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The Planets of Our Solar System


Our Solar System is made up of eight
planets in orbit around a medium-sized
yellow starour Sun. There are also a
variety of other objects, including moons,
comets, asteroids, and planetoids.

Of the eight planets, four are known as
inner planets, because they orbit closer to
the Sun. The four outer planets are much
farther away. A close look at both groups
of planets reveals similarities among the
planets in each group. It also notes the
differences between inner and outer
planets.

The Inner Planets
The inner planets are also called terrestrial planets due to their
solid surfaces. They are small and have few, if any, moons.
These planets include Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.

The closest planet to the Sun is Mercury.
The surface of this small, rocky planet is
marked with craters of all sizes. It moves
quickly around the Sun, hurtling along at 31
miles per second (50 km/s), with an orbit of
only 88 Earth days. Since Mercury is the
closest planet to the Sun, passing as close as
29 million miles (47 million kilometers)
from the Suns surface, temperatures can
rise as high as 800F (427C). However, the
planet has very little atmosphere. As a
result, there is no greenhouse effect in
which atmospheric gases trap solar energy
near a planets surface. Consequently,
temperatures during the night can be as low
as -290F (-179C).

Mercury is a small planetjust a little bigger
than Earths Moon. However, it is very dense,
thanks to its core, which is primarily composed of molten metal.
Because of its high density, it has a significant amount of gravity
for such a small planetmore than 1/3 of Earths gravity.
The eight planets of our Solar System orbit the
Sun, a medium-sized yellow star.
Mercurys surface lacks

the protection provided
by a thick atmosphere, so its surface is heavily
cratered.

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The Planets of Our Solar System
Moving farther away from the Sun, the next
planet is Venus. In contrast to Mercurys thin
atmosphere, Venus has a thick, cloudy
atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulfuric
acid that traps the Suns energy close to the
planets surface. This causes temperatures on
Venuss surface to climb higher than 880F
(471C). This is hot enough to melt the metals
from which space probes are constructed,
which has made it quite difficult to explore
Venuss surface. Volcanoes on Venuss
surface and its stormy, acidic atmosphere
present additional barriers to exploration.

Venuss orbit around the Sun takes about 225
Earth days, nearly three times the length of time it takes
Mercury to orbit the Sun. It rotates slowly in the opposite
direction as Earth, the only inner planet to spin in this direction.
Although it is about the same size and density as Earth, Venus
does not have a similar magnetic field. This is due to its very
slow spin, which does not provide the motion necessary to set
up the motion in Venuss core that it
would take to generate a magnetic
field.

The third planet from the Sun is
Earth, which is orbited by a single
moon. Earth is home to an
incredible diversity of living things.
This life is made possible by the
interactions of several factors.
Earths distance from the Sun, its
abundance of water, its spin, and its
tilt all contribute to the conditions
that make life possible. Earth is
close enough to the Sun to receive
light and warmth, and Earths atmosphere
both protects it from extremely high temperatures and holds
enough warmth to protect it from extremely low temperatures.
The range of temperatures on Earth allows life to flourish on
land and in water. Earths tilt accounts for the uneven heating of
the planet, which causes weather and seasons. Earths spin

The surface of Venus is covered in volcanoes,
while its stormy atmosphere swirls overhead.

Earth has the conditions necessary for life.

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The Planets of Our Solar System
causes the motion within its molten core
that produces a strong magnetic field.

Mars, the fourth planet, is dry and barren.
It exhibits a reddish color due to the
amount of iron in its crust, which can form
orange and red-colored compounds. While
Mars is only about half the size of Earth
and has no currently active magnetic field,
it does share some similarities with Earth.
It is tilted on its axis, and so has seasons. It
has two moonsPhobos and Deimosthat
orbit the planet. It also has polar ice caps
as Earth does, and these include some
water ice. In addition, precipitation has
been observed by the Phoenix Mars Lander
mission.

The Outer Planets
Beyond Mars lies the asteroid belt, and
beyond this are the outer planets. These
planets are also knows as gas giants, since
they are not small and rocky, but are large
and made of gases. In general, they also
have more objects in orbit around them,
including moons and other particles. The
outer planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus,
and Neptune.

Jupiter is the first of the gas giants. It is the
largest of the planets, having more than
1300 times the volume of Earth. Jupiter has
four large moons and many smaller ones,
along with rings made up of smaller
particles. Its magnetic field is much stronger
than Earths, due to the fact that Jupiter spins more quickly on
its axis. Its path around the Sun takes nearly 12 Earth years,
partially due to its longer orbit and partially because it travels
about half as fast as Earth does. Jupiter and its atmosphere are
both composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, like the Sun.
Winds in the atmosphere cause its striped appearance.

Mars has a red color d

ue to iron compounds in
its crust.
Jupiter has four large moons, two of which
(Io and Europa) can be see here. Its Great
Red Spot is a storm in the atmosphere.

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The Planets of Our Solar System
Saturn is known for its large bands of
vibrant rings, which are thousands of
kilometers in diameter. The thousands of
individual rings are made up of a variety of
different-sized particles, from tiny dust-
sized particles to huge chunks of matter.
Each ring has its own orbit around Saturn,
and each one orbits at a slightly different
speed. Gaps between bands of rings are
caused by moons that orbit in the midst of
the rings. Other than its rings, Saturn is
much like a smaller Jupiter. It has many
moons, is made up of hydrogen and helium,
and has a volume and a magnetic field many
times as great as Earths.

Although it has rings and several moons like
the other outer planets, Uranus is unique in
several ways. It rotates in the opposite direction of the Earth
and the other gas giants. Instead, it rotates east to west like the
inner planet Venus. Also, its axis nearly lines up with the plane
of its orbit, so that it looks like it is lying on its side. Its magnetic
field is similarly askew, in that it is not centered on the center of
the planet but is tilted 60 degrees from
the rotation of its axis. Also, Uranus
atmosphere contains methane gas in
addition to the hydrogen and helium
found in the atmospheres of Jupiter and
Saturn. This makes Uranus look blue
through a telescope. Although the
planet is traditionally classified as a gas
giant, the majority of its mass is made
up of liquid water, methane, and
ammonia. This has given rise to the
term ice giant in reference to Uranus
and Neptune.

Neptune is the farthest planet from the Sun,
orbiting at a distance of about 2.8 million miles
from our star. This gives it an extremely long orbit of about 165
Earth years. Like Uranus, it appears blue in color due to
methane in its atmosphere, has an irregular magnetic field, and

Of all the gas giants, Saturn has the most
vibrant rings.

Neptune appears blue due to the presence of
methane in its atmosphere.

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has an icy liquid core. Neptune also has several moons, as well
as the rings common to all the outer planets.

Beyond Neptune lie the outermost objects in our Solar System,
including those in the icy Kuiper Belt.
The Planets of Our Solar System