second largest planet in the solar system. But though 755 earths could fit inside it, its density is so low scientists say the entire planet could float on water.

"Saturn is the most phenomenologically rich planetary system that we have in our solar system because of its rings and planet and magnetosphere and an enormous collection of very diverse moons. It has it all," Dr. Carolyn Porca, Cassini Imaging Team leader at the Space Science Institute, says in the first part of National Geographic's six-part series.

"If you wanted to ask fundamental questions about the solar system in general, Saturn would be the place you would go," she said.

The gaseous planet is not a friendly place for humans, but thanks to the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft, which began its orbital tour of Saturn in 1997, scientists are learning a great deal about the mysterious planet.

The computer-generated image above shows a view of Saturn from Enceladus, one of its many moons. The moon's surface is snowy white and scored with rows of geysers shooting water and ice crystals. With Cassini's help, scientists learned that some ice plumes on the moon's south pole move at 1,360 miles per hour.

Enceladus is not even 300 miles across, but though it's tiny, new evidence of liquid water on its surface is leading scientists to wonder if its conditions could even support life.

Jupiter and Its Moon Io

Larger-than-life Jupiter spins so quickly, one day only lasts 10 hours. The planet, which is the largest in the solar system, is so monstrous it could fit every single planet and moon in the solar system and still have room to spare.

It's famous red "eye" is actually a persistent storm at least 300 years old measuring more than twice the size of earth with a core temperature that surpasses that of the sun's surface.

The moons of this hydrogen and helium filled planet are also quite impressive.

Io, which is shown in the image above, is considered the most volcanic spot in the entire solar system and is one of Jupiter's four largest moons.


Given its up close and personal proximity to the sun, temperatures on Mercury reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit.

It rotates at a snail's pace -- a single day takes 176 earth days -- and because it's the closest planet to the sun, the sun shines on the planet for three solid months at a time.

Scientists say Mercury's surface resembles that of the moon, it has flat plains and deep craters. But volcanoes also played a part in creating the planet's surface. The animation above shows a surface of Mercury shaped by volcanoes.

Mars and Phobos

No trip around the solar system would be complete without at least a pit stop at the red planet.

The Martian landscapes features deep canyons and hulking volcanoes and the planet has not seen rain for million, maybe billions, of years, scientists say.

As the animation above shows, meteorites pummel the planet's surface with relative frequency. According to National Geographic, 200 big holes are blown into the Martian surface each year from falling meteorites.

Mars' moon Phobos is also an attraction for those with planet-hopping aspirations. It's only about 17 miles long but some think it could be a stepping-stone for the first human mission to Mars.


Now considered a "dwarf planet," Pluto can't be seen without a telescope.

Since its discovery in 1930, it was considered to the be the ninth planet in the solar system but was demoted in 2006 because its small size and irregular orbit.

But though it may be diminutive, Pluto still keeps scientists interested.

Earlier this month, images from the Hubble Space Telescope indicated that the dwarf planet's colors were changing. The photos show a Pluto that is redder than it has appeared for the past several decades.

Astronomers have reportedly said Pluto is about 20 percent more red than it used to.

National Geographic Channel's "A Traveler's Guide to the Planets" premiered Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and continues Monday, Feb. 15, 2010 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and 10 p.m. ET/PT and Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and 10 p.m. ET/PT. For more information, click here.