The Solar System[a] is the gravitationally bound system of the Sun and the objects that orbit it, either directly or indirectly.[b] Of the objects that orbit the Sun directly, the largest are the eight planets,[c] with the remainder being smaller objects, such as the five 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.[d]
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, 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.[e] 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 are several dozen to possibly tens of thousands of objects large enough that they have been rounded by their own gravity. Such objects are categorized as dwarf planets. Identified dwarf planets include the asteroid Ceres and the trans-Neptunian objects Pluto and Eris.[e] 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, at least four of the dwarf planets, and many of the smaller bodies are orbited by natural satellites,[f] 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.
|Age||4.568 billion years|
|System mass||1.0014 Solar masses|
|Nearest known planetary system||Proxima Centauri system (4.25 ly)|
|Semi-major axis of outer known planet (Neptune)||30.10 AU (4.503 billion km)|
|Distance to Kuiper cliff||50 AU|
|Known dwarf planets|
|Known natural satellites|
|Known minor planets||778,897 (as of 2018-06-21)|
|Known comets||4,017 (as of 2018-06-21)|
|Identified rounded satellites||19|
|Orbit about Galactic Center|
|Invariable-to-galactic plane inclination||60.19° (ecliptic)|
|Distance to Galactic Center||27,000 ± 1,000 ly|
|Orbital speed||220 km/s|
|Orbital period||225–250 Myr|
|Frost line||≈5 AU|
|Distance to heliopause||≈120 AU|
|Hill sphere radius||≈1–3 ly|
For most of history, humanity did not recognize or understand the concept of the Solar System. Most people up to the Late Middle Ages–Renaissance believed Earth to be stationary at the centre of the universe and categorically different from the divine or ethereal objects that moved through the sky. Although the Greek philosopher Aristarchus of Samos had speculated on a heliocentric reordering of the cosmos, Nicolaus Copernicus was the first to develop a mathematically predictive heliocentric system.
In the 17th century, Galileo discovered that the Sun was marked with sunspots, and that Jupiter had four satellites in orbit around it. Christiaan Huygens followed on from Galileo's discoveries by discovering Saturn's moon Titan and the shape of the rings of Saturn. Edmond Halley realised in 1705 that repeated sightings of a comet were recording the same object, returning regularly once every 75–76 years. This was the first evidence that anything other than the planets orbited the Sun. Around this time (1704), the term "Solar System" first appeared in English. In 1838, Friedrich Bessel successfully measured a stellar parallax, an apparent shift in the position of a star created by Earth's motion around the Sun, providing the first direct, experimental proof of heliocentrism. Improvements in observational astronomy and the use of unmanned spacecraft have since enabled the detailed investigation of other bodies orbiting the Sun.
The principal component of the Solar System is the Sun, a G2 main-sequence star that contains 99.86% of the system's known mass and dominates it gravitationally. The Sun's four largest orbiting bodies, the giant planets, account for 99% of the remaining mass, with Jupiter and Saturn together comprising more than 90%. The remaining objects of the Solar System (including the four terrestrial planets, the dwarf planets, moons, asteroids, and comets) together comprise less than 0.002% of the Solar System's total mass.[g]
Most large objects in orbit around the Sun lie near the plane of Earth's orbit, known as the ecliptic. The planets are very close to the ecliptic, whereas comets and Kuiper belt objects are frequently at significantly greater angles to it. All the planets, and most other objects, orbit the Sun in the same direction that the Sun is rotating (counter-clockwise, as viewed from above Earth's north pole). There are exceptions, such as Halley's Comet.
The overall structure of the charted regions of the Solar System consists of the Sun, four relatively small inner planets surrounded by a belt of mostly rocky asteroids, and four giant planets surrounded by the Kuiper belt of mostly icy objects. Astronomers sometimes informally divide this structure into separate regions. The inner Solar System includes the four terrestrial planets and the asteroid belt. The outer Solar System is beyond the asteroids, including the four giant planets. Since the discovery of the Kuiper belt, the outermost parts of the Solar System are considered a distinct region consisting of the objects beyond Neptune.
Most of the planets in the Solar System have secondary systems of their own, being orbited by planetary objects called natural satellites, or moons (two of which, Titan and Ganymede, are larger than the planet Mercury), and, in the case of the four giant planets, by planetary rings, thin bands of tiny particles that orbit them in unison. Most of the largest natural satellites are in synchronous rotation, with one face permanently turned toward their parent.
Kepler's laws of planetary motion describe the orbits of objects about the Sun. Following Kepler's laws, each object travels along an ellipse with the Sun at one focus. Objects closer to the Sun (with smaller semi-major axes) travel more quickly because they are more affected by the Sun's gravity. On an elliptical orbit, a body's distance from the Sun varies over the course of its year. A body's closest approach to the Sun is called its perihelion, whereas its most distant point from the Sun is called its aphelion. The orbits of the planets are nearly circular, but many comets, asteroids, and Kuiper belt objects follow highly elliptical orbits. The positions of the bodies in the Solar System can be predicted using numerical models.
Although the Sun dominates the system by mass, it accounts for only about 2% of the angular momentum. The planets, dominated by Jupiter, account for most of the rest of the angular momentum due to the combination of their mass, orbit, and distance from the Sun, with a possibly significant contribution from comets.
The Sun, which comprises nearly all the matter in the Solar System, is composed of roughly 98% hydrogen and helium. Jupiter and Saturn, which comprise nearly all the remaining matter, are also primarily composed of hydrogen and helium. A composition gradient exists in the Solar System, created by heat and light pressure from the Sun; those objects closer to the Sun, which are more affected by heat and light pressure, are composed of elements with high melting points. Objects farther from the Sun are composed largely of materials with lower melting points. The boundary in the Solar System beyond which those volatile substances could condense is known as the frost line, and it lies at roughly 5 AU from the Sun.
The objects of the inner Solar System are composed mostly of rock, the collective name for compounds with high melting points, such as silicates, iron or nickel, that remained solid under almost all conditions in the protoplanetary nebula. Jupiter and Saturn are composed mainly of gases, the astronomical term for materials with extremely low melting points and high vapour pressure, such as hydrogen, helium, and neon, which were always in the gaseous phase in the nebula. Ices, like water, methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide, have melting points up to a few hundred kelvins. They can be found as ices, liquids, or gases in various places in the Solar System, whereas in the nebula they were either in the solid or gaseous phase. Icy substances comprise the majority of the satellites of the giant planets, as well as most of Uranus and Neptune (the so-called "ice giants") and the numerous small objects that lie beyond Neptune's orbit. Together, gases and ices are referred to as volatiles.
The distance from Earth to the Sun is 1 astronomical unit [AU] (150,000,000 km; 93,000,000 mi). For comparison, the radius of the Sun is 0.0047 AU (700,000 km). Thus, the Sun occupies 0.00001% (10−5 %) of the volume of a sphere with a radius the size of Earth's orbit, whereas Earth's volume is roughly one millionth (10−6) that of the Sun. Jupiter, the largest planet, is 5.2 astronomical units (780,000,000 km) from the Sun and has a radius of 71,000 km (0.00047 AU), whereas the most distant planet, Neptune, is 30 AU (4.5×109 km) from the Sun.
