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Basics of Our Solar System

Part of Our Solar System

How much do you know about our solar system, the galaxy it's found in, and the universe beyond? Get the quick
facts on the solar system right here!
Our Solar System - What's In It?
If the Milky Way galaxy were shrunk down to the size of North America, our solar system would fit inside
a coffee cup. Our solar system is made up of a star that we call the Sun , along with eight or nine planets (more
on that later): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and the most controversial: Pluto.
The solar system also includes the satellites of these planets, numerous comets, asteroids, and meteoroids.
Our Solar System - How Many Planets?
It has long been taught that our solar system contains nine planets, but that number was cast into doubt in 2006
when the International Astronomical Union voted to reclassify Pluto as a dwaft planet. The reason for it's
demotion has to do with Pluto not being "gravitationally dominant" in its orbital zone. What does that mean? For
an object to be gravitationally dominant it must exert a gravitational pull on the objects surrounding it. For
example, the earth has a stronger pull on the Moon than the Moon has on the earth. That means the earth is
gravitationally dominant. There are two other dwarf planets in our solar system besides newly demoted
Pluto: Ceres and Eris.
Our Solar System - How Big is It?
In order to get a good visual of the relative sizes of our solar system, imagine a model that has been reduced
by a factor of one billion. That means the Earth is now the size of an olive. The Moon is a pepper corn orbiting
about a foot away. The Sun is now the height of a man and about a city block from Earth. Jupiter has just
become the size of a large grapefruit and is five blocks away from the Sun. Saturn, the size of an apple, is ten
blocks away, Uranus and Neptune, both lemons, are twenty and thirty blocks away. A human on this scale is
the size of an atom and the nearest star is more than 24,850 miles (40,000 km) away.
Our Solar System - How Was It Created?
The question of how our solar system - and also our universe - were created is a seriously contentious issue!
There is a chance that we might never know entirely, but there some well-researched theories as to how it was
created. The most famous and believed by astronomers is the Big Bang theory. The theory goes that about 14
billion years ago, the entire universe was thousands of times smaller than a pinhead. It was incredably hot and
dense. At some point the micor-universe exploded, the blast made all this debris in the universe. The planets,
moons and asteroids today are the survivors from that explosion and our Sun is the central star and the
universe is still expanding to this day.

The Solar System
comprises the Sun and its planetary system of eight planets,
as well as a number of dwarf
planets, satellites(moons), and other objects that orbit the Sun.
It formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational
collapse of a giant molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun, with most of the remaining
mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets,Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, also called the terrestrial
planets, are primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets, called the gas giants, are substantially
more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest, Jupiter and Saturn, are composed mainly of hydrogen and
helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are composed largely of substances with relatively high
melting points (compared with hydrogen and helium), called ices, such as water, ammonia and methane, and are
often referred to separately as "ice giants". All planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc
called the ecliptic plane.
The Solar System also contains a number of regions populated by smaller objects.
The asteroid belt, which lies
between Mars and Jupiter, is similar to the terrestrial planets as it mostly contains objects composed of rock and
metal. Beyond Neptune's orbit lie theKuiper belt and scattered disc, linked populations of trans-Neptunian
objects composed mostly of ices. Within these populations are several dozen to more than ten thousand objects that
may be large enough to have been rounded by their own gravity.
Such objects are referred to as dwarf planets.
Identified dwarf planets include the asteroid Ceres and the trans-Neptunian objects Pluto, Eris, Haumea,
In addition to these two regions, various other small-body populations
including comets, centaurs and interplanetary dustfreely travel between regions. Six of the planets, at least three of
the dwarf planets, and many of the smaller bodies are orbited by natural satellites,
usually termed "moons" after
Earth's Moon. Each of the outer planets is encircled by planetary rings of dust and other small objects.
The solar wind, a flow of plasma from the Sun, creates a bubble in the interstellar medium known as the heliosphere,
which extends out to the edge of the scattered disc. The Oort cloud, which is believed to be the source for long-period
comets, may also exist at a distance roughly a thousand times further than the heliosphere. The heliopause is the
point at which pressure from the solar wind is equal to the opposing pressure of interstellar wind. The Solar System is
located within one of the outer arms of the Milky Way galaxy, which contains about 200 billion stars.