The Planets (plus the Dwarf Planet Pluto)
Our solar system consists of the sun, eight planets, moons, many dwarf planets (or plutoids), an asteroid belt, comets, meteors, and others. The sun is the center of our solar system; the planets, their moons, a belt of asteroids, comets, and other rocks and gas orbit the sun.
The eight planets that orbit the sun are (in order from the sun): Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. Another large body is Pluto, now classified as a dwarf planet or plutoid. A belt of asteroids (minor planets made of rock and metal) lies between Mars and Jupiter. These objects all orbit the sun in roughly circular orbits that lie in the same plane, the ecliptic (Pluto is an exception; it has an elliptical orbit tilted over 17 from the ecliptic).
Easy ways to remember the order of the planets (plus Pluto) are the mnemonics: “My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas” and “My Very Easy Method Just Simplifies Us Naming Planets” The first letter of each of these words represents a planet – in the correct order.
The largest planet is Jupiter. It is followed by Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, Mercury, and finally, tiny Pluto (the largest of the dwarf planets). Jupiter is so big that all the other planets could fit inside it.
The inner planets (those planets that orbit close to the sun) are quite different from the outer planets (those planets that orbit far from the sun).
- The inner planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. They are relatively small, composed mostly of rock, and have few or no moons.
- The outer planets include: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto (a dwarf planet). They are mostly huge, mostly gaseous, ringed, and have many moons (again, the exception is Pluto, the dwarf planet, which is small, rocky, and has four moons).
Temperatures on the Planets
Generally, the farther from the Sun, the cooler the planet. Differences occur when the greenhouse effect warms a planet (like Venus) surrounded by a thick atmosphere.
The outer, gaseous planets are much less dense than the inner, rocky planets.
Jupiter is by far the most massive planet; Saturn trails it. Uranus, Neptune, Earth, Venus, Mars, and Pluto are orders of magnitude less massive.
The planet with the strongest gravitational attraction at its surface is Jupiter. Although Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are also very massive planets, their gravitational forces are about the same as Earth. This is because the gravitational force a planet exerts upon an object at the planet’s surface is proportional to its mass and to the inverse of the planet’s radius squared.
A day is the length of time that it takes a planet to rotate on its axis (360 ). A day on Earth takes almost 24 hours.
As the planets orbit the Sun, they travel at different speeds. Each planet speeds up when it is nearer the Sun and travels more slowly when it is far from the Sun (this is Kepler’s Second Law of Planetary Motion).