With a few exceptions, the farther a planet or belt is from the Sun, the larger the distance between its orbit and the orbit of the next nearer object to the Sun. For example, Venus is approximately 0.33 AU farther out from the Sun than Mercury, whereas Saturn is 4.3 AU out from Jupiter, and Neptune lies 10.5 AU out from Uranus. Attempts have been made to determine a relationship between these orbital distances (for example, the Titius–Bode law), but no such theory has been accepted. The images at the beginning of this section show the orbits of the various constituents of the Solar System on different scales.
Some Solar System models attempt to convey the relative scales involved in the Solar System on human terms. Some are small in scale (and may be mechanical—called orreries)—whereas others extend across cities or regional areas. The largest such scale model, the Sweden Solar System, uses the 110-metre (361 ft) Ericsson Globe in Stockholm as its substitute Sun, and, following the scale, Jupiter is a 7.5-metre (25-foot) sphere at Arlanda International Airport, 40 km (25 mi) away, whereas the farthest current object, Sedna, is a 10 cm (4 in) sphere in Luleå, 912 km (567 mi) away.
If the Sun–Neptune distance is scaled to 100 metres, then the Sun would be about 3 cm in diameter (roughly two-thirds the diameter of a golf ball), the giant planets would be all smaller than about 3 mm, and Earth's diameter along with that of the other terrestrial planets would be smaller than a flea (0.3 mm) at this scale.
Distances of selected bodies of the Solar System from the Sun. The left and right edges of each bar correspond to the perihelion and aphelion of the body, respectively, hence long bars denote high orbital eccentricity. The radius of the Sun is 0.7 million km, and the radius of Jupiter (the largest planet) is 0.07 million km, both too small to resolve on this image.
The Solar System formed 4.568 billion years ago from the gravitational collapse of a region within a large molecular cloud.[h] This initial cloud was likely several light-years across and probably birthed several stars. As is typical of molecular clouds, this one consisted mostly of hydrogen, with some helium, and small amounts of heavier elements fused by previous generations of stars. As the region that would become the Solar System, known as the pre-solar nebula, collapsed, conservation of angular momentum caused it to rotate faster. The centre, where most of the mass collected, became increasingly hotter than the surrounding disc. As the contracting nebula rotated faster, it began to flatten into a protoplanetary disc with a diameter of roughly 200 AU and a hot, dense protostar at the centre. The planets formed by accretion from this disc, in which dust and gas gravitationally attracted each other, coalescing to form ever larger bodies. Hundreds of protoplanets may have existed in the early Solar System, but they either merged or were destroyed, leaving the planets, dwarf planets, and leftover minor bodies.
Due to their higher boiling points, only metals and silicates could exist in solid form in the warm inner Solar System close to the Sun, and these would eventually form the rocky planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Because metallic elements only comprised a very small fraction of the solar nebula, the terrestrial planets could not grow very large. The giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed further out, beyond the frost line, the point between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter where material is cool enough for volatile icy compounds to remain solid. The ices that formed these planets were more plentiful than the metals and silicates that formed the terrestrial inner planets, allowing them to grow massive enough to capture large atmospheres of hydrogen and helium, the lightest and most abundant elements. Leftover debris that never became planets congregated in regions such as the asteroid belt, Kuiper belt, and Oort cloud. The Nice model is an explanation for the creation of these regions and how the outer planets could have formed in different positions and migrated to their current orbits through various gravitational interactions.
Within 50 million years, the pressure and density of hydrogen in the centre of the protostar became great enough for it to begin thermonuclear fusion. The temperature, reaction rate, pressure, and density increased until hydrostatic equilibrium was achieved: the thermal pressure equalled the force of gravity. At this point, the Sun became a main-sequence star. The main-sequence phase, from beginning to end, will last about 10 billion years for the Sun compared to around two billion years for all other phases of the Sun's pre-remnant life combined. Solar wind from the Sun created the heliosphere and swept away the remaining gas and dust from the protoplanetary disc into interstellar space, ending the planetary formation process. The Sun is growing brighter; early in its main-sequence life its brightness was 70% that of what it is today.
The Solar System will remain roughly as we know it today until the hydrogen in the core of the Sun has been entirely converted to helium, which will occur roughly 5 billion years from now. This will mark the end of the Sun's main-sequence life. At this time, the core of the Sun will contract with hydrogen fusion occurring along a shell surrounding the inert helium, and the energy output will be much greater than at present. The outer layers of the Sun will expand to roughly 260 times its current diameter, and the Sun will become a red giant. Because of its vastly increased surface area, the surface of the Sun will be considerably cooler (2,600 K at its coolest) than it is on the main sequence. The expanding Sun is expected to vaporize Mercury and render Earth uninhabitable. Eventually, the core will be hot enough for helium fusion; the Sun will burn helium for a fraction of the time it burned hydrogen in the core. The Sun is not massive enough to commence the fusion of heavier elements, and nuclear reactions in the core will dwindle. Its outer layers will move away into space, leaving a white dwarf, an extraordinarily dense object, half the original mass of the Sun but only the size of Earth. The ejected outer layers will form what is known as a planetary nebula, returning some of the material that formed the Sun—but now enriched with heavier elements like carbon—to the interstellar medium.
The Sun is the Solar System's star and by far its most massive component. Its large mass (332,900 Earth masses), which comprises 99.86% of all the mass in the Solar System, produces temperatures and densities in its core high enough to sustain nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium, making it a main-sequence star. This releases an enormous amount of energy, mostly radiated into space as electromagnetic radiation peaking in visible light.
The Sun is a G2-type main-sequence star. Hotter main-sequence stars are more luminous. The Sun's temperature is intermediate between that of the hottest stars and that of the coolest stars. Stars brighter and hotter than the Sun are rare, whereas substantially dimmer and cooler stars, known as red dwarfs, make up 85% of the stars in the Milky Way.
The Sun is a population I star; it has a higher abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen and helium ("metals" in astronomical parlance) than the older population II stars. Elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were formed in the cores of ancient and exploding stars, so the first generation of stars had to die before the Universe could be enriched with these atoms. The oldest stars contain few metals, whereas stars born later have more. This high metallicity is thought to have been crucial to the Sun's development of a planetary system because the planets form from the accretion of "metals".
The vast majority of the Solar System consists of a near-vacuum known as the interplanetary medium. Along with light, the Sun radiates a continuous stream of charged particles (a plasma) known as the solar wind. This stream of particles spreads outwards at roughly 1.5 million kilometres per hour, creating a tenuous atmosphere that permeates the interplanetary medium out to at least 100 AU (see § Heliosphere). Activity on the Sun's surface, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, disturbs the heliosphere, creating space weather and causing geomagnetic storms. The largest structure within the heliosphere is the heliospheric current sheet, a spiral form created by the actions of the Sun's rotating magnetic field on the interplanetary medium.
