Our solar system consists of the sun and all of its orbiting objects. Orbiting objects include: the planets and their orbiting moons and rings; asteroids, comets, meteors and meteorites; particles of dust and debris.
The sun, which keeps all the other objects in orbit with its immense gravitational pull, accounts for 99.8 percent of the mass of the solar system. Jupiter, the largest planet, accounts for another 0.1 percent of the mass, and everything else, including Earth, makes up the remaining 0.1 percent. There are nine planets in our solar system.
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Order of Planets
Order of the Planets closest to Sun are, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
The facts here are Planets in order as well.
Mercury planet facts
- Approximate distance from the Sun = 36 million miles (58 million km)
- Diameter at equator = 4878 km
- Average temperature = 800 degrees Fahrenheit (350 degrees centigrade) during the day and -280 degrees Fahrenheit (-170 degrees Celsius) at night
- Length of year = 88 Earth days
- Period of rotation = 59 days
- Minimum traveling time from Earth = five months
- Size of sun as seen from planet = Two to three times as big as seen from Earth
- Second smallest planet after Pluto.
- Has an ancient crater called the Caloris Basin which is about the size of Texas
- Orbits the sun in just eighty-eight days, hence its being named after the Roman messenger god with winged sandals.
Like its namesake god, this little planet flits back and forth from morning sky to evening sky several times a year. Unfortunately, though, it never strays far from the Sun in our sky, so it’s tough to find in the glare.
From the northern hemisphere, the best time to see it comes around the beginning of November, when it looks like a moderately bright star low in the southeast shortly before dawn. In the evening, Mercury is best seen low in the southwest in late May.
Probing the facts
Little was known about Mercury until the space probe Mariner 10 photographed the planet in 1975. Mariner 10 came within 470 miles (756 km) of Mercury and photographed about 40 percent of the surface.
Information collected by Mariner 10 showed that the planet’s surface is covered with deep craters, separated by plains and huge banks of cliffs
- Diameter at equator = 7.4568 million miles (12,103 km)
- Average temperature = 800 degrees Fahrenheit (465 degrees Celsius) during the day and -280 degrees Fahrenheit (-173 Celsius) at night.
- Average distance from Sun = 67 million miles (108 million km)
- Length of year = 225 Earth days
- Period of rotation = 243 Earth days (retrograde)
- Volume of planet compared with Earth = 86 percent
- Minimum traveling time from Earth = About 14 weeks
- Size of Sun as seen from Planet One-third larger than as from Earth
- Closest planet to Earth.
- Arachnoids. These are surface features consisting of circular formations ranging anywhere from 30 to 137 miles (49 to 220 km) in diameter, filled with concentric circles extending spokes outward.
- The planet’s surface is relatively young. 300 – 500 years ago a lava eruption covered the entire planet, giving it a new face.
- Similar to Earth in size, mass and age. (Often referred to as Earth’s sister planet.)
Venus, the dazzling morning and evening star, outshines all the other stars and planets in the night sky, so you can’t miss it. It begins the year in the western evening sky and disappears in the Sun’s glare in late March, returning to view before dawn in early April. It will remain in the morning sky until December. One highlight for the year is an August conjunction with Jupiter, the second-brightest planet.
Probing the facts
From 1990 to 1994, Magellan mapped the entire Venusian surface.
Earth planet Facts
Diameter at equator = 7,900 miles (12,756 km)
Average temperature = 150C
Average distance from the Sun = 149.6 million km (1AU)
Length of year = 365 days
Period of rotation = 23 hours and 56 minutes
Number of moons = one
Besides containing many of the features found on other planets, Earth has many unique features. These include drifting continents, liquid water and living beings. It really is the living planet.
Interesting facts about Earth
The Earth is often referred to as the blue planet. This is because oceans cover almost three-quarters of the surface. From space, three other colors also dominate the blue planet: reddish brown, white and green. All four colors mark the main components of the planet. Water (blue), rocks (reddish-brown), green (vegetation) and white (atmosphere).
Heat and light from the Sun, either directly or indirectly, is the energy that sustains life on Earth.
