By Jim O’Neal
“There might be a ninth planet in the solar system after all, and it is not Pluto.” — The New York Times, Jan. 21, 2016
Our solar system consists of the sun and a family of planets and other bodies trapped in orbit around it by the force of gravity.
Our sun formed 4.6 billion years ago. Vast amounts of matter were attracted by the developing star, but not all of it was absorbed. A tiny fraction of leftover material – a mere 0.14 percent of the solar system’s mass – formed a disc of gas and dust encircling the newborn star. Over millions of years, the grains of dust in this disc clumped together, growing into ever larger bodies.
Eventually, they grew to the size of planets, pulled into spheres by their own gravity.
In the inner solar system – where the sun’s heat was too intense for gases to condense – planets formed from rock and metal. In the outer solar system, gases condensed to form much larger planets.
Today, our solar system has eight planets, more than 100 moons, an unknown number of dwarf planets (e.g. Pluto) and countless millions of comets and asteroids.
The four small, inner planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. Our home planet is the only place known to support life, thanks to the liquid water on its surface and its PRECISE distance from the sun that provides just the right amount of heat.
Four gigantic planets dominate the outer solar system, very different from the rocky inner planets. These strange worlds are huge globes of gas and liquid, with no solid surfaces.
Mighty Jupiter is the fifth planet from the sun and the largest in the solar system, so big that it is 2.5 times more massive than all the other planets put together (1,300 Earths could easily fit inside Jupiter’s volume).
Its strong gravitational pull greatly affects the orbits of the other bodies in the solar system.
In 1665, a great red spot was first noticed that turns out to be a giant storm (bigger than Earth) that has been raging for over 350 years. Several craft have visited Jupiter, including Galileo, which orbited from 1995-2003.
Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].