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The solar system: Facts about our cosmic neighborhood

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The photo voltaic system is a group of planets, moons, asteroids, comets, mud and fuel that orbit our native star, the sun. It contains the rocky interior planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars; the fuel giants Jupiter and Saturn; and the ice giants Uranus and Neptune. 

Between Mars and Jupiter is a group of asteroids often known as the asteroid belt, whereas past Neptune is the place small icy our bodies, like Pluto and comets, dwell.

How outdated is our photo voltaic system?

About 4.6 billion years in the past, a large cloud of mud and fuel often known as the photo voltaic nebula collapsed in on itself and started to kind what would ultimately turn out to be the photo voltaic system’s solar and planets. Meteorites, or items of area rock which have fallen to Earth, have helped scientists work out the age of the photo voltaic system. A few of these small items have damaged off of moons or planets and might yield fascinating scientific details about the chemistry and historical past of their dwelling physique. Others have been touring across the photo voltaic system since its starting, earlier than the planets even existed. The Allende meteorite, which fell to Earth in 1969 and scattered over Mexico, is the oldest recognized meteorite, at 4.55 billion years outdated.

How did our photo voltaic system kind?

Scientists suppose the photo voltaic system shaped when a close-by exploding star, known as a supernova, triggered the collapse of the photo voltaic nebula. Based on this concept, the explosion despatched shock waves by area, and people shock waves pushed components of the nebula nearer collectively, resulting in collapse. The supernova could have even seeded material into the nebula, Reside Science beforehand reported. As an illustration, scientists have discovered that aluminum-26, a component shaped solely within the hearts of stars, most certainly originated from a sequence of close by supernovas, Reside Science sister web site Space.com reported.

The solar

An image of a massive solar flare (or coronal mass ejection) erupting out of the sun in 2017.  (Image credit: NASA)

The solar is on the heart of the photo voltaic system and is its largest object, accounting for about 99.8% of the photo voltaic system’s mass, in keeping with the University of California, San Diego. The solar is a huge, raging ball of fireside powered by nuclear reactions, and it supplies the power that sustains life on Earth. The yellow dwarf star is made up of fuel — about 91% hydrogen and eight.9% helium, in keeping with NASA. In contrast with different stars, the sun is comparatively small and simply one in all tons of of billions of stars in our dwelling galaxy, the Milky Way

The solar is about 26,000 light-years from the middle of our galaxy, according to NASA. The Milky Method is a spiral galaxy, with curved arms of stars emanating from its heart. The photo voltaic system is positioned in one of many smaller arms, known as the Orion-Cygnus Arm, or just the Orion Arm.

The Milky Method is big in contrast with the photo voltaic system. If the photo voltaic system have been the dimensions of your hand, the Milky Method could be as massive as North America, in keeping with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Night Sky Network

Our photo voltaic system’s planets

Eight confirmed planets and plenty of dwarf planets orbit the solar. Based on NASA, “the order and association of the planets and different our bodies in our photo voltaic system is because of the approach the photo voltaic system shaped.” Rocky supplies may stand up to the younger solar’s immense warmth, so the primary 4 planets — Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars — are small, with rocky surfaces. Past them, “supplies we’re used to seeing as ice, liquid or fuel settled within the outer areas of the younger photo voltaic system,” NASA says, specifically the fuel giants Jupiter and Saturn and the ice giants Uranus and Neptune.


Mercury transits the sun on Nov. 11, 2019. (Image credit: NASA/SDO/HMI/AIA)

Mercury is the closest planet to the solar. It’s also the smallest planet within the photo voltaic system; at about 3,032 miles (4,879 kilometers) in diameter, it is just barely bigger than Earth’s moon and has no moons of its personal. Mercury has no environment to guard it from the solar’s relentless radiation, and floor temperatures can attain highs of 800 levels Fahrenheit (427 levels Celsius) throughout the day and plummet as little as minus 290 F (minus 179 C) at night time. Due to its speedy rotation across the solar, Mercury was named after the Roman messenger of the gods.


A NASA illustration shows the Pioneer-13 probes descending toward the clouds of Venus. (Image credit: NASA)

Named after the Roman goddess of affection, Venus is the second planet from the solar and the most popular planet within the photo voltaic system. Its environment is a thick layer of largely carbon dioxide fuel that traps warmth, permitting the planet’s floor temperatures to succeed in a scorching 880 F (471 C). At 7,520 miles (12,100 km) in diameter, according to NASA, Venus is barely smaller than Earth and, like our planet, has a core of molten iron. 

In 2020, astronomers introduced that they’d found phosphine within the environment of Venus. On our planet, this chemical is nearly at all times made by residing creatures, main some researchers to marvel if Venus’ clouds would possibly host life. Nevertheless, the findings are controversial and have but to be totally confirmed; certainly, other work has suggested that it could be too tough for any creatures to outlive in such a hellish place due to the dearth of a lot liquid water. 