Earth's magnetic field stops its atmosphere from being stripped away by the solar wind. Venus and Mars do not have magnetic fields, and as a result the solar wind is causing their atmospheres to gradually bleed away into space. Coronal mass ejections and similar events blow a magnetic field and huge quantities of material from the surface of the Sun. The interaction of this magnetic field and material with Earth's magnetic field funnels charged particles into Earth's upper atmosphere, where its interactions create aurorae seen near the magnetic poles.
The heliosphere and planetary magnetic fields (for those planets that have them) partially shield the Solar System from high-energy interstellar particles called cosmic rays. The density of cosmic rays in the interstellar medium and the strength of the Sun's magnetic field change on very long timescales, so the level of cosmic-ray penetration in the Solar System varies, though by how much is unknown.
The interplanetary medium is home to at least two disc-like regions of cosmic dust. The first, the zodiacal dust cloud, lies in the inner Solar System and causes the zodiacal light. It was likely formed by collisions within the asteroid belt brought on by gravitational interactions with the planets. The second dust cloud extends from about 10 AU to about 40 AU, and was probably created by similar collisions within the Kuiper belt.
The inner Solar System is the region comprising the terrestrial planets and the asteroid belt. Composed mainly of silicates and metals, the objects of the inner Solar System are relatively close to the Sun; the radius of this entire region is less than the distance between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. This region is also within the frost line, which is a little less than 5 AU (about 700 million km) from the Sun.
The four terrestrial or inner planets have dense, rocky compositions, few or no moons, and no ring systems. They are composed largely of refractory minerals, such as the silicates—which form their crusts and mantles—and metals, such as iron and nickel, which form their cores. Three of the four inner planets (Venus, Earth and Mars) have atmospheres substantial enough to generate weather; all have impact craters and tectonic surface features, such as rift valleys and volcanoes. The term inner planet should not be confused with inferior planet, which designates those planets that are closer to the Sun than Earth is (i.e. Mercury and Venus).
Asteroids except for the largest, Ceres, are classified as small Solar System bodies[e] and are composed mainly of refractory rocky and metallic minerals, with some ice. They range from a few metres to hundreds of kilometres in size. Asteroids smaller than one meter are usually called meteoroids and micrometeoroids (grain-sized), depending on different, somewhat arbitrary definitions.
The asteroid belt occupies the orbit between Mars and Jupiter, between 2.3 and 3.3 AU from the Sun. It is thought to be remnants from the Solar System's formation that failed to coalesce because of the gravitational interference of Jupiter. The asteroid belt contains tens of thousands, possibly millions, of objects over one kilometre in diameter. Despite this, the total mass of the asteroid belt is unlikely to be more than a thousandth of that of Earth. The asteroid belt is very sparsely populated; spacecraft routinely pass through without incident.
The outer region of the Solar System is home to the giant planets and their large moons. The centaurs and many short-period comets also orbit in this region. Due to their greater distance from the Sun, the solid objects in the outer Solar System contain a higher proportion of volatiles, such as water, ammonia, and methane than those of the inner Solar System because the lower temperatures allow these compounds to remain solid.
The four outer planets, or giant planets (sometimes called Jovian planets), collectively make up 99% of the mass known to orbit the Sun.[g] Jupiter and Saturn are together more than 400 times the mass of Earth and consist overwhelmingly of hydrogen and helium. Uranus and Neptune are far less massive—less than 20 Earth masses (M⊕) each—and are composed primarily of ices. For these reasons, some astronomers suggest they belong in their own category, ice giants. All four giant planets have rings, although only Saturn's ring system is easily observed from Earth. The term superior planet designates planets outside Earth's orbit and thus includes both the outer planets and Mars.
The centaurs are icy comet-like bodies whose orbits have semi-major axes greater than Jupiter's (5.5 AU) and less than Neptune's (30 AU). The largest known centaur, 10199 Chariklo, has a diameter of about 250 km. The first centaur discovered, 2060 Chiron, has also been classified as comet (95P) because it develops a coma just as comets do when they approach the Sun.
Comets are small Solar System bodies,[e] typically only a few kilometres across, composed largely of volatile ices. They have highly eccentric orbits, generally a perihelion within the orbits of the inner planets and an aphelion far beyond Pluto. When a comet enters the inner Solar System, its proximity to the Sun causes its icy surface to sublimate and ionise, creating a coma: a long tail of gas and dust often visible to the naked eye.
Short-period comets have orbits lasting less than two hundred years. Long-period comets have orbits lasting thousands of years. Short-period comets are thought to originate in the Kuiper belt, whereas long-period comets, such as Hale–Bopp, are thought to originate in the Oort cloud. Many comet groups, such as the Kreutz Sungrazers, formed from the breakup of a single parent. Some comets with hyperbolic orbits may originate outside the Solar System, but determining their precise orbits is difficult. Old comets that have had most of their volatiles driven out by solar warming are often categorised as asteroids.
Beyond the orbit of Neptune lies the area of the "trans-Neptunian region", with the doughnut-shaped Kuiper belt, home of Pluto and several other dwarf planets, and an overlapping disc of scattered objects, which is tilted toward the plane of the Solar System and reaches much further out than the Kuiper belt. The entire region is still largely unexplored. It appears to consist overwhelmingly of many thousands of small worlds—the largest having a diameter only a fifth that of Earth and a mass far smaller than that of the Moon—composed mainly of rock and ice. This region is sometimes described as the "third zone of the Solar System", enclosing the inner and the outer Solar System.
The Kuiper belt is a great ring of debris similar to the asteroid belt, but consisting mainly of objects composed primarily of ice. It extends between 30 and 50 AU from the Sun. Though it is estimated to contain anything from dozens to thousands of dwarf planets, it is composed mainly of small Solar System bodies. Many of the larger Kuiper belt objects, such as Quaoar, Varuna, and Orcus, may prove to be dwarf planets with further data. There are estimated to be over 100,000 Kuiper belt objects with a diameter greater than 50 km, but the total mass of the Kuiper belt is thought to be only a tenth or even a hundredth the mass of Earth. Many Kuiper belt objects have multiple satellites, and most have orbits that take them outside the plane of the ecliptic.
The Kuiper belt can be roughly divided into the "classical" belt and the resonances. Resonances are orbits linked to that of Neptune (e.g. twice for every three Neptune orbits, or once for every two). The first resonance begins within the orbit of Neptune itself. The classical belt consists of objects having no resonance with Neptune, and extends from roughly 39.4 AU to 47.7 AU. Members of the classical Kuiper belt are classified as cubewanos, after the first of their kind to be discovered, 15760 Albion (which previously had the provisional designation 1992 QB1), and are still in near primordial, low-eccentricity orbits.
