Nothing on this Earth can make you feel smaller than realizing that there’s an entire Universe out there. Possibly even just one of many Universes full of galaxies and planetary systems like our solar system. But precisely what is the solar system? What is it made up of and how and why are we such an insignificant part of it? Furthermore, is Pluto actually considered a planet again or not?
Our solar system is the group of planets that orbit the Sun. That big, round, bright thing we see in the sky that seems to move around us every day? We're actually moving around it right alongside our eight - or nine, depending on where you stand with Pluto - planetary siblings and all that comes with them. The Solar System is also billions upon billions of years old; older than the dinosaurs and Game of Thrones.
Did you know? There are some really fun ways to remember the names and order of the planets. Just make up a mnemonic sentence! Try this one: My Very Easy Method Just Speeds Up Naming Planets.
Mercury is the planet in the solar system that's situated the closest to the sun. Except for Pluto, which is a dwarf planet, it's also the smallest of the set. Named after the Roman Messenger God, Mercury, you might have seen or heard people mention Mercury being in retrograde. Or, as another variant, blaming it for things going on around them. When Mercury moves into retrograde, it means that the planet appears to be moving backward. This is actually just an illusion for those of us on Earth.
Venus is the planet situated between Mercury and Earth. Its name comes from the Roman goddess of love and is special enough that we can see it pretty clearly from Earth at certain parts of the year. You also don't need a telescope to do so. In the sky, Venus appears to be the second brightest object in the heavens after the Moon. Therefore, that large, bright star you sometimes see up there? It's not a UFO; it's Venus.
Although we know most of what we need to know about Earth, being that it's our planet and all, there are still plenty of unanswered questions. Like, why is Earth the only planet that we didn’t name after a God? Particularly given that it’s the only planet in our solar system that, as far as we know, also harbors life. On the contrary, however, there have been many gods named after it. Earth is believed to be around 4.5 billion years old. In fact, the whole solar system is the same age.
Mars is one of the only other planets in the solar system that we've been able to explore. As one of the most studied bodies in the sky, we've been able to learn about its climate now and in the past. As well as this, we've also been made privy to the existence of now-extinct volcanoes, deserts, and even polar ice caps. The Red Planet has two moons and might one day actually be able to harbor life.
Jupiter is the biggest of the solar system's planets. In fact, it's so large that it's twice as big as all of the other planets combined. Although we've yet to explore Jupiter, we're doing so at the moment with an orbiter called Juno that is investigating this unknown landscape. The large red spot on the planet's surface is a giant storm that's been ongoing for hundreds of years. What's more, is it has over 75 moons. How's that for a Star Wars plotline?
One of the most recognizable planets, Saturn is usually the image we draw when we're thinking of space. Adorned with beautiful rings, Saturn is, alongside its neighbor Jupiter, primarily made up of hydrogen and helium. Furthermore, while Saturn itself can't support life, we have it on good authority that some of its 50+ moons just might.
Despite being the butt of all space jokes, Uranus is an ice giant and a very serious player in the solar system. If you're to think of Hoth, in The Empire Strikes Back, this would be the closest thing to how Uranus might look if it were habitable. Most of its surface area is made up of icy materials such as water and methane. Because of this, not a single spacecraft has gotten close enough to explore.
Like its neighbor before it, Neptune is also an ice planet. It currently has 13 confirmed moons, all of which are named after nymphs and other beings from Greek mythology. Not a lot is known about Neptune compared to the other planets in the solar system. That being said, what we do know is that it's the solar system's windiest planet. Its winds can hit speeds faster than a fighter jet, more than four times Earth's strongest.
Pluto is a tiny dwarf planet at the very edge of the solar system. It's actually so small that it's smaller than the Moon. According to NASA, Pluto is a stunning, fascinating world. As well as having blue skies, high mountains, and a heart-shaped glacier, it also has red snow. Whether or not you consider Pluto part of our main solar system or not, you can't deny its climb back to the top. When scientists said that Pluto couldn't be considered a real planet, the Internet flipped. Science might run the world, but meme culture is not to be reckoned with.
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