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Solar system

A generic solar system (planetary system) consists of, at least, one star and various orbiting objects (such as asteroids, comets, moons, and planets). The planet Earth is located within a solar system.

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The Sol System

In the Sol system, the primary object is Sol, a comparatively small star which, nevertheless, contains 99.86% of system's mass. Much of the remaining mass is found in the planets; (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto); as well as, their moons and ring systems. In addition, there are asteroids, comets, Kuiper objects, trans-Neptunian objects, a theorized Oort cloud, and interplanetary dust, gas, and particles. The surface area, of this system's objects, is ~ 1.7B km2. (1 -- U Texas (http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~gwk/images/SolSys/SolSys))

Origin and Evolution of Solar Systems

Cosmogony is the academic discipline which deals with the formation of solar systems. Solar systems are generally believed to form as part of the same process which results in star formation; although, some argue that systems are formed by some kind of accidental "stellar near-collison". The more common theory argues that the objects of a solar system developed from a solar nebula.

Orbit of the Sol System

The solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy, a spiral galaxy with a diameter of about 100,000 light years containing approximately 200 billion stars, of which our sun is fairly typical.

Estimates place the solar system at between 25,000 and 28,000 light years from the galactic center. Its speed is about 220 kilometers per second, and it completes one revolution every 226 million years.

The solar system appears to have a very unusual orbit. It is both extremely circular, and at nearly the exact distance at which the orbital speed matches the speed of the compression waves that form the spiral arms. The solar system appears to have remained between spiral arms for most of the existence of life on Earth. The radiation from supernovas in spiral arms could theoretically sterilize planetary surfaces, preventing the formation of large animal life on land. By remaining out of the spiral arms, Earth may be unusually free to form large animal life on its surface.

Discovery and Exploration of the Solar System

Because of the geocentric perspective from which humans viewed the solar system, its nature and structure were long misperceived. The apparent motions of solar system objects as viewed from a moving Earth were believed to be their actual motions about a stationary Earth. In addition, many solar system objects and phenomena are not directly sensible by humans without technical aids. Thus both conceptual and technological advances were required in order for the solar system to be correctly understood.

The first and most fundamental of these advances was the Copernican Revolution, which adopted a heliocentric model for the motions of the planets. Indeed, the term "solar system" itself derives from this perspective. But the most important consequences of this new perception came not from the central position of the Sun, but from the orbital position of the Earth, which suggested that the Earth was itself a planet, and the planets other Earths. This was the first indication of the true nature of the planets. Also, the lack of perceptible stellar parallax despite the Earth's orbital motion indicated the extreme remoteness of the fixed stars, which prompted the speculation that they could be objects similar to the Sun, perhaps with planets of their own.

The Solar System and Other Planetary Systems

Until recently, the solar system was the only known example of a planetary system, although it was widely believed that other comparable systems did exist. A number of such systems have now been detected, although the information available about them is very limited. The technique employed involves the detection through the Doppler effect of periodic variations in the motion of parent stars which is attributed to the presence of planets. This allows the mass and orbital characteristics of the unseen planets to be determined. Unfortunately the sensitivity of these techniques currently does not permit the detection of planets of mass and orbit comparable to the Earth.

Major Planets of the Solar System

All characteristics below are measured relative to Earth:

Planet Equatorial
Mass Orbital
Mercury 0.382 0.06 0.38
Venus 0.949 0.82 0.72
Earth 1.00 1.00 1.00
Mars 0.53 0.11 1.52
Jupiter 11.2 318 5.20
Saturn 9.41 95 9.54
Uranus 3.98 14.6 19.22
Neptune 3.81 17.2 30.06
Pluto* 0.24 0.0017 39.5

*Pluto traditionally has been considered a planet. However now that we have learned more about the variety of bodies in the Solar System we can see that its composition and orbit indicate that it has much more in common with Kuiper belt objects than it has with the rest of the planets. Therefore some astronomers no longer class Pluto as a planet.

Solar System Objects

Mosaic of the planets of the Solar System. Note: planets are not portrayed in the same scale.


It has been suggested that the Sun may be part of a binary star system, with a distant companion named Nemesis. Nemesis was proposed to explain some regularities of the great extinctions of life on Earth. The theory says that Nemesis creates periodical perturbations in the asteroids and comets of the solar system causing a shower of large bodies and some of them hit Earth causing destruction of life. After this theory was stated, a search was undertaken for such a dim, distant companion; it found no visible star within one light-year of the Sun.

Misc items about solar system

See also: Timeline of solar system astronomy


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