The scattered disc, which overlaps the Kuiper belt but extends much further outwards, is thought to be the source of short-period comets. Scattered-disc objects are thought to have been ejected into erratic orbits by the gravitational influence of Neptune's early outward migration. Most scattered disc objects (SDOs) have perihelia within the Kuiper belt but aphelia far beyond it (some more than 150 AU from the Sun). SDOs' orbits are also highly inclined to the ecliptic plane and are often almost perpendicular to it. Some astronomers consider the scattered disc to be merely another region of the Kuiper belt and describe scattered disc objects as "scattered Kuiper belt objects". Some astronomers also classify centaurs as inward-scattered Kuiper belt objects along with the outward-scattered residents of the scattered disc.
The point at which the Solar System ends and interstellar space begins is not precisely defined because its outer boundaries are shaped by two separate forces: the solar wind and the Sun's gravity. The limit of the solar wind's influence is roughly four times Pluto's distance from the Sun; this heliopause, the outer boundary of the heliosphere, is considered the beginning of the interstellar medium. The Sun's Hill sphere, the effective range of its gravitational dominance, is thought to extend up to a thousand times farther and encompasses the theorized Oort cloud.
The heliosphere is a stellar-wind bubble, a region of space dominated by the Sun, which radiates at roughly 400 km/s its solar wind, a stream of charged particles, until it collides with the wind of the interstellar medium.
The collision occurs at the termination shock, which is roughly 80–100 AU from the Sun upwind of the interstellar medium and roughly 200 AU from the Sun downwind. Here the wind slows dramatically, condenses and becomes more turbulent, forming a great oval structure known as the heliosheath. This structure is thought to look and behave very much like a comet's tail, extending outward for a further 40 AU on the upwind side but tailing many times that distance downwind; evidence from Cassini and Interstellar Boundary Explorer spacecraft has suggested that it is forced into a bubble shape by the constraining action of the interstellar magnetic field.
The outer boundary of the heliosphere, the heliopause, is the point at which the solar wind finally terminates and is the beginning of interstellar space. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are reported to have passed the termination shock and entered the heliosheath, at 94 and 84 AU from the Sun, respectively. Voyager 1 is reported to have crossed the heliopause in August 2012.
The shape and form of the outer edge of the heliosphere is likely affected by the fluid dynamics of interactions with the interstellar medium as well as solar magnetic fields prevailing to the south, e.g. it is bluntly shaped with the northern hemisphere extending 9 AU farther than the southern hemisphere. Beyond the heliopause, at around 230 AU, lies the bow shock, a plasma "wake" left by the Sun as it travels through the Milky Way.
Due to a lack of data, conditions in local interstellar space are not known for certain. It is expected that NASA's Voyager spacecraft, as they pass the heliopause, will transmit valuable data on radiation levels and solar wind to Earth. How well the heliosphere shields the Solar System from cosmic rays is poorly understood. A NASA-funded team has developed a concept of a "Vision Mission" dedicated to sending a probe to the heliosphere.
90377 Sedna (520 AU average) is a large, reddish object with a gigantic, highly elliptical orbit that takes it from about 76 AU at perihelion to 940 AU at aphelion and takes 11,400 years to complete. Mike Brown, who discovered the object in 2003, asserts that it cannot be part of the scattered disc or the Kuiper belt because its perihelion is too distant to have been affected by Neptune's migration. He and other astronomers consider it to be the first in an entirely new population, sometimes termed "distant detached objects" (DDOs), which also may include the object 2000 CR105, which has a perihelion of 45 AU, an aphelion of 415 AU, and an orbital period of 3,420 years. Brown terms this population the "inner Oort cloud" because it may have formed through a similar process, although it is far closer to the Sun. Sedna is very likely a dwarf planet, though its shape has yet to be determined. The second unequivocally detached object, with a perihelion farther than Sedna's at roughly 81 AU, is 2012 VP113, discovered in 2012. Its aphelion is only half that of Sedna's, at 400–500 AU.
The Oort cloud is a hypothetical spherical cloud of up to a trillion icy objects that is thought to be the source for all long-period comets and to surround the Solar System at roughly 50,000 AU (around 1 light-year (ly)), and possibly to as far as 100,000 AU (1.87 ly). It is thought to be composed of comets that were ejected from the inner Solar System by gravitational interactions with the outer planets. Oort cloud objects move very slowly, and can be perturbed by infrequent events, such as collisions, the gravitational effects of a passing star, or the galactic tide, the tidal force exerted by the Milky Way.
Much of the Solar System is still unknown. The Sun's gravitational field is estimated to dominate the gravitational forces of surrounding stars out to about two light years (125,000 AU). Lower estimates for the radius of the Oort cloud, by contrast, do not place it farther than 50,000 AU. Despite discoveries such as Sedna, the region between the Kuiper belt and the Oort cloud, an area tens of thousands of AU in radius, is still virtually unmapped. There are also ongoing studies of the region between Mercury and the Sun. Objects may yet be discovered in the Solar System's uncharted regions.
Currently, the furthest known objects, such as Comet West, have aphelia around 70,000 AU from the Sun, but as the Oort cloud becomes better known, this may change.
The Solar System is located in the Milky Way, a barred spiral galaxy with a diameter of about 100,000 light-years containing about 100 billion stars. The Sun resides in one of the Milky Way's outer spiral arms, known as the Orion–Cygnus Arm or Local Spur. The Sun lies between 25,000 and 28,000 light-years from the Galactic Centre, and its speed within the Milky Way is about 220 km/s, so that it completes one revolution every 225–250 million years. This revolution is known as the Solar System's galactic year. The solar apex, the direction of the Sun's path through interstellar space, is near the constellation Hercules in the direction of the current location of the bright star Vega. The plane of the ecliptic lies at an angle of about 60° to the galactic plane.[i]
The Solar System's location in the Milky Way is a factor in the evolutionary history of life on Earth. Its orbit is close to circular, and orbits near the Sun are at roughly the same speed as that of the spiral arms. Therefore, the Sun passes through arms only rarely. Because spiral arms are home to a far larger concentration of supernovae, gravitational instabilities, and radiation that could disrupt the Solar System, this has given Earth long periods of stability for life to evolve. The Solar System also lies well outside the star-crowded environs of the galactic centre. Near the centre, gravitational tugs from nearby stars could perturb bodies in the Oort cloud and send many comets into the inner Solar System, producing collisions with potentially catastrophic implications for life on Earth. The intense radiation of the galactic centre could also interfere with the development of complex life. Even at the Solar System's current location, some scientists have speculated that recent supernovae may have adversely affected life in the last 35,000 years, by flinging pieces of expelled stellar core towards the Sun, as radioactive dust grains and larger, comet-like bodies.
