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The Solar System also contains smaller objects. The asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, mostly contains objects composed, like the terrestrial planets, of rock and metal. Beyond Neptune's orbit lie the Kuiper belt and scattered disc, which are populations of trans-Neptunian objects composed mostly of ices, and beyond them a newly discovered population of sednoids. Within these populations, some objects are large enough to have rounded under their own gravity, though there is considerable debate as to how many there will prove to be. Such objects are categorized as dwarf planets. The only certain dwarf planet is Pluto, with another trans-Neptunian object, Eris, expected to be, and the asteroid Ceres at least close to being a dwarf planet. In addition to these two regions, various other small-body populations, including comets, centaurs and interplanetary dust clouds, freely travel between regions. Six of the planets, the six largest possible dwarf planets, and many of the smaller bodies are orbited by natural satellites, usually termed "moons" after the Moon. Each of the outer planets is encircled by planetary rings of dust and other small objects.
Picture of the Sun in extreme ultraviolet showing its turbulent surface.
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, heated to incandescence by nuclear fusion reactions in its core, radiating the energy mainly as light and infrared radiation. It is by far the most important source of energy for life on Earth. Its diameter is about 1.39 million kilometres (864,000 miles), or 109 times that of Earth, and 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 (~73%); the rest is mostly helium (~25%), with much smaller quantities of heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon, neon, and iron.
A picture of the 2012 transit of Venus by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, from 36,000 km (22,000 mi) above the Earth. A transit of Venus across the Sun takes place when the planetVenus passes directly between the Sun and Earth. It is one of the rarest predictable astronomical phenomena and happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The last transit before 2012 was in 2004, and the next pair of transits will occur in 2117 and 2125.
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.
A 14-frame clip showing the atmosphere of Jupiter as viewed from the NASA probe Cassini. Taken over a span of 24 Jupiter rotations between October 31 and November 9, 2000, this clip shows various patterns of motion across the planet. The Great Red Spot rotates counterclockwise, and the uneven distribution of its high haze is obvious. To the east (right) of the Red Spot, oval storms, like ball bearings, roll over and pass each other. East-west bands adjacent to each other move at different rates. Strings of small storms rotate around northern-hemisphere ovals. The large grayish-blue "hot spots" at the northern edge of the white Equatorial Zone change over time as they proceed eastward across the planet. Ovals in the north rotate counter to those in the south. Small, very bright features appear quickly and randomly in turbulent regions, possibly lightning storms. The smallest visible features at the equator are about 600 km (370 miles) across.
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.
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.
Although Mars is smaller than the Earth and 50 percent farther from the Sun, its climate has important similarities with the Earth, such as the presence of polar ice caps, seasonal changes and observable weather patterns. This image shows layered deposits in Planum Boreum, in the north polar region of Mars, which formed from a 3-kilometre-thick (2 mi) stack of dusty water-ice layers about 1,000 km (600 mi) across. The layers record information about the climate of the planet stretching back several million years. Erosion has created scarps and troughs that expose the layering. The tan-colored layers are the dusty water ice of the polar layered deposits, however a section of bluish layers is visible below them. These bluish layers contain sand-sized rock fragments that likely formed a large polar dunefield before the overlying dusty ice was deposited. This photograph, depicting an area approximately 1.3 km (0.8 mi) across, was captured by the HiRISE camera on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
This polar map of Jupiter, taken by the Cassini orbiter as it neared Jupiter during a flyby on its way to Saturn, is the most detailed global color map of the planet ever produced. The south pole is in the center of the map and the equator is at the edge. The map shows a variety of colorful cloud features, including parallel reddish-brown and white bands, the Great Red Spot, multi-lobed chaotic regions, white ovals, and many small vortexes. Many clouds appear in streaks and waves due to continual stretching and folding by Jupiter's winds and turbulence.
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.
This natural-color mosaic image, combining thirty photographs, was taken by the Cassini orbiter over the course of approximately two hours on 23 July 2008 as it panned its wide-angle camera across Saturn and its ring system as the planet approached equinox. Six moons are pictured in the panorama, with the largest, Titan, visible at the bottom left.
A close-up of 10 km (6.2 mi) high mountains within the equatorial ridge on Saturn's moon Iapetus, photographed by the Cassini orbiter. Above the middle of the image can be seen a place where an impact has exposed the bright ice beneath the dark overlying material. The image was taken on September 10, 2007, with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera at a distance of approximately 3,870 km (2,400 mi) from Iapetus.
