Sciency Words is a special series here on Planet Pailly celebrating the rich and colorful world of science and science-related vocabulary. Today, we’re looking at the term:
In Wanderers, a short film by Erik Wernquist, we see ordinary humans of the future living, working, and having fun all across the Solar System. One of the fun parts is a cliff-jumping scene on Uranus’s moon Miranda, in a place called Verona Rupes.
The moons of Uranus are generally named after Shakespearean characters, or at least characters from classic literature. The Shakespeare theme also applies to features on those moons, so Verona Rupes is named after Verona, Italy, the setting of Romeo and Juliet. “Rupes” is the Latin word for cliff.
Estimated to be somewhere between 5 and 20 kilometers high (sources disagree wildly about the exact height), Verona Rupes is the tallest cliff in the Solar System, as far as we currently know. For comparison, commercial airliners here on Earth normally fly at an altitude of 9 kilometers.
That extreme height may sound crazy, but it makes sense in the context of Miranda’s landscape. Miranda is sometimes called the Frankenstein’s monster of moons because it has a bizarre, patchwork-like appearance. It looks as though someone took bits and pieces of different planets and moons and haphazardly stitched them together.
Only the southern hemisphere of Miranda has been photographed, so it’s entirely possible more Verona Rupes-like cliffs may be discovered one day in the northern hemisphere.
Jumping off Verona Rupes might not be as terrifying as it seems. Yes, it’s a long drop, but Miranda only has 0.8% of Earth’s surface gravity. So rather than plummeting to your death, you’d drift lazily to… actually, you’d still plummet to your death, or at least serious injury.
Acceleration due to gravity may be low, but after falling 5 to 20 kilometers, you’ll still smack the ground at a velocity of several hundred kilometers per hour. Fortunately, according to Erik Wernquist’s website, those thrill-seekers on Miranda have small rockets to brake their falls.
Miranda High Resolution of Large Fault from JPL Photojournal.
Verona Rupes: Tallest Known Cliff in the Solar System from Astronomy Picture of the Day.
Bizarre Shape of Uranus’ “Frankenstein” Moon Explained from Space.com.