The Solar System is in the Local Interstellar Cloud or Local Fluff. It is thought to be near the neighbouring G-Cloud but it is not known if the Solar System is embedded in the Local Interstellar Cloud, or if it is in the region where the Local Interstellar Cloud and G-Cloud are interacting. The Local Interstellar Cloud is an area of denser cloud in an otherwise sparse region known as the Local Bubble, an hourglass-shaped cavity in the interstellar medium roughly 300 light-years (ly) across. The bubble is suffused with high-temperature plasma, that suggests it is the product of several recent supernovae.
There are relatively few stars within ten light-years of the Sun. The closest is the triple star system Alpha Centauri, which is about 4.4 light-years away. Alpha Centauri A and B are a closely tied pair of Sun-like stars, whereas the small red dwarf, Proxima Centauri, orbits the pair at a distance of 0.2 light-year. In 2016, a potentially habitable exoplanet was confirmed to be orbiting Proxima Centauri, called Proxima Centauri b, the closest confirmed exoplanet to the Sun. The stars next closest to the Sun are the red dwarfs Barnard's Star (at 5.9 ly), Wolf 359 (7.8 ly), and Lalande 21185 (8.3 ly).
The largest nearby star is Sirius, a bright main-sequence star roughly 8.6 light-years away and roughly twice the Sun's mass and that is orbited by a white dwarf, Sirius B. The nearest brown dwarfs are the binary Luhman 16 system at 6.6 light-years. Other systems within ten light-years are the binary red-dwarf system Luyten 726-8 (8.7 ly) and the solitary red dwarf Ross 154 (9.7 ly). The closest solitary Sun-like star to the Solar System is Tau Ceti at 11.9 light-years. It has roughly 80% of the Sun's mass but only 60% of its luminosity. The closest known free-floating planetary-mass object to the Sun is WISE 0855−0714, an object with a mass less than 10 Jupiter masses roughly 7 light-years away.
Compared to many other planetary systems, the Solar System stands out in lacking planets interior to the orbit of Mercury. The known Solar System also lacks super-Earths (Planet Nine could be a super-Earth beyond the known Solar System). Uncommonly, it has only small rocky planets and large gas giants; elsewhere planets of intermediate size are typical—both rocky and gas—so there is no "gap" as seen between the size of Earth and of Neptune (with a radius 3.8 times as large). Also, these super-Earths have closer orbits than Mercury. This led to hypothesis that all planetary systems start with many close-in planets, and that typically a sequence of their collisions causes consolidation of mass into few larger planets, but in case of the Solar System the collisions caused their destruction and ejection.
The orbits of Solar System planets are nearly circular. Compared to other systems, they have smaller orbital eccentricity. Although there are attempts to explain it partly with a bias in the radial-velocity detection method and partly with long interactions of a quite high number of planets, the exact causes remain undetermined.
This section is a sampling of Solar System bodies, selected for size and quality of imagery, and sorted by volume. Some omitted objects are larger than the ones included here, notably Eris, because these have not been imaged in high quality.
(moon of Jupiter)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Jupiter)
(moon of Jupiter)
(moon of Earth)
(moon of Jupiter)
(moon of Neptune)
(Kuiper belt object)
(moon of Uranus)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Uranus)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Pluto)
(moon of Uranus)
(moon of Uranus)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Uranus)
(moon of Neptune)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Saturn)
(moon of Mars)
(moon of Mars)
(Kuiper Belt object)
|Voyager 1 views the Solar System from over 6 billion km from Earth.|
Today we know of more than a dozen dwarf planets in the solar system
A dwarf planet is a planetary-mass object that is neither a true planet nor a natural satellite. That is, it is in direct orbit of a star, and is massive enough for its gravity to compress it into a hydrostatically equilibrious shape (usually a spheroid), but has not cleared the neighborhood of other material around its orbit.The term dwarf planet was adopted in 2006 as part of a three-way categorization of bodies orbiting the Sun, brought about by an increase in discoveries of objects farther away from the Sun than Neptune that rivaled Pluto in size, and finally precipitated by the discovery of an even more massive object, Eris. The exclusion of dwarf planets from the roster of planets by the IAU has been both praised and criticized; it was said to be the "right decision" by astronomer Mike Brown, who discovered Eris and other new dwarf planets, but has been rejected by Alan Stern, who had coined the term dwarf planet in April 1991.As of July 2008 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) recognizes five dwarf planets: Ceres in the asteroid belt, and Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris in the outer Solar System. Brown criticizes this official recognition: "A reasonable person might think that this means that there are five known objects in the solar system which fit the IAU definition of dwarf planet, but this reasonable person would be nowhere close to correct."Liberal estimates are that another hundred or so known objects in the Solar System may be dwarf planets. Such estimates are that up to 200 dwarf planets will be identified when the entire region known as the Kuiper belt is explored, and that the number may exceed 10,000 when objects scattered outside the Kuiper belt are considered. Individual astronomers recognize several of these, and Brown maintains a list of hundreds of candidate objects, ranging from "nearly certain" to "possible" dwarf planets. However, it has been proposed that dark, low-density bodies smaller than 900–1000 km in diameter may retain internal porosity from their formation, never having fully collapsed into solid planetary bodies, in which case they could not be dwarf-planets.
As of Feb 2018, Brown's list includes 952 objects, identifying ten known trans-Neptunian objects—the four accepted by the IAU plus the six bodies: 2007 OR10, Quaoar, Sedna, Orcus, (307261) 2002 MS4 and Salacia—as "near certain", with another 26 "highly likely". Notably, 2007 OR10 (1535 km) has a larger diameter than the dwarf planet Makemake (1430 km). Stern states that there are more than a dozen known dwarf planets. Grundy et al. cast doubt on the possibility that Salacia, Varda and similar objects are planetary bodies, while accepting that Orcus and Quaoar probably are.Only two of these bodies, Ceres and Pluto, have been observed in enough detail to demonstrate that they actually fit the IAU's definition. The IAU accepted Eris as a dwarf planet because it is more massive than Pluto. They subsequently decided that unnamed trans-Neptunian objects with an absolute magnitude brighter than +1 (and hence a diameter of ≥838 km assuming a geometric albedo of ≤1) are to be named under the assumption that they are dwarf planets.The classification of bodies in other planetary systems with the characteristics of dwarf planets has not been addressed.Ecliptic
The ecliptic is the mean plane of the apparent path in the sky that the Sun follows over the course of one year; it is the basis of the ecliptic coordinate system. This plane of reference is coplanar with Earth's orbit around the Sun (and hence the Sun's apparent path around Earth). The ecliptic is not normally noticeable from Earth's surface because the planet's rotation carries the observer through the daily cycles of sunrise and sunset, which obscure the Sun's apparent motion against the background of stars during the year.Exoplanet
An exoplanet (UK: , US: ) or extrasolar planet is a planet outside the Sun's Solar System. The first evidence of an exoplanet was noted in 1917, but was not recognized as such. The first scientific detection of an exoplanet was in 1988; it was confirmed to be an exoplanet in 2012. The first confirmed detection occurred in 1992. As of 1 January 2019, there are 3,946 confirmed planets in 2,945 systems, with 650 systems having more than one planet.There are many methods of detecting exoplanets. The High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) has discovered about a hundred exoplanets since 2004, while the Kepler space telescope, since 2009, has found more than two thousand. Kepler has also detected a few thousand candidate planets, of which up to 40% may be false positives.
