There are an unknown number of smaller dwarf planets and innumerable small Solar System bodies orbiting the Sun. Six of the major planets, the six largest possible dwarf planets, and many of the smaller bodies are orbited by natural satellites, commonly called "moons" after Earth's Moon. Two natural satellites, Jupiter's moon Ganymede and Saturn's moon Titan, are larger but not more massive than Mercury, the smallest terrestrial planet, and Jupiter's moon Callisto is nearly as large. Each of the giant planets and some smaller bodies are encircled by planetary rings of ice, dust and moonlets. The asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, contains objects composed of rock, metal and ice. Beyond Neptune's orbit lie the Kuiper belt and scattered disc, which are populations of objects composed mostly of ice and rock.
In the outer reaches of the Solar System lies a class of minor planets called detached objects. There is considerable debate as to how many such objects there will prove to be. Some of these objects are large enough to have rounded under their own gravity and thus to be categorized as dwarf planets. Astronomers generally accept about nine objects as dwarf planets: the asteroid Ceres, the Kuiper-belt objects Pluto, Orcus, Haumea, Quaoar and Makemake, the scattered-disk objects Gonggong and Eris, and Sedna. Various small-body populations, including comets, centaurs and interplanetary dust clouds, freely travel between the regions of the Solar System.
Io (pronounced /ˈaɪoʊ/ eye'-oe, or as Greek Ῑώ) is the innermost of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter and, with a diameter of 3,642 kilometers, the fourth largest moon in the Solar System. It was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, along with the other Galilean satellites. This discovery furthered the adoption of the Copernican model of the Solar System and the development of Kepler's laws of motion. Unlike most satellites in the outer Solar System (which have a thick coating of ice), Io is primarily composed of silicate rock surrounding a molten iron or iron sulfide core. Io has one of the most geologically active surfaces in the solar system, with over 400 active volcanoes. This extreme geologic activity is the result of tidal heating from friction generated within Io's interior by Jupiter's varying pull. Several volcanoes produce plumes of sulfur and sulfur dioxide that climb as high as 500 km (310 mi). Io's surface is also dotted with more than 100 mountains that have been uplifted by extensive compression at the base of the moon's silicate crust. Some of these peaks are taller than Earth's Mount Everest. Most of Io's surface is characterized by extensive plains coated with sulfur and sulfur dioxide frost. (Full article...)
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is a nearly perfect sphere of plasma, heated by nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium in its core, with internal convective motion that generates a magnetic field via a dynamo process. It is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 1.39 million kilometres (860,000 miles) or 109 times that of Earth, while its mass is about 330,000 times that of Earth. It accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of the Solar System. Roughly three-quarters of the Sun's mass consists of hydrogen; the rest is mostly helium, with much smaller quantities of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon and iron.
An animated image showing the apparent retrograde motion of Mars in 2003 as seen from Earth. All the true planets appear to periodically switch direction as they cross the sky. Because Earth completes its orbit in a shorter period of time than the planets outside its orbit, we periodically overtake them, like a faster car on a multi-lane highway. When this occurs, the planet will first appear to stop its eastward drift, and then drift back toward the west. Then, as Earth swings past the planet in its orbit, it appears to resume its normal motion west to east.
Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun and the fourth most massive in the Solar System. In this photograph from 1986 the planet appears almost featureless, but recent terrestrial observations have found seasonal changes to be occurring.
Comet Hale–Bopp sails across the sky in the vicinity of Pazin in Istria, Croatia. To the lower right of the comet the Andromeda Galaxy is also faintly visible. The comet was visible to the naked eye for a record 18 months, twice as long as the Great Comet of 1811. At perihelion, it shone brighter than any star in the sky except Sirius, and its two tails stretched 30-40 degrees across the sky. The passage of Hale-Bopp was notable also for inciting a degree of panic about comets not seen for decades. Rumours that the comet was being followed by an alienspacecraft inspired a mass suicide among followers of the Heaven's Gatecult.
An animation of an eruption by the Tvashtar Paterae volcanic region on the innermost of Jupiter's Galilean moons, Io. The ejecta plume is 330 km (205 mi) high, though only its uppermost half is visible in this image, as its source lies over the moon's limb on its far side. This animation consists of a sequence of five images taken by NASA's New Horizons probe on March 1, 2007, over the course of eight minutes from 23:50 UTC.
Earthrise, the first occasion in which humans saw the Earth seemingly rising above the surface of the Moon, taken during the Apollo 8 mission on December 24, 1968. This view was seen by the crew at the beginning of its fourth orbit around the Moon, although the first photograph taken was in black-and-white. Note that the Earth is in shadow here. A photo of a fully lit Earth would not be taken until the Apollo 17 mission.
The Planum Boreum's permanent ice cap has a maximum depth of 3 km (1.9 mi). It is roughly 1200 km (750 mi) in diameter, an area equivalent to about 1½ times the size of Texas. The Chasma Boreale is up to 100 km (62.5 mi) wide and features scarps up to 2 km (1.25 mi) high. For a comparison, the Grand Canyon is approximately 1.6 km (1 mi) deep in some places and 446 km (279 mi) long but only up to 24 km (15 mi) wide.
Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and by far the largest within the Solar System. It is 318 times more massive than Earth, with a diameter 11 times that of Earth, and with a volume 1300 times that of Earth. Its best known feature is the Great Red Spot, a storm larger than Earth, which was first observed by Galileo four centuries ago. This picture, taken by the Cassini orbiter was one of 26 thousand images taken of Jupiter during the course of its flyby and is the most detailed global color portrait of the planet ever produced.
A true-color image of Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, taken by the Galileo spacecraft. The dark spot just left of the center is the erupting volcano Prometheus. The whitish plains on either side of it are coated with volcanically deposited sulfur dioxide frost, whereas the yellower regions contain a higher proportion of sulfur.
Neptune is the eighth and farthest known planet from the Sun in the Solar System. In the Solar System, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter, the third-most-massive planet and the densest giant planet. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth, slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus. Neptune is denser and physically smaller than Uranus because its greater mass causes more gravitational compression of its atmosphere. Neptune orbits the Sun once every 164.8 years at an average distance of 30.1 au (4.5 billion km; 2.8 billion mi). It is named after the Roman god of the sea and has the astronomical symbol ♆, a stylised version of the god Neptune's trident.
This picture of Neptune was taken by NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989, at a range of 4.4 million miles (7.1 million kilometres) from the planet, approximately four days before closest approach. The photograph shows the Great Dark Spot, a storm about the size of Earth, in the centre, while the fast-moving bright feature nicknamed the "Scooter" and the Small Dark Spot can be seen on the western limb. These clouds were seen to persist for as long as the spacecraft's cameras could resolve them.
Full moon is a lunar phase that occurs when the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun, and when the three celestial bodies are aligned as closely as possible to a straight line. At this time, as seen by viewers on Earth, the hemisphere of the Moon that is facing the Earth (the near side) is fully illuminated by sunlight and appears round. Only during a full moon is the opposite hemisphere of the Moon, which is not visible from Earth (the far side), completely unilluminated.
These images are composites of the complete radar image collection obtained by the Magellan mission. The Magellan spacecraft was launched aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in May 1989 and began mapping the surface of Venus in September 1990. The spacecraft continued to orbit Venus for four years, returning high-resolution images, altimetry, thermal emissions and gravity maps of 98 percent of the surface. Magellan spacecraft operations ended on October 12, 1994, when the radio contact was lost with the spacecraft during its controlled descent into the deeper portions of the Venusian atmosphere.
A TRACE image of sunspots on the surface, or photosphere, of the Sun from September 2002, is taken in the far ultraviolet on a relatively quiet day for solar activity. However, the image still shows a large sunspot group visible as a bright area near the horizon. Although sunspots are relatively cool regions on the surface of the Sun, the bright glowing gas flowing around the sunspots have a temperature of over one million °C (1.8 million °F). The high temperatures are thought to be related to the rapidly changing magnetic field loops that channel solar plasma.
The Blue Marble is a famous photograph of Earth. NASA officially credits the image to the entire Apollo 17 crew — Eugene Cernan, Ronald Evans and Jack Schmitt — all of whom took photographic images during the mission. Apollo 17 passed over Africa during daylight hours and Antarctica is also illuminated. The photograph was taken approximately five hours after the spacecraft's launch, while en route to the Moon. Apollo 17, notably, was the last manned lunar mission; no humans since have been at a range where taking a "whole-Earth" photograph such as "The Blue Marble" would be possible.
Victoria Crater, an impact crater at Meridiani Planum, near the equator of Mars. The crater is approximately 800 meters (half a mile) in diameter. It has a distinctive scalloped shape to its rim, caused by erosion and downhill movement of crater wall material. Layered sedimentary rocks are exposed along the inner wall of the crater, and boulders that have fallen from the crater wall are visible on the crater floor. The floor of the crater is occupied by a striking field of sand dunes. The Mars rover Opportunity can be seen in this image, at roughly the "ten o'clock" position along the rim of the crater.
Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun, is named after the Roman god of war because of its blood red color. Mars has two small, oddly-shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos, named after the sons of the Greek god Ares. At some point in the future Phobos will be broken up by gravitational forces. The atmosphere on Mars is 95% carbon dioxide. In 2003 methane was also discovered in the atmosphere. Since methane is an unstable gas, this indicates that there must be (or have been within the last few hundred years) a source of the gas on the planet.
Image 15Artistic depiction of the Solar System's heliosphere (from Solar System)
Image 16Beyond the heliosphere is the interstellar medium, consisting of various clouds of gases. The Solar System currently moves through the Local Interstellar Cloud, here shown along with neighbouring clouds and the two closest unaided visible stars. (from Solar System)
Image 21Simulation showing outer planets and Kuiper belt: a) Before Jupiter/Saturn 2:1 resonance b) Scattering of Kuiper belt objects into the Solar System after the orbital shift of Neptune c) After ejection of Kuiper belt bodies by Jupiter