Where did the universe come from? Are we really alone out here? Is it possible to spot the galaxies with your naked eyes? Do we need sophisticated equipment to admire the wonders of the universe or can we do it from the comfort of our Earth? Well, indeed there is still much to discover and one can only answer these or other such questions by exploring the solar system planets and the world beyond.
It doesn’t take much skill or sophisticated equipment to get started with amateur astronomy or stargazing. The other good thing is that you can do it from just about anywhere with your naked eyes, a binoculars or a telescope. And this article can be the starting point of deepening our connection with the cosmos by getting to understand the planets in our solar system.
Why Is It Called the Solar System?
The entire known universe is made up of planetary systems that have planets orbiting a host star. Ours is called solar because our Sun is named Sol (origins from the Latin word “solis” meaning the sun). Therefore anything related to Sol is Solar, and hence the Solar system.
How Many Planets Are in the Solar System?
Our solar system comprises our “angel of light” - the Sun, and everything else bound to it via gravity. This includes the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
It also consists of dwarf planets like Pluto, Ceres, Makemake, Haumea and Eris. Plus, our solar system has hundreds of moons and millions of meteoroids, constellations, asteroids and comets.
Here is a short breakdown of our solar system planets:
A Beginners’ Guide to the Planets of Our Solar System
It’s a yellow star, made up of hot glowing gases. The Sun holds our solar system together through the force of gravity. And this way it keeps everything from the largest planets to the smallest objects and debris in its orbit. It makes up to 99.8% of the mass of our entire solar system.
The interactions and associations between the Sun and the Earth are responsible for bringing seasons, auroras, radiation belt and ocean currents. For an easy visualization of the size of our Sun, try this: if it was the size of the door, our Earth would be about the size of a coin. At the equator, it spins once every 25 days or so and once on its axis every 35 days.
This dwarf star is a ball of 92.1% Hydrogen and 7.8% Helium all held together by its own gravity. Without this power of light and energy, there would be zero life here on Earth.
This enigmatic place of extremes makes for the first and closest planet to the sun. It’s the smallest of the planets in the solar system, only slightly larger than the Earth’s moon. From where it’s positioned, the Sun would seem thrice the size as viewed from Earth and the brightness would be seven times more! The surprising thing though, is that despite its proximity to the Sun, it’s not the hottest planet in our solar system.
- It’s the closest to the Sun, within a distance of about 58 million Kilometers.
- It takes 59 Earth days for it to spin once on its own axis, in order to complete a day and just 88 Earth days to make a complete orbit around the Sun (One year Mercury time).
- It’s known as the terrestrial planet because of its rocky nature, it has a cratered solid surface much like our moon. This Levitating Moon Lamp is the closest you can get to touching and seeing this actual moonlike texture.
- Did you know there’s oxygen on Mercury? Well, its atmosphere is made up of Helium, Oxygen, Hydrogen, Sodium and Potassium.
- There’s no evidence of life found on Mercury, the daytime temperatures can hit 430 °C and drop down to -180°C during the night.
Solar System Planets: Venus
Venus has been nicknamed Earth’s twin, simply because they’re similar in size and structure, with that said though, they have great differences. The atmosphere on Venus is so toxic because it’s filled with carbon dioxide. And it’s constantly masked in thick yellowish clouds made up of sulfuric acid that completely traps the heat causing a greenhouse effect. Not to mention this is why Venus is the hottest of the planets in our solar system, even though it’s second from the Sun.
It has intense air pressure crushing at its surface, and is 90 times greater than that of the Earth.
- Its distance from the Sun is about 108 million kilometers.
- It spins backwards, meaning its Sun rises from the West setting in the East and one Venus day lasts 243 Earth days.
- Venus’ surface is solid and features volcanic landscapes with high volcanic mountains, ridged plateaus and plains.
- It has no moon.
- Its surface temperature is about 465°C.
- It’s believed that water once existed on Venus’ surface.
- Venus rotates slowly but it has intense winds that blow like hurricanes causing clouds to make a complete round of the planet in just 5 days.
- It cannot support life as we know it due to its extreme temperatures and acid clouds.
Our home sweet home, it’s the third planet from the Sun and the only one that supports life as far as we know it. It’s the only planet on the solar system displaying liquid water right on its surface. It’s the fifth largest of all the planets in the solar system.
It’s just a bit larger than planet Venus and ranks the first among the four planets placed in the close neighborhood of the Sun. The four planets have as main components the metal and rocks. The noun Earth has Germanic origins and means “ground”. And this is the only planet that’s not named after Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.
- As the 3rd planet, it’s positioned 150 million kilometers away from the Sun.
- It goes round its own axis in 24 hours to make a day and makes a complete orbit around the Sun in 365 days to make a year.
- It’s rocky with a dynamic solid surface of mountains, plains, canyons and most of it is covered with liquid water.
- Its atmosphere is 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen and other ingredients that form the remaining 1%. This mix creates a perfect balance for breathing.
- Earth has a cosmic companion, one Moon. Bring the Moon closer, in its miniature replica - a Moon Lamp. And admire the splendor of this cosmic marvel via an intermediary object that uses the exact images of the real Moon provided by NASA.
- Earth’s atmosphere protects it from incoming meteoroids. most of which disintegrate in the atmosphere before they can reach the surface.
This is the fourth planet from the Sun. It’s a cold and dusty desert world that has a very thin atmosphere. There are extinct volcanoes that provide evidence of an active past. Mars also has seasons, canyons and polar ice caps.