This image shows how sunlight fell on Earth during the winter solstice on Dec. 21, 2010. (Image credit: NASA)

The third rock from the solar, Earth is the one planet within the universe recognized to harbor life. Its habitability is linked to the presence of liquid water. Earth is positioned within the so-called Goldilocks zone, which means it orbits on the perfect distance from the solar to have liquid water; if it have been any nearer, the water would evaporate right into a fuel, and if Earth have been farther away, the water would freeze. About 71% of our planet’s floor is roofed in water, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and Earth’s environment protects the planet from photo voltaic radiation. 

Earth is the one planet not named after a god. Earth likely earned its name from the English and German phrases for “floor.” The blue planet is the most important of the 4 rocky planets within the photo voltaic system, and it has one moon. Scientists suppose Earth’s moon was shaped from a bit of Earth that broke off when a large object smashed into the younger planet.


(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Mars is named the Purple Planet due to the iron-rich mud that covers its floor and offers it a rusty colour. This pink hue led the traditional Romans to call Mars after their god of conflict. 

Mars, the fourth planet from the solar, is dwelling to the most important volcano within the photo voltaic system, Olympus Mons. The planet has a skinny environment, and and not using a thick protecting defend, temperatures on Mars common round minus 80 F (minus 60 C). 

It’s doubtless that liquid water — which would offer a house for all times as we all know it — existed on the Martian floor billions of years in the past, and a few scientists suppose Mars may still have liquid water on its floor immediately. Mars has two moons: Phobos, which can have formed from ancient rings across the planet, and Deimos, which can have been knocked into its present orbit by an historic, no-longer-existing moon.


This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image shows auroras above the poles of Jupiter. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, and J. Nichols (University of Leicester))

Jupiter is the largest planet within the photo voltaic system. Not like the interior planets, Jupiter is a fuel large, made up primarily of helium and hydrogen. It’s named after the king of the Roman gods (also called Zeus within the Greek pantheon). 

Jupiter, the fifth planet from the solar, is twice as massive as all the different planets within the photo voltaic system mixed, but it additionally has the shortest day of any planet, taking 10 hours to show about its axis, according to NASA. Jupiter is surrounded by dozens of moons, and its rings are faint and composed of mud. Deep within the planet’s environment, excessive strain and excessive temperatures have compressed the hydrogen fuel right into a liquid, creating the most important ocean within the photo voltaic system, in keeping with NASA.


(Image credit: NASA)

Saturn, the sixth planet from the solar, is the second-largest planet within the photo voltaic system. Saturn is finest recognized for its outstanding rings. Like Jupiter, Saturn is a fuel large composed of helium and hydrogen, and it’s the least dense of the planets. Saturn’s rings are made of billions of ice particles and rocks. The ringed planet additionally has dozens of moons, ranging in dimension from that of a sports activities discipline to the dimensions of Mercury, according to NASA. One among Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, is roofed in an icy ocean that astronomers say makes this moon a promising candidate for extraterrestrial life.


(Image credit: NASA/CXO/University College London/W. Dunn et al)

Uranus, the seventh planet from the solar, was the primary planet to be found utilizing a telescope, by British astronomer William Herschel in 1781. The ice large consists of heavier components than its fuel large neighbors — a combination of water, methane and ammonia ice. 

Not like different planets within the photo voltaic system, Uranus successfully orbits on its aspect (with its axis nearly pointing towards the solar), and it “rolls” like a ball because it travels across the solar. Methane fuel in Uranus’ environment makes the planet seem green-blue. The planet has 13 rings and 27 moons. It’s the solely planet to be named after a Greek deity, Ouranos the sky god, reasonably than a Roman one. 


Neptune, the eighth planet from the solar, was found in 1846. Nevertheless, even earlier than observing the planet for the primary time, scientists predicted its existence, due to its impact on Uranus’ orbit. 

Neptune, which is known as after the Roman sea god, is so removed from the solar that it takes 4.15 hours for daylight to succeed in the planet, in keeping with Cornell University. (For comparability, it takes about eight minutes for daylight to succeed in Earth.) When the sunshine arrives at Neptune, it’s 900 occasions dimmer than what we see on Earth, according to NASA

Neptune is made up of water, methane and ammonia surrounding a small, rocky core. Robust winds on the planet propel clouds of frozen methane at speeds of as much as 1,200 mph (2,000 km/h). Neptune has 14 recognized moons, one in all which was rediscovered after going missing for 20 years.

Why is Pluto not a planet?

