The Solar System a General Overview

The solar system is something that although we live in it, we know so little about it. Sure we know what it is comprised of, yet we don’t know where it came from, and we have little understanding of how some of the big, gassy planets came to be. However, I will do my best to present a general overview of the solar system that we live in.

The solar system is made up of eight planets. The planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto is not officially a planet anymore, although a little more on that debate later.

Out of all the planets, Jupiter is the largest, several thousand times larger than the Earth, and was responsible for the breakup of the Shoemaker-Levy comet back in 1995. Mercury is the smallest planet in the solar system, and is also the closest.

The planets are broken up into three groups. The inner planets, or the planets from Mercury to Mars are smaller, rocky bodies, of which one is known to have life, which is Earth. The asteroid belt separates the inner planets from the outer planets, which are much larger and range from Jupiter to Neptune. These bodies are gaseous giants, with little to no solid core. Scientists are completely sure how the asteroid belt formed, but theories abound, such as a broken up planet, or a large comet that may have broken up after coming too close to Jupiter.

With the exception of Mercury and Venus, all the planets have moons. Some of these moons have active volcanoes, and plate tectonics. Scientists even speculate that there may be life on Europa, a moon of Jupiter. This is because there is believed to be a thick ocean under the surface of Europa, a telltale sign of the possibility of life.

A moon of Neptune, named Titan, has been observed to even have weather. The only known moon to have weather, Titan has features on it similar to an early Earth. Although Titan has lakes, rivers and rain, there is no life on Titan, as it rains a form of methane, and not water. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that life as we know it could not form there.

There are several theories as to how the Earth’s moon was formed, but the leading theory is that a Mars-size planet crashed into Earth in the early days of solar system formation. This ejected a bunch of material from the Earth, which cooled into a ball and started orbiting the Earth. This whole process took roughly one day!

Outside of the outer planets, there is what is known as the Kuiper belt. This belt has several large, rocky bodies in its vast area of space beyond Neptune. The most famous of these bodies is Pluto, which was redefined as a dwarf planet, or the more polite name of KBO, or Kuiper Belt Object.

That the solar system in a nutshell. We have eight planets, comets, asteroids, and a whole lot of mystery. We don’t know how the moon formed, or where most of the comets come from. Is Pluto a planet? What is a planet. THere is a lot left to find out, which makes the solar system so fascinating.