ASK TOM WHY: Why are planets spherical?

Dear Tom,


Why are planets spherical like balls, instead of being shaped like broken bits after a big bang?


Blanchard Gephart, Wheeling


Dear Blanchard,


It’s due to gravity, a force that pulls everything evenly toward the center of a planet. Over time, this results in a spherical planetary shape. Even “solid” materials like rock flow like a liquid, albeit incredibly slowly, when they are pulled by a strong, steady force for a very, very long time. “Softer” solids such as ice respond more readily, and that is one of the mechanisms of glacial motion.


Despite gravity, planets are not perfectly spherical. Every feature of the terrain — mountains, valleys, buildings — constitute a deviation from a perfectly spherical planet. Another force is also at work. Gravity maintains a planet’s near-spherical shape, but rotation introduces centrifugal force that causes a planet to bulge at its Equator.

One thought on “ASK TOM WHY: Why are planets spherical?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s