In several cases, multiple planets have been observed around a star.
About 1 in 5 Sun-like stars have an "Earth-sized" planet in the habitable zone. Assuming there are 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, it can be hypothesized that there are 11 billion potentially habitable Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way, rising to 40 billion if planets orbiting the numerous red dwarfs are included.The least massive planet known is Draugr (also known as PSR B1257+12 A or PSR B1257+12 b), which is about twice the mass of the Moon. The most massive planet listed on the NASA Exoplanet Archive is HR 2562 b, about 30 times the mass of Jupiter, although according to some definitions of a planet, it is too massive to be a planet and may be a brown dwarf instead. There are planets that are so near to their star that they take only a few hours to orbit and there are others so far away that they take thousands of years to orbit. Some are so far out that it is difficult to tell whether they are gravitationally bound to the star. Almost all of the planets detected so far are within the Milky Way. Nonetheless, evidence suggests that extragalactic planets, exoplanets further away in galaxies beyond the local Milky Way galaxy, may exist. The nearest exoplanet is Proxima Centauri b, located 4.2 light-years (1.3 parsecs) from Earth and orbiting Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun.The discovery of exoplanets has intensified interest in the search for extraterrestrial life. There is special interest in planets that orbit in a star's habitable zone, where it is possible for liquid water, a prerequisite for life on Earth, to exist on the surface. The study of planetary habitability also considers a wide range of other factors in determining the suitability of a planet for hosting life.Besides exoplanets, there are also rogue planets, which do not orbit any star. These tend to be considered separately, especially if they are gas giants, in which case they are often counted as sub-brown dwarfs, like WISE 0855−0714. The rogue planets in the Milky Way possibly number in the billions (or more).Formation and evolution of the Solar System
The formation and evolution of the Solar System began 4.6 billion years ago with the gravitational collapse of a small part of a giant molecular cloud. Most of the collapsing mass collected in the center, forming the Sun, while the rest flattened into a protoplanetary disk out of which the planets, moons, asteroids, and other small Solar System bodies formed.
This model, known as the nebular hypothesis was first developed in the 18th century by Emanuel Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant, and Pierre-Simon Laplace. Its subsequent development has interwoven a variety of scientific disciplines including astronomy, physics, geology, and planetary science. Since the dawn of the space age in the 1950s and the discovery of extrasolar planets in the 1990s, the model has been both challenged and refined to account for new observations.
The Solar System has evolved considerably since its initial formation. Many moons have formed from circling discs of gas and dust around their parent planets, while other moons are thought to have formed independently and later been captured by their planets. Still others, such as Earth's Moon, may be the result of giant collisions. Collisions between bodies have occurred continually up to the present day and have been central to the evolution of the Solar System. The positions of the planets might have shifted due to gravitational interactions. This planetary migration is now thought to have been responsible for much of the Solar System's early evolution.
In roughly 5 billion years, the Sun will cool and expand outward to many times its current diameter (becoming a red giant), before casting off its outer layers as a planetary nebula and leaving behind a stellar remnant known as a white dwarf. In the far distant future, the gravity of passing stars will gradually reduce the Sun's retinue of planets. Some planets will be destroyed, others ejected into interstellar space. Ultimately, over the course of tens of billions of years, it is likely that the Sun will be left with none of the original bodies in orbit around it.Kuiper belt
The Kuiper belt (), occasionally called the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt, is a circumstellar disc in the outer Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies or remnants from when the Solar System formed. While many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed "ices"), such as methane, ammonia and water. The Kuiper belt is home to three officially recognized dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea and Makemake. Some of the Solar System's moons, such as Neptune's Triton and Saturn's Phoebe, may have originated in the region.The Kuiper belt was named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, though he did not predict its existence. In 1992, Albion was discovered, the first Kuiper belt object (KBO) since Pluto and Charon. Since its discovery, the number of known KBOs has increased to over a thousand, and more than 100,000 KBOs over 100 km (62 mi) in diameter are thought to exist. The Kuiper belt was initially thought to be the main repository for periodic comets, those with orbits lasting less than 200 years. Studies since the mid-1990s have shown that the belt is dynamically stable and that comets' true place of origin is the scattered disc, a dynamically active zone created by the outward motion of Neptune 4.5 billion years ago; scattered disc objects such as Eris have extremely eccentric orbits that take them as far as 100 AU from the Sun.The Kuiper belt is distinct from the theoretical Oort cloud, which is a thousand times more distant and is mostly spherical. The objects within the Kuiper belt, together with the members of the scattered disc and any potential Hills cloud or Oort cloud objects, are collectively referred to as trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). Pluto is the largest and most massive member of the Kuiper belt, and the largest and the second-most-massive known TNO, surpassed only by Eris in the scattered disc. Originally considered a planet, Pluto's status as part of the Kuiper belt caused it to be reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. It is compositionally similar to many other objects of the Kuiper belt and its orbital period is characteristic of a class of KBOs, known as "plutinos", that share the same 2:3 resonance with Neptune.List of Solar System objects
The following is a list of Solar System objects by orbit, ordered by increasing distance from the Sun. Most named objects in this list have a diameter of 500 km or more.
The Sun, a spectral class G2V main-sequence star
The inner Solar System and the terrestrial planets
2002 VE68, Venus's quasi-satellite
Near-Earth asteroids (including 99942 Apophis)
Earth trojan (2010 TK7)
Asteroids in the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter
Ceres, a dwarf planet
Asteroids number in the hundreds of thousands. For longer lists, see list of notable asteroids, list of asteroids, or list of objects by mass.
A number of smaller groups distinct from the asteroid belt
The outer Solar System with the giant planets, their satellites, trojan asteroids and some minor planets
Rings of Jupiter
Complete list of Jupiter's natural satellites
Jupiter-crossing minor planets
Rings of Saturn
Complete list of Saturn's natural satellites
Tethys (trojans: Telesto and Calypso)
Dione (trojans: Helene and Polydeuces)
Rings of Rhea
Saturn-crossing minor planets
Rings of Uranus
Complete list of Uranus's natural satellites
Uranus trojan (2011 QF99)
Uranus-crossing minor planets
Rings of Neptune
Complete list of Neptune's natural satellites
Neptune-crossing minor planets
Non-trojan minor planets
Trans-Neptunian objects (beyond the orbit of Neptune)
Kuiper-belt objects (KBOs)
Pluto, a dwarf planet
Complete list of Pluto's natural satellites
Cubewanos (classical objects)
Haumea, a dwarf planet
Makemake, a dwarf planet
Eris, a dwarf planet
(225088) 2007 OR10
(84522) 2002 TC302
(87269) 2000 OO67
90377 Sedna (possibly inner Oort cloud)
2012 VP113 (possibly inner Oort cloud)
Oort cloud (hypothetical)
Hills cloud/inner Oort cloud
Outer Oort cloudThe Solar System also contains:
List of periodic comets
List of non-periodic comets
Small objects, including:
Helium focusing cone, around the Sun
Human-made objects orbiting the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Saturn, including active artificial satellites and space junk
Heliosphere, a bubble in space produced by the solar wind
Hydrogen wall, a pile up of hydrogen from the interstellar mediumList of Solar System objects by size
This is a partial list of Solar System objects by size, arranged in descending order of mean volumetric radius, and subdivided into several size classes. These lists can also be sorted according to an object's mass and, for the largest objects, volume, density and surface gravity, insofar as these values are available. This list contains the Sun, the planets, dwarf planets, many of the larger small Solar System bodies (which includes the asteroids), all named natural satellites, and a number of smaller objects of historical or scientific interest, such as comets and near-Earth objects.
