Portal:Solar System

The Solar System Portal

The sun and planets of the solar system (distances not to scale)

The Solar System is the gravitationally bound system of the Sun and the objects that orbit it, either directly or indirectly. Of the objects that orbit the Sun directly, the largest are the eight planets, with the remainder being smaller objects, the dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies. Of the objects that orbit the Sun indirectly—the moons—two are larger than the smallest planet, Mercury.

The Solar System formed 4.6 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a giant interstellar molecular cloud. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun, with the majority of the remaining mass contained in Jupiter. The four smaller inner planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, are terrestrial planets, being primarily composed of rock and metal. The four outer planets are giant planets, being substantially more massive than the terrestrials. The two largest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, are gas giants, being composed mainly of hydrogen and helium; the two outermost planets, Uranus and Neptune, are ice giants, being composed mostly of substances with relatively high melting points compared with hydrogen and helium, called volatiles, such as water, ammonia and methane. All eight planets have almost circular orbits that lie within a nearly flat disc called the ecliptic.

The Solar System also contains smaller objects. The asteroid belt, which lies between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, mostly contains objects composed, like the terrestrial planets, of rock and metal. Beyond Neptune's orbit lie the Kuiper belt and scattered disc, which are populations of trans-Neptunian objects composed mostly of ices, and beyond them a newly discovered population of sednoids. Within these populations, some objects are large enough to have rounded under their own gravity, though there is considerable debate as to how many there will prove to be. Such objects are categorized as dwarf planets. The only certain dwarf planet is Pluto, with another trans-Neptunian object, Eris, expected to be, and the asteroid Ceres at least close to being a dwarf planet. In addition to these two regions, various other small-body populations, including comets, centaurs and interplanetary dust clouds, freely travel between regions. Six of the planets, the six largest possible dwarf planets, and many of the smaller bodies are orbited by natural satellites, usually termed "moons" after the Moon. Each of the outer planets is encircled by planetary rings of dust and other small objects.

The solar wind, a stream of charged particles flowing outwards from the Sun, creates a bubble-like region in the interstellar medium known as the heliosphere. The heliopause is the point at which pressure from the solar wind is equal to the opposing pressure of the interstellar medium; it extends out to the edge of the scattered disc. The Oort cloud, which is thought to be the source for long-period comets, may also exist at a distance roughly a thousand times further than the heliosphere. The Solar System is located in the Orion Arm, 26,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

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Europa (moon).
Europa is the sixth-nearest and fourth-largest natural satellite of the planet Jupiter. Europa was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei (and independently by Simon Marius), and named for a mythical Phoenician noblewoman, Europa, who was courted by Zeus. It is the smallest of the four Galilean moons - slightly smaller than Earth's Moon and is the sixth-largest moon in the Solar System. Europa has a tenuous atmosphere composed primarily of molecular oxygen. Its surface is composed of ice and is one of the smoothest in the Solar System. This young surface is striated by cracks and streaks, while craters are relatively infrequent. The apparent youth and smoothness of the surface have led to the hypothesis that a water ocean exists beneath it, which could conceivably serve as an abode for extraterrestrial life. Although by 2007 only flyby missions have visited the moon, the intriguing character of Europa has led to several ambitious exploration proposals. The Galileo mission provided the bulk of current data on Europa, while the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, canceled in 2005, would have targeted Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Conjecture on extraterrestrial life has ensured a high profile for the moon and has led to steady lobbying for future missions.

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Victoria Crater on Mars
Credit: Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Victoria Crater, an impact crater at Meridiani Planum, near the equator of Mars. The crater is approximately 800 meters (half a mile) in diameter. It has a distinctive scalloped shape to its rim, caused by erosion and downhill movement of crater wall material. Layered sedimentary rocks are exposed along the inner wall of the crater, and boulders that have fallen from the crater wall are visible on the crater floor. The floor of the crater is occupied by a striking field of sand dunes. The Mars rover Opportunity can be seen in this image, at roughly the "ten o'clock" position along the rim of the crater.

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Major topics

The SunMercuryVenusThe MoonEarthMarsPhobos and DeimosCeresThe main asteroid beltJupiterMoons of JupiterSaturnMoons of SaturnUranusMoons of UranusNeptuneMoons of NeptunePlutoMoons of PlutoHaumeaMoons of HaumeaMakemakeThe Kuiper BeltErisDysnomiaThe Scattered DiscThe Hills CloudThe Oort CloudSolar System Template Final.png

Solar System: Planets (Definition ˑ Planetary habitability ˑ Terrestrial planets ˑ Gas giants ˑ Rings) ˑ Dwarf planets (Plutoid) ˑ Moons ˑ Exploration ˑ Colonization ˑ Discovery timeline

Sun: Sunspot ˑ Solar wind ˑ Solar flare ˑ Solar eclipse
Mercury: Geology ˑ Exploration (Mariner 10 ˑ MESSENGER ˑ BepiColombo) ˑ Transit
Venus: Geology ˑ Atmosphere ˑ Exploration (Venera ˑ Mariner program 2/5/10 ˑ Pioneer ˑ Vega 1/2ˑ Magellan ˑ Venus Express) ˑ Transit
Earth: History ˑ Geology ˑ Geography ˑ Atmosphere ˑ Rotation
Moon: Geology ˑ Selenography ˑ Atmosphere ˑ Exploration (Luna ˑ Apollo 8/11) ˑ Orbit ˑ Lunar eclipse
Mars: Moons (Phobos ˑ Deimos) ˑ Geology ˑ Geography ˑ Atmosphere ˑ Exploration (Mariner ˑ Mars ˑ Viking 1/2 ˑ Pathfinder ˑ MER)
Ceres: Exploration (Dawn)
Jupiter: Moons (Amalthea, Io ˑ Europa ˑ Ganymede ˑ Callisto) ˑ Rings ˑ Atmosphere ˑ Magnetosphere ˑ Exploration (Pioneer 10/11 ˑ Voyager 1/2 ˑ Ulysses ˑ Cassini ˑ Galileo ˑ New Horizons)
Saturn: Moons (Mimas ˑ Enceladus ˑ Tethys ˑ Dione ˑ Rhea ˑ Titan ˑ Iapetus) ˑ Rings ˑ Exploration (Pioneer 11 ˑ Voyager 1/2 ˑ CassiniHuygens)
Uranus: Moons (Miranda ˑ Ariel ˑ Umbriel ˑ Titania ˑ Oberon) ˑ Rings ˑ Exploration (Voyager 2)
Neptune: Moons (Triton) ˑ Rings ˑ Exploration (Voyager 2)
Planets beyond Neptune
Pluto: Moons (Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos, Styx) ˑ Exploration (New Horizons)
Haumea: Moons (Hi'iaka, Namaka)
Eris: Dysnomia
Small bodies: Meteoroids ˑ Asteroids (Asteroid belt) ˑ Centaurs ˑ TNOs (Kuiper belt ˑ Scattered disc ˑ Oort cloud) ˑ Comets (Hale–Bopp ˑ Halley's ˑ Hyakutake ˑ Shoemaker–Levy 9)
Formation and evolution of the Solar System: History of Solar System formation and evolution hypotheses ˑ Nebular hypothesis
See also: Featured content ˑ Featured topic ˑ Good articles ˑ List of objects

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Italicized articles are on dwarf planets or major moons.

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