Of all the solar system planets, this is the most explored with NASA sending experts to roam around. Currently there are 3 spacecrafts in orbit and one rover on the surface. Evidence from these explorations have shown that Mars used to be much warmer and wet with a thicker atmosphere many billions of years ago.
- Using the analogy above, if the Sun was the size of your door, Earth would be the size of a coin and Mars would be the size of an aspirin tablet.
- Mars sits at an average distance of 228 million kilometers from the Sun.
- It takes slightly over 24 hours to make a complete day, and about 687 Earth days to make a complete orbit around the Sun.
- It’s rocky, has a solid surface with volcanoes and evidence of crustal movement. There are winds and chemical reactions too.
- Its thin atmosphere is mainly made up of carbon dioxide, argon, nitrogen, small amounts of oxygen and water vapors.
- It has two moons, Phobos and Deimos
- It’s called the rusty planet because it has iron minerals in the Martian soil that oxidize and rust, causing the soil as well as the atmosphere to look reddish. If you want to see how this would look like, this Galaxy Lamp will offer you somehow a similar view and more, but from the comfort of your home.
- It cannot support life as far as we know.
It’s on Jupiter that Galileo found the first moon besides the Earth’s. It’s the fifth from the Sun and the largest of the planets in the solar system. It’s big enough to cover twice the size of all planets in the Solar System put together.
Jupiter is very popular for its famous “Great Red Spot” which is a gigantesque storm (bigger than our Earth) that has been raging for centuries. It has cold vortices and stripes, plus windy clouds of water and ammonia wandering in a dense atmosphere of helium and hydrogen.
- Earth would fit inside Jupiter about eleven times.
- It’s 484 million kilometers away from the Sun
- It makes a Jovian year by rotating once every 10 hours but takes about 12 Earth years to complete one orbit. (To make a Jovian year)
- Just like Neptune, this is a giant gas and therefore has no surface like earth. Scientists believe it might have an inner core about the size of Earth.
- It’s made up of Hydrogen and Helium.
- Has an alluring number of known moons, more than 75.
- The giant planets in our solar system have rings, and so this one too has them albeit faint.
- Upon our knowledge it cannot support life.
Solar System Planets: Saturn
The sixth of the planets in our solar system, this outlandish planet is also the second largest.
It’s so gorgeous thanks to the thousands of ringlets made of chunks of ice and rock. Just like the other 3 giants, this planet too is a massive ball of hydrogen and helium.
- Nine Earths fitted side by side can be inserted inside Saturn without the rings.
- It's 1.4 billion kilometers away from the Sun.
- It’s estimated to take about 10.7 hours to rotate once on its axis to complete one Saturn day and about 29 Earth years to orbit the Sun.
- It’s a gas giant therefore lacks a solid surface but scientists think it might have a small core in it.
- It has a total of 82 Moons, 53 are known while 29 are still awaiting confirmation.
- Has a ring system like no other, with seven rings, several gaps and partitions between them.
- This beauty is a lifeless behemoth; however some of its Moons have shown signs that indicate they might support life.
The seventh of the solar system planets. Uranus likes to stand out and therefore it rolls sideways, that’s why it’s called the “side-ways planet”. This planet was the first to be discovered using a telescope in 1781 by William Herschel.
It’s also an Ice Giant that’s about four times the size of Earth. It has 27 known Moons all named after famous characters of William Shakespeare’s and Alexander Pope’s works. Uranus is a ringed planet.
- If we consider Uranus to be similar to a basketball that our Earth would be an apple.
- This seventh wanderer is positioned 2.9 billion kilometers from the Sun.
- It has short days and long years, it takes about 17 hours to complete one rotation and about 84 earth years to do a complete orbit of the Sun. (Uranian year)
- It’s mainly made up of a dense and hot fluid of “icy” material, water, ammonia and methane outside of a rocky core. Its atmosphere is composed of molecular hydrogen and atomic helium.
- It has a total of 13 rings, inner rings are narrow and a little darker while the outer rings are bright and thicker.
- As it rotates sideways, it also goes the same direction as Venus, it rotates east to west.
- It cannot support life.
Solar System Planets: Neptune
This is the most distant of the solar system planets. It’s so, so far. Thus, it’s cold, dark and has supersonic winds. Considering how many planets are in our solar system, are they all visible to the naked eye? Well, Neptune is the only one that cannot be seen this way and the first planet to be predicted by mathematics before it was actually spotted.
Since it’s placed so far, at a 30 times multiplied distance between Earth and Sun; it’s just the other day in 2011 that this Ice Giant completed its first orbit of 165 years, since its discovery way back in 1846.
- Our Earth fits four times inside Neptune
- It’s positioned about 4.5 billion kilometers from the Sun
- It takes just about 16 hours to complete one rotation (Neptunian day) and a whole 165 earth years to orbit the Sun and make one Neptunian year.
- Just like Uranus, Neptune is also made of some hot and dense fluid of “icy” materials, ammonia and methane covering a small rocky core. Its atmosphere is of molecular hydrogen, methane and atomic helium.
- It has 14 known Moons that have been named after Greek mythology’s sea gods and nymphs.
- It has five major rings and other four rings arcs that are clusters of dust and fragments likely formed by the gravity of the nearby moon.
- It cannot support life.
These worlds of wonders are a gift that keeps offering; you never stop learning about new discoveries within our solar system planets. Whether it’s through your naked eyes, or in an entertaining way via a Galaxy Projector that streams all these and more in your room, you can never stop wondering in front of this divine elegance. A falling confetti show or simpler said: just the alluring cosmos.