The ordering may be different depending on whether one chooses radius or mass, because some objects are denser than others. For instance, Uranus is larger than Neptune but less massive, and although Ganymede and Titan are larger than Mercury, they have less than half Mercury's mass. This means some objects in the lower tables, despite their smaller radii, may be more massive than objects in the upper tables because they have a higher density.
Many trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) have been discovered, and their approximate locations in this list are shown, even though there can be a large uncertainty in their measurement.
Solar System objects more massive than 1021 kilograms (one yottagram [Yg]) are known or expected to be approximately spherical. Astronomical bodies relax into rounded shapes (ellipsoids), achieving hydrostatic equilibrium, when the gravity of their mass is sufficient to overcome the structural strength of their material. Objects made of ice become round more easily than those made of rock, and many icy objects are spheroidal at far lower sizes. The cutoff boundary for roundness is somewhere between 100 km and 200 km in radius.The larger objects in the mass range between 1018 kg to 1021 kg (1 to 1000 zettagrams [Zg]), such as Tethys, Ceres, and Mimas, have relaxed to an oblate-spheroid equilibrium due to their gravity, whereas the less massive rubble piles (e.g. Amalthea and Janus) are roughly rounded, but not spherical, dubbed "irregular".
Spheroidal bodies typically have some polar flattening due to the centrifugal force from their rotation, and can sometimes even have quite different equatorial diameters (scalene ellipsoids such as Haumea). Unlike bodies such as Haumea, the irregular bodies deviate significantly from the shape of an ellipsoid.
There can be difficulty in determining the diameter (within a factor of about 2) for typical objects beyond Saturn. (See 2060 Chiron as an example.) For TNOs there is some confidence in the diameters, but for non-binary TNOs there is no real confidence in the masses/densities. Many TNOs are often just assumed to have Pluto's density of 2.0 g/cm3, but it is just as likely that they have a comet-like density of only 0.5 g/cm3. For example, if a TNO is poorly assumed to have a mass of 3.59×1020 kg based on a radius of 350 km with a density of 2 g/cm3 and is later discovered to only have a radius of 175 km with a density of 1 g/cm3, the mass estimate would be only 2.24×1019 kg.
The sizes and masses of many of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn are fairly well known due to numerous observations and interactions of the Galileo and Cassini orbiters. But many of the moons with a radius less than ~100 km, such as Jupiter's Himalia, still have unknown masses. Again, as we get further from the Sun than Saturn, things get less clear. There has not yet been an orbiter around Uranus or Neptune for long-term study of their moons. For the small outer irregular moons of Uranus, such as Sycorax, which were not discovered by the Voyager 2 flyby, even different NASA web pages, such as the National Space Science Data Center and JPL Solar System Dynamics, have somewhat contradictory size and albedo estimates depending on which research paper is being cited.
Data for objects has varying reliability including uncertainties in the figures for mass and radius, and irregularities in the shape and density, with accuracy often depending on how close it is to Earth or whether it has been visited by a probe.List of gravitationally rounded objects of the Solar System
This is a list of gravitationally rounded objects of the Solar System, which are objects that have a rounded, ellipsoidal shape due to the forces of their own gravity (hydrostatic equilibrium). Their sizes range from dwarf planets and moons to the planets and the Sun. This list does not include any small Solar System bodies, but it does include a sample of planetary-mass objects whose shape has yet to be accurately determined. The Sun's orbital characteristics are listed in relation to the Galactic Center, while all other objects are listed in order of their distance from the Sun.List of natural satellites
The Solar System's planets and officially recognized dwarf planets are known to be orbited by 194 natural satellites, or moons. 19 moons in the Solar System are large enough to be gravitationally rounded, and thus would be considered planets or dwarf planets if they were in direct orbit around the Sun.
Moons are classed in two separate categories according to their orbits: regular moons, which have prograde orbits (they orbit in the direction of their planets' rotation) and lie close to the plane of their equators, and irregular moons, whose orbits can be pro- or retrograde (against the direction of their planets' rotation) and often lie at extreme angles to their planets' equators. Irregular moons are probably minor planets that have been captured from surrounding space. Most irregular moons are less than 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) in diameter.
The earliest published discovery of a moon other than the Earth's was by Galileo Galilei, who discovered the four Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter in 1610. Over the following three centuries only a few more moons were discovered. Missions to other planets in the 1970s, most notably the Voyager 1 and 2 missions, saw a surge in the number of moons detected, and observations since the year 2000, using mostly large, ground-based optical telescopes, have discovered many more, all of which are irregular. Recent years have had a drop in the number of discovered moons, with only 14 moons – twelve of Jupiter (ten of which were announced at the same time), one of Makemake, and one of Neptune – being discovered since 2012.Minor planet
A minor planet is an astronomical object in direct orbit around the Sun (or more broadly, any star with a planetary system) that is neither a planet nor exclusively classified as a comet. Before 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially used the term minor planet, but during that year's meeting it reclassified minor planets and comets into dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies (SSSBs).Minor planets can be dwarf planets, asteroids, trojans, centaurs, Kuiper belt objects, and other trans-Neptunian objects. As of 2018, the orbits of 757,626 minor planets were archived at the Minor Planet Center, 516,386 of which had received permanent numbers (for the complete list, see index).The first minor planet to be discovered was Ceres in 1801. The term minor planet has been used since the 19th century to describe these objects. The term planetoid has also been used, especially for larger (planetary) objects such as those the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has called dwarf planets since 2006. Historically, the terms asteroid, minor planet, and planetoid have been more or less synonymous. This terminology has become more complicated by the discovery of numerous minor planets beyond the orbit of Jupiter, especially trans-Neptunian objects that are generally not considered asteroids. A minor planet seen releasing gas may be dually classified as a comet.
Objects are called dwarf planets if their self-gravity is sufficient to achieve hydrostatic equilibrium and form an ellipsoidal shape. All other minor planets and comets are called small Solar System bodies. The IAU stated that the term minor planet may still be used, but the term small Solar System body will be preferred. However, for purposes of numbering and naming, the traditional distinction between minor planet and comet is still used.Natural satellite
A natural satellite or moon is, in the most common usage, an astronomical body that orbits a planet or minor planet (or sometimes another small Solar System body).