An animation of the phases of the Moon. As the Moon revolves around the Earth, the Sun lights the Moon from a different side, creating the different phases. In the image, the Moon appears to get bigger as well as "wobble" slightly. Tidal locking synchronizes the Moon's rotation period on its axis to match its orbital period around the earth. These two periods nearly cancel each other out, except that the Moon's orbit is elliptical. This causes its orbital motion to speed up when closer to the Earth, and slow down when farther away, causing the Moon's apparent diameter to change, as well as the wobbling motion observed.
The transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun that took place in . Mercury appears as a black speck in the Sun's lower center-right region; the black areas on the left and right edges are sunspots. The transit was first recorded by French astronomer Pierre Gassendi on November 7, 1631. Transits of Mercury take place in May or November, at intervals of 7, 13, or 33 years, with the next one scheduled to appear in .
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.
False-color detail of Jupiter's atmosphere, imaged by Voyager 1, showing the Great Red Spot and a passing white oval. The wavy cloud pattern to the left of the Red Spot is a region of extraordinarily complex and variable wave motion. To give a sense of Jupiter's scale, the white oval storm directly below the Great Red Spot is approximately the same diameter as Earth.
"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.
Phobos, the larger and closer of the two moons of Mars, as seen from about 6,000 kilometres (3,700 mi) away. A small, irregularly shaped object, Phobos orbits about 9,377 km (5,827 mi) from the center of Mars, closer to its primary than any other planetary moon. The illuminated part of Phobos seen in the images is about 21 km (13 mi) across. The most prominent feature in the images is the large craterStickney in the lower right. With a diameter of 9 km (5.6 mi), it is the largest feature on Phobos.
The Moon is the only natural satellite of Earth and the fifth largest moon in the Solar System. Owing to its synchronous rotation around Earth, the Moon always shows essentially the same face: its near side, which is marked by dark volcanic maria, as well as the bright ancient crustal highlands and the prominent impact craters. However, variations in the Moon's orbital speed due to its orbital eccentricity cause a libration of several degrees of longitude; the alignment of the Moon's orbital plane causes a similar libration in latitude. The Moon was first reached in September 1959 by the Soviet Union's unmanned Luna 2, followed by the first successful soft landing by Luna 9 in 1966. The United States Apollo program achieved the only manned lunar missions to date, including Apollo 8 in 1968, the first manned orbital mission, as well as Apollo 11, the first of six manned landings between 1969 and 1972.
This picture shows the near side of the Moon close to its greatest northern ecliptic latitude, so the southern craters are especially prominent. Tranquility Base, Apollo 11's landing site, is located near the mid-right in the photograph.
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 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.
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.
Illustration of the Ptolemaicgeocentric model of the Universe (the theory that the Earth is the center of the universe) by Portuguese cosmographer and cartographer Bartolomeu Velho. Taken from his treatise Cosmographia, made in Paris, 1568. Notice the distances of the bodies to the centre of the Earth (left) and the times of revolution, in years (right).
Orrery showing the motions of the inner four planets. The small spheres represent the position of each planet on every Julian day, beginning 6 July 2018 (aphelion) and ending 3 January 2019 (perihelion).
Size comparison of the Sun and the planets (clickable)
Beyond the heliosphere is the interstellar medium, consisting of various clouds of gases. The Solar System currently moves through the Local Interstellar Cloud.
Schematic of the hypothetical , with a spherical outer cloud and a disc-shaped inner cloud
The geology of the contact binary object Arrokoth (nicknamed Ultima Thule), the first undisturbed planetesimal visited by a spacecraft, with comet 67P to scale. The eight subunits of the larger lobe, labeled ma to mh, are thought to have been its building blocks. The two lobes came together later, forming a contact binary. Objects such as Arrokoth are believed in turn to have formed protoplanets.
Ceres - map of gravity fields: red is high; blue, low.
Andreas Cellarius's illustration of the Copernican system, from the Harmonia Macrocosmica (1660)
Simulation 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
Orbit of Jupiter
Orbit of Saturn
Orbit of Uranus
Orbit of Neptune
Relative size of the Sun as it is now (inset) compared to its estimated future size as a red giant
Orrery showing the motions of the outer four planets. The small spheres represent the position of each planet on every 100 Julian days, beginning 21 January 2023 (Jovian perihelion) and ending 2 December 2034 (Jovian perihelion).