The Solar System

The solar system comprises the sun and its eight planets which are believed to have been developed from the condensation of gases and other lesser bodies. All the planets revolve round the sun in elliptical orbits.

Like the earth, they shine only by the reflected light of the sun. The sun has a surface temperature of 6000 ℃ (10 800 ℉ ) increasing to 20 million ℃ (36 million ℉) in the interior. All over its surface are fiery gases that leap up in whirls of glowing flames like a volcano in eruption. In size, the sun is almost unimaginable. It is about 300 000 times as big as the earth!

Amongst the eight planets, Mercury is the smallest and closest to the sun, only 57 900 000 km (36 million miles) away. It thus completes its orbit in a much shorter space of time than does Earth. A year in Mercury is only 88 days. Venus twice the distance away from the sun, is the next closest planet. It is often considered as ‘Earth’s twin’ because of their close proximity in size, mass (weight) and density.

But no other planet is in any way comparable to Earth which has life and all the living things we see around us. Like many other planets, the earth as a natural satellite, the moon, 384,629 km (238 900 miles) away, that revolves eastward around the Earth once in every 27 days.

The fourth planet from the sun is Mars which has dark patches on its surface and is believed by most professional astronomers to be the next planet after Earth to have the possibility of some plant life. Much attention has been focused on Mars to explore the possibilities of extending man’s influence to it. Next comes Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system. Its surface is made up of many gases like hydrogen, helium and methane. It is distinguished from other planets by its circular light and dark bands, and the twelve satellites that circle round it.

As it is more than 780 million km (485 million miles) from the sun, its surface is very cold, probably about -128 ℃ (-200 ℉ )

Another unique planet is Saturn which has three rings and nine satellites around it. In size, it is the second largest after Jupiter. It is so far from the sun that it takes 29 and half years to complete its orbit. The seventh planet, Uranus, was not known to astronomers until the late eighteenth century when it was first seen as a faint bluish-green disc through a very powerful telescope. It is another giant planet, 50 times larger than earth and 15 times as heavy.

Unlike other planets, Uranus orbits around the sun in a clockwise direction from east to west with five satellites revolving round it. The two outermost planets in the solar system, Neptune and Pluto, are just visible with telescopes. Their discoveries were the result of mathematical calculations on their irregular gravitational effects on neighbouring planetary bodies. Neptune closely resembles Uranus, except that it has only two known satellites and is probably much colder.

Pluto, a pseudo planet, is smaller than earth. As the orbits of the planet is smaller than earth. As the orbits of the planets are not circular but elliptical, the distance of Pluto from the sun during perihelion i.e. when it is closest to the sun) is 4451 million km (27 66 million miles), and at aphelion (i.e. when it is farthest from the sun) is 7348 million km (4566 million miles). A year in Pluto is no less than 247 years on earth! Due to their extreme remoteness from the earth , very little is so far known about these last two planets.

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