Our solar system began as a cloud of gas and dust 4.6 billion years ago, over time it has evolved into what we know today, a fascinating collection of celestial bodies with a bright yellow dwarf star at its center.
Orbiting the sun are the planets of the solar system, each one different from the others with its own characteristics and individual qualities. From the tiny planet Mercury to the giant of the solar system, Jupiter, from the hellish desert environment of Venus to the ocean covered world of Earth.
Below are listed the planets and other bodies of our solar system in the order they orbit the sun, with a brief description of each one.
The nearest planet to the sun is Mercury, it orbits the sun at an average distance of only 36 million miles. This makes Mercury a very hot world indeed, temperatures during the day reach around 840F. Mercury is also the smallest planet in the solar system, it’s less than half the size of Earth.
Next comes Venus, often referred to as Earth’s twin or sister, although if you landed on Venus it wouldn’t seem very familiar. You’d be faced with the hottest surface temperatures in the entire solar system and crushing atmospheric pressure. The planet rotates extremely slowly meaning a day on Venus lasts for around 8 months.
The third planet from the sun is Earth, the only known planet in the universe to harbor life. Luckily for us our planet lies in the habitable zone, this is an area around a star which is at just the right temperature, allowing liquid water to flow on our planet’s surface. Water is so prevalent on Earth it covers 70% of its surface.
Then comes Mars, also known as the Red Planet. At around half the size of Earth it is the second smallest planet in the solar system. Mars has an extremely thin atmosphere, only 1% the density of Earth’s, as a result it can’t hold on to its heat making it a very cold world. Mars has some impressive geographic features, boasting the largest mountain and the largest canyon in the solar system.
Between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter we find the Asteroid Belt, an area of rocky bodies which orbit the sun at a distance of around 280 million miles. It is believed these rocks are remnants from the formation of the solar system. Occasionally asteroids will get knocked out of their orbit and enter the inner solar system, crossing the orbit of Earth.
After the asteroid belt we come to the first and the largest of the gas giants, Jupiter. This giant ball of gas is so large you could fit over 1,000 Earth’s into its volume. Like all of the gas planets in the solar system its atmosphere is mostly composed of hydrogen and helium. Jupiter is also the fastest spinning planet in the solar system taking only 10 hours to rotate on its axis.
Then we find Saturn, the most visually stunning planet in the solar system. Its large and complex ring structure makes it many people’s favorite. The rings are actually mostly composed of ice particles which extend outward for thousands of miles. Saturn is the least dense of any of the planets, if you could place it in a very large ocean of water it would float.
After the beauty of Saturn we reach the rather bland looking Uranus. With few surface features it looks like a very large pool ball. Strangely the planet is tilted on its side, this may have been caused by a huge collision in its past. Then we come to the name of the planet which occasionally raises a few chuckles, actually the planet was originally called George’s Star after its discovery but was later renamed Uranus.
The last of the gas giants is Neptune, the other blue planet of the solar system. Like Uranus it’s around 4 times larger than Earth in terms of its diameter. Neptune is extremely distant, orbiting the sun at an average distance of almost 3 billion miles. Neptune and Uranus are also known as ‘ice giants’ due to the presence of water, ammonia and methane in their interiors.
Beyond Neptune lies the former planet Pluto, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union redefined what qualifies as a planet and Pluto was reclassified as a ‘dwarf planet’. The reason for this is that Pluto doesn’t have its own clear orbit, instead it orbits the sun with other similar bodies in a region of the solar system called the Kuiper Belt. This area is populated with icy bodies that occasionally enter the inner solar system and become comets.
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