Nerds for the Holidays — Space Christmas Tree Edition

I’m unabashedly a fan of the holiday season.

The fire department putting wreaths on their fire trucks. People who decorate their bikes with antlers. The cheesy fake snowmen in peoples’ yards.

I love it.

My family celebrates Christmas, and each year since I was a kid, we’d get this ginormous Christmas tree to go in the dining room. We’d go up into the mountains and cut down something ridiculously tall, then bring in a ladder from the shed to decorate it.

Some years, my mom got us to craft ornaments for a themed tree. (Which was quite the undertaking with a tree that big.)

I remember the year of the corn husk angels: glittery ribbons and glue guns and pearl beads scattered around the family room while we tied corn husks into shapes.

I probably complained (sorry mom), but the final effect was beautiful.

This year, my husband was the one who wanted a themed tree.

But he wasn’t looking for a cozy farmhouse angel tree.


He wanted a space Christmas tree.

Christmas tree against an orange background, all the planets and most of the moons of the solar system

We spent this entire past Sunday painting the largest bodies in our solar system.

The planets, of course, but also their moons, in as much detail as we could manage.

Here are my three favorites of the moons I painted. They’re Jupiter’s (top to bottom): rocky Ganymede, icy Enceladus, and fiery Io.

Close up of the ornaments: Swirly red Jupiter, blotchy gray Ganymede, blue-streaked-white Enceladus, ugly-ass Io with green-red-white splotches

Jupiter's moons: gray-splotched ganymede, white and blue Enceladus, red, white, yellow Io
Jupiter has 79 identified moons (we painted eight). And they’re some of the weirder moons, due to the effects of the planet’s immense gravity, and the effect of the moons’ gravity on each other.

(After all, Ganymede is larger than Mercury, and Io is larger than our moon.)

The immense gravitational web of influence shifts and tears at the moons, creating the sulfurous pits of Io, the rusty chasms of Europa.

The other fascinating thing is Jupiter’s four largest moons have fallen into an orbital resonance.

Check that out (and hear some strange music inspired by their orbits) here.

It was a very enlightening craft session.

One more photo!

There’s Jupiter with its red eye, Saturn beyond, and all their moons surrounding them.


What’s that hiding behind Jupiter?

That’s no moon.

Jupiter, Saturn, and the Death Star hiding behind