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this enhanced color image of Pluto on July 14, 2015. (Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Pluto, as soon as thought of the ninth planet within the photo voltaic system, was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006 as a result of it failed to satisfy one of many standards within the definition of a planet. The International Astronomical Union defines a planet as a celestial physique that orbits the solar, has sufficient gravity to tug itself right into a spherical or almost-round form, and has cleared the neighborhood round its orbit. Pluto has not cleared the neighborhood round its orbit, so it isn’t thought of a planet.

Some astronomers imagine this reclassification is unfair and that Pluto needs to be reinstated because the ninth planet within the photo voltaic system. Trying on the historic literature, Philip Metzger, a planetary scientist on the College of Central Florida, discovered that earlier than the 2006 resolution the “clearing the neighborhood” rule appeared solely in a single 1801 paper. He and his colleagues concluded that this Pluto-excluding rule is “arbitrary and never based mostly on historic precedent,” Live Science previously reported, and that subsequently Pluto ought to nonetheless be thought of a planet. 

Pluto, which is known as after the Roman god of the underworld, sits within the huge Kuiper Belt, a area past Neptune that accommodates trillions of icy objects. 

Planet X

An illustration shows what Planet 9 might look like orbiting far from our sun. (Image credit: NASA)

There’s a attainable candidate to fill Pluto’s emptiness because the ninth planet: Planet X, or Planet 9. In a 2016 paper published in The Astronomical Journal, California Institute of Know-how astronomers Mike Brown and Konstantin Batygin hypothesized {that a} planet 10 occasions bigger than Earth may very well be orbiting the solar about 20 occasions farther away than Neptune does. 

“All these people who find themselves mad that Pluto is not a planet might be thrilled to know that there’s a actual planet on the market nonetheless to be discovered,” Brown said at the time. “Now, we are able to go and discover this planet and make the photo voltaic system have 9 planets as soon as once more.” 

Nevertheless, Planet 9’s existence continues to be theoretical, as a result of the planet has not been instantly noticed, according to NASA.

Between the planets

Between Mars and Jupiter, there’s a large assortment of asteroids often known as the principle asteroid belt. These area rocks are leftovers from the formation of the photo voltaic system, and there are over one million recognized asteroids everywhere in the photo voltaic system, according to NASA

Asteroids are available in all kinds of varieties and are categorised based mostly on their composition. 

Past the planets

Artist’s impression of Kuiper Belt objects. (Image credit: MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images)

Past the ice large Neptune, the photo voltaic system extends to the Kuiper Belt and the Oort cloud. The Kuiper Belt, whose existence was confirmed in 1992, is 30 to 55 astronomical items (AU) large, according to NASA. (One AU is the typical distance between Earth and the solar — about 93 million miles, or 150 million km.) 

The Kuiper Belt’s most well-known inhabitant is Pluto, however the area additionally accommodates tons of of hundreds of frozen objects 62 miles (100 km) or bigger in diameter, a lot of that are remnants of the early photo voltaic system, according to NASA

The Oort cloud, which is a group of comets completely different than the Kuiper belt as a result of it’s positioned far, far within the photo voltaic system’s icy outer reaches, has been hypothesized for the reason that Fifties, nevertheless it has by no means been noticed. 

Extra assets


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Bryner, M. (2012, November 14). How did Earth get its identify? Live Science.

Choi, C. (2021, October 1). Mars: What we all know in regards to the Purple Planet. Space.com.

Choi, C. (2017, Might 12). Planet Neptune: Information about its orbit, moons & rings. Space.com.

Choi, C. (2019, July 10). Uranus: The ringed planet that sits on its aspect. Space.com.

Choi, C., & Dutfield, S. (2021, October 31). Planet Mercury: Information in regards to the planet closest to the solar. Space.com.

Choi, C., & Dutfield, S. (2022, January 26). Saturn: Information in regards to the ringed planet. Space.com.

Choi, C., & Gohd, C. (2021, August 16). Venus: The recent, hellish & volcanic planet. Space.com.

Horton, J. (2021, November 18). Is there water on Mars? Live Science.

Howell, E. (2016, June 30). Neptune’s moons: 14 found to date. Space.com.

Kornreich, D. (2019, January 28). How lengthy does it take for the solar’s mild to succeed in us? Ask an Astronomer, Cornell University.

Kramer, M. (2013, October 8). Neptune’s ‘misplaced’ moon noticed for 1st time in 20 years (photographs). Space.com.

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Pultarova, T. (2021, June 30). No hope for all times in Venus clouds. Live Science.

Specktor, B. (2019, Might 6). Scientists suppose they’ve discovered the traditional neutron star crash that showered our photo voltaic system in gold. Live Science.

Specktor, B. (2018, October 1) Pluto needs to be a planet and so ought to Earth’s moon, new examine claims. Live Science.

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