In addition to the sun, the Earth’s atmosphere also plays a crucial role in sustaining life. The Earth’s atmosphere is made of 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen and 1 percent argon, with minute quantities of water vapor, carbon dioxide and other gases. Major changes to these percentages could change life as we know it. This is why efforts to slow down the widening of the ‘hole’ in the ozone layer is of global importance. The Ozone layer protects Earth’s living organisms from the sun’s harmful rays.
Mars planet Facts
- Diameter at equator = 4070 miles (6794 km)
- Average temperature = -20 degree Fahrenheit (-29 degrees Celsius) during the day and -120 degrees Fahrenheit (-84 degrees Celsius) in the afternoon
- Average distance from Sun = 141.6 million miles (228 million km)
- Length of year = 687 Earth days
- Period of rotation = 24 hours 37 minutes
- Number of moons = two
- Volume of planet compared with Earth = one-seventh
- Minimum traveling time from Earth = About 24 weeks
- The Red Planet- Mars.
- 15 mile-high (24 kilometer-high) volcano called Olympus Mons.
- 2,000 mile-long (3,220-kilometer-long) canyon called Valle Marineris, twenty-six times as long and 3 times as deep as the Grand Canyon.
After a lackluster performance in 2001, Mars will really shine this spring into early summer. The planet is at opposition on June 13, when it rises at sunset and remains visible all night. Since it’s also closest to Earth around opposition, the planet will appear exceptionally bright, outshining everything else in the night sky except the Moon and the planets Venus and Jupiter. Its reddish color will be most prominent then, too. After opposition, Mars will slowly fade for the rest of the year.
No planet, more than Mars, has ignited the imagination of mankind.
Halloween night, October 30th, 1938. thousands of unsuspecting New York and New Jersey citizens sat terrified in front of their radios. Many more panicked and attempted to flee New York City. Why? One man. One voice. One very famous broadcast.
Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater broadcasted a dramatization of H.G. Wells’ famous tale, War of the Worlds that chronicled the Martian invasion of Earth.
On that fateful night, a broadcast music program was interrupted with the news that an alien object had landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. News announcers continued to describe the terrifying events as they unfolded. So convincing was Welles’ pseudo-documentary style, listeners all over America swallowed the drama for real – lock, stock and barrel.
- Diameter at equator = 85,000 miles (143,00 km)
- Core temperature = 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit (10, 000 degrees Celsius)
- Average distance from Sun = 483.4492 miles (778 million kms)
- Length of year = 11.9 Earth years
- Period of rotation = 9 hours 55 minutes
- Number of moons = 28
- Volume of planet compared with Earth = 1400 times as big
- Minimum traveling time from Earth = approx 18 months
The Great Red Spot. The spot is actually a swirling, windy storm over 8,500 miles (14,000 kilometers) wide and 16,000 miles (26,000 kilometers) long, an average area to cover two Earths. The stormy winds blow anticlockwise at about 250 miles (400 kilometers) per hour.
The largest planet in our solar system is a commanding presence in the night sky for much of the year. It looks like an intensely bright cream-colored star, second only to Venus in brightness. It begins 2001 in Taurus, near the planet Saturn. It remains in the evening sky until June, when it disappears in the Sun’s glare. It returns to view in the morning sky a few weeks later, and will stage a stunning conjunction with Venus in early August.
Probing the facts
In 1979 the Voyager space probe passed by Jupiter and took pictures of the planet’s swirling colors and volcanic moons, as well as a previously undiscovered ring surrounding the planet.
In 1989, Galileo was launched from the space shuttle Atlantis. Galileo traveled for 6 years to reach Jupiter.
- Diameter at equator = 74.5680 miles (120, 450 km)
- Average temperature = – 1800C
- Average distance from Sun = 850 million miles (1427 million kms)
- Length of year = 29.5 Earth years
- Period of rotation = 10 hours 39 minutes
- Number of moons = 30
- Volume of planet compared with Earth 833 times as big
- Minimum traveling time for Earth = approx three years
- Rings, thought to be made up of dust and a large quantity of frozen water, and estimated to be one mile thick.
- The Great White Spot. About every thirty Earth years, a massive storm occurs following Saturn’s summer. The Great White Spot is visible for nearly a month as a shiny white spot.
- Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, is the only moon in the solar system with its own atmosphere.
Saturn ranks second only to Jupiter in size, so it’s one of the brightest objects in the night sky. It looks like a golden star. Saturn starts the year in Taurus, not far from the brighter Jupiter. It moves from evening sky to morning sky in June and stages its best showing in December, when it’s visible all night and shining at its brightest for the year.
Probing the facts
In 1980 and 1981, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 sent back the first detailed photos of Saturn and its spectacular rings. Saturn’s elaborate system of rings and moons still holds many mysteries for astronomers.
- Diameter at equator = 31,800 miles (51,200 km)
- Average temperature = -350 degrees Fahrenheit (-120 degrees Celsius)
- Average distance from Sun = 1.78 billion miles (2871 million km)
- Length of year = 84 Earth years
- Period of rotation = 17 hours 14 minutes
- Number of moons = 21
- Volume of planet compared with Earth = 67 time as big
- Minimum traveling time from Earth = Approx. nine years
- Blue-green in colour due to atmospheric methane that absorbs light at the red end of the visible spectrum and reflects light at the blue end.
- Eleven rings consisting of dust, rocky particles and ice.
Although Uranus and Neptune are the third- and fourth-largest planets in the solar system, they’re so far from the Sun that you need binoculars (for Uranus) or a telescope (for Neptune) to see them. Both are in the constellation Capricornus, and stage their best appearances in summer.
Probing the facts
Most of what is known about Uranus was discovered during the 1986 Voyager 2 mission. At Voyager’s closest approach, 24 January, it came within 50,600 miles (81,400 kilometers) of the planet. The most important finding was ten previously undiscovered moons (bringing the total to fifteen) and two new rings (bringing the total to eleven).
- Diameter at Equator = 30.4486 mile (49,530 km)
- Average temperature = -353 degrees Fahrenheit (-220 degrees Celsius)
- Average distance from Sun = 2.8 billion miles (4.5 billion km)
- Length of year = 165 Earth years
- Period of rotation = 16 hours 7 minutes
- Number of moons = 8
- Volume of planet compared with Earth = 57 times as big
- Minimum traveling time from Earth = Approx 12 years
- Largest planet in our solar system
- Blue-green in color due to methane gas
- Encircled by 5 faint rings
Neptune is so far from the Sun that you need a telescope to view it. Like Uranus, Neptune is in the constellation Capricornus. Summer is the best time to catch a glimpse.
Probing the facts
In 1989 Voyager 2 flew by Neptune providing some answers about the little known planet. Voyager 2 discovered Neptune has 8 moons, not 6 as originally thought.
Pluto Facts- Debatable Planet
- Diameter at equator = 1, 457 miles (2,344 km)
- Average temperature = -380 degrees Fahrenheit (-223 degrees Celsius)
- Average distance from the Sun = 3675 miles (5914 million kms)
- Length of year = 248 Earth years
- Period of rotation = 6 days, nine hours (retrograde)
- Number of moons = 1
- Volume of planet compared with Earth = one two-hundredth
- Minimum traveling time from Earth = Approx 14 years
Embroiled in a scientific debate as to whether it should be classified as a planet.
Pluto is the solar system’s smallest and most distant planet and is never visible without the aid of a fairly large telescope. However, it you’re really keen, these directions and move star-to-star you’ll locate Pluto:
Use a star chart to help locate the naked-eye, 2.6-mag Zeta Ophichus star in your telescope finder.
Move the telescope 3.1-degrees east toward the 4.6-mag star at the edge of the finder’s field. That star is labeled “20” on star charts.
You will need to use the main telescope for the final move. You’ll need to know the eyepiece field-of-view — a 1º field is best for these steps. Centered on the 20-Oph star, move the telescope slightly more than 1½º directly south until you center an 8-mag star.
Now swing the telescope in RA east through a field of ¾º.
if you can accomplish the above, you’ll have Pluto in your sights!
Probing the facts
The Pluto Express will consist of two spacecraft, each taking twelve years to reach Pluto. The goal of the mission is to learn more about Pluto’s atmosphere, surface features and geologic composition.
Our Solar System: An Exploration of Planets, Moons, Asteroids, and Other Mysteries of Space
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