Friday, December 23, 2022

The Solar System - Formation and Configuration

Our Solar System is one of over 3,200 known star systems with planets orbiting around them, in the Milky Way Galaxy. The Solar System came into being about 4.5 billion years ago when a cloud of interstellar gas and dust collapsed resulting in the solar nebula, a swirling disc of material that collided to form the Solar System. The Solar System is located in the Milky Way's Orion Starcluster. Only 15% of stars in the galaxy host planetary systems and one of the stars is our Sun.

Revolving around the Sun are the eight planets. The planets are divided into two categories based on their compositions, terrestrial and Jovian.

The Terrestrial Planets:

Terrestrial planets including Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The terrestrial planets are primarily made of rocky material, their surfaces are solid and they don’t have rings system. They have very few moons and they are relatively small. The closest to the Sun is Mercury which has the shortest orbit in the solar system at about three Earth months. Venus is the hottest planet with temperature up to 867 degree Fahrenheit due to an atmosphere of Carbon Dioxide and extensive lava flows. Venus is the only planet in the Solar System which rotates anti-clockwise. Next to this world of fire is the world of water, Earth. The watery systems on this planet help create the only known environment in the universe capable of the sustaining life. The last of the terrestrial planets, Mars, might have also supported life about 3.7 billion years ago when the planet had a watery surface and moist atmosphere.

Size comparison of the four terrestrial planets of the Solar System (Image Credit: Pattayathailand)
The Jovian Planets:

Next to the four terrestrial planets of the inner solar system, lie the Jovian planets of the outer solar system. The Jovian planets include gas giants Jupiter and Saturn, and ice giants Uranus and Neptune. The gas giants are predominantly made of helium and hydrogen, the same gases which make up 98% of Sun's mass. However, these gas giants are not giant enough to spark nuclear fusion. The ice giants Uranus and Neptune also contain rock, ice and the liquid mixture of water, methane and ammonia. All four Jovian planets have multiple moons, support ring systems, have no solid surface, and are immense in size.

The largest Jovian is also the largest planet in the Solar System, Jupiter. Nearby is Saturn, the Solar System's second largest planet. Its signature rings are wider than the distance between Earth and Moon but barely a Kilometer thick. Next to Saturn are the ice giants Uranus and Neptune. The slightly bigger of these ice giants, Uranus, is famous for rotating on its side. The outer most planet of the Solar System is Neptune which is at a distance of around 2.8 billion Miles to the Sun and also one of the coldest planets of the Solar System with temperature as low as -353 degree Fahrenheit.

The Jovian Planets are relatively larger, have multiple moons and no solid surface.
The Asteroid Belt and Dwarf Planets:

Orbiting the terrestrial planets is the asteroid belt, a flat disk of rocky objects full of remnants from the Solar System formation. From microscopic dust particles to the largest known object and dwarf planet, Ceres.

The Asteroid Belt comprise billions of objects of different sizes ranging from microscopic dust particles to the largest object Ceres with a diameter of 476 Kilometer.

Another disc of space debris lies much further out and orbits the Jovian planets, the icy Kuiper Belt. Apart from asteroids, the Kuiper Belt is also home to dwarf planets such as Pluto and is birthplace of many comets. Beyond the Kuiper Belt is Oort Cloud, a vast spherical collection of icy debris. It is considered the edge of the Solar System since that is where the gravitational and physical influences of the Sun ends. Our Solar System's particular configuration of planets and other celestial objects revolving around the life-giving star make it a special place we call home.

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