In the Solar System there are six planetary satellite systems containing 185 known natural satellites. Four IAU-listed dwarf planets are also known to have natural satellites: Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. As of September 2018, there are 334 other minor planets known to have moons.The Earth–Moon system is unique in that the ratio of the mass of the Moon to the mass of Earth is much greater than that of any other natural-satellite–planet ratio in the Solar System (although there are minor-planet systems with even greater ratios, notably the Pluto–Charon system). At 3,474 km (2,158 miles) across, the Moon is 0.27 times the diameter of Earth.Neptune
Neptune is the eighth and farthest known planet from the Sun in the Solar System. In the Solar System, it is the fourth-largest planet by diameter, the third-most-massive planet, and the densest giant planet. Neptune is 17 times the mass of Earth and is slightly more massive than its near-twin Uranus, which is 15 times the mass of Earth and slightly larger than Neptune. Neptune orbits the Sun once every 164.8 years at an average distance of 30.1 AU (4.5 billion km). It is named after the Roman god of the sea and has the astronomical symbol ♆, a stylised version of the god Neptune's trident.
Neptune is not visible to the unaided eye and is the only planet in the Solar System found by mathematical prediction rather than by empirical observation. Unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus led Alexis Bouvard to deduce that its orbit was subject to gravitational perturbation by an unknown planet. Neptune was subsequently observed with a telescope on 23 September 1846 by Johann Galle within a degree of the position predicted by Urbain Le Verrier. Its largest moon, Triton, was discovered shortly thereafter, though none of the planet's remaining known 13 moons were located telescopically until the 20th century. The planet's distance from Earth gives it a very small apparent size, making it challenging to study with Earth-based telescopes. Neptune was visited by Voyager 2, when it flew by the planet on 25 August 1989. The advent of the Hubble Space Telescope and large ground-based telescopes with adaptive optics has recently allowed for additional detailed observations from afar.
Like Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune's atmosphere is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, along with traces of hydrocarbons and possibly nitrogen, but it contains a higher proportion of "ices" such as water, ammonia, and methane. However, its interior, like that of Uranus, is primarily composed of ices and rock, which is why Uranus and Neptune are normally considered "ice giants" to emphasise this distinction. Traces of methane in the outermost regions in part account for the planet's blue appearance.In contrast to the hazy, relatively featureless atmosphere of Uranus, Neptune's atmosphere has active and visible weather patterns. For example, at the time of the Voyager 2 flyby in 1989, the planet's southern hemisphere had a Great Dark Spot comparable to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. These weather patterns are driven by the strongest sustained winds of any planet in the Solar System, with recorded wind speeds as high as 2,100 km/h (580 m/s; 1,300 mph). Because of its great distance from the Sun, Neptune's outer atmosphere is one of the coldest places in the Solar System, with temperatures at its cloud tops approaching 55 K (−218 °C; −361 °F). Temperatures at the planet's centre are approximately 5,400 K (5,100 °C; 9,300 °F). Neptune has a faint and fragmented ring system (labelled "arcs"), which was discovered in 1984, then later confirmed by Voyager 2.Oort cloud
The Oort cloud (), named after the Dutch astronomer Jan Oort, sometimes called the Öpik–Oort cloud, is a theoretical cloud of predominantly icy planetesimals proposed to surround the Sun at distances ranging from 2,000 to 200,000 AU (0.03 to 3.2 light-years). It is divided into two regions: a disc-shaped inner Oort cloud (or Hills cloud) and a spherical outer Oort cloud. Both regions lie beyond the heliosphere and in interstellar space. The Kuiper belt and the scattered disc, the other two reservoirs of trans-Neptunian objects, are less than one thousandth as far from the Sun as the Oort cloud.
The outer limit of the Oort cloud defines the cosmographical boundary of the Solar System and the extent of the Sun's Hill sphere. The outer Oort cloud is only loosely bound to the Solar System, and thus is easily affected by the gravitational pull both of passing stars and of the Milky Way itself. These forces occasionally dislodge comets from their orbits within the cloud and send them toward the inner Solar System. Based on their orbits, most of the short-period comets may come from the scattered disc, but some may still have originated from the Oort cloud.Astronomers conjecture that the matter composing the Oort cloud formed closer to the Sun and was scattered far into space by the gravitational effects of the giant planets early in the Solar System's evolution. Although no confirmed direct observations of the Oort cloud have been made, it may be the source of all long-period and Halley-type comets entering the inner Solar System, and many of the centaurs and Jupiter-family comets as well.The existence of the Oort cloud was first postulated by Estonian astronomer Ernst Öpik in 1932. Oort independently proposed it in 1950.Planet
A planet is an astronomical body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to cause thermonuclear fusion, and has cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals.The term planet is ancient, with ties to history, astrology, science, mythology, and religion. Five planets in the Solar System are visible to the naked eye. These were regarded by many early cultures as divine, or as emissaries of deities. As scientific knowledge advanced, human perception of the planets changed, incorporating a number of disparate objects. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) officially adopted a resolution defining planets within the Solar System. This definition is controversial because it excludes many objects of planetary mass based on where or what they orbit. Although eight of the planetary bodies discovered before 1950 remain "planets" under the modern definition, some celestial bodies, such as Ceres, Pallas, Juno and Vesta (each an object in the solar asteroid belt), and Pluto (the first trans-Neptunian object discovered), that were once considered planets by the scientific community, are no longer viewed as such.
The planets were thought by Ptolemy to orbit Earth in deferent and epicycle motions. Although the idea that the planets orbited the Sun had been suggested many times, it was not until the 17th century that this view was supported by evidence from the first telescopic astronomical observations, performed by Galileo Galilei. At about the same time, by careful analysis of pre-telescopic observational data collected by Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler found the planets' orbits were elliptical rather than circular. As observational tools improved, astronomers saw that, like Earth, each of the planets rotated around an axis tilted with respect to its orbital pole, and some shared such features as ice caps and seasons. Since the dawn of the Space Age, close observation by space probes has found that Earth and the other planets share characteristics such as volcanism, hurricanes, tectonics, and even hydrology.
Planets are generally divided into two main types: large low-density giant planets, and smaller rocky terrestrials. There are eight planets in the Solar System. In order of increasing distance from the Sun, they are the four terrestrials, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, then the four giant planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Six of the planets are orbited by one or more natural satellites.
Several thousands of planets around other stars ("extrasolar planets" or "exoplanets") have been discovered in the Milky Way. As of 1 January 2019, 3,946 known extrasolar planets in 2,945 planetary systems (including 650 multiple planetary systems), ranging in size from just above the size of the Moon to gas giants about twice as large as Jupiter have been discovered, out of which more than 100 planets are the same size as Earth, nine of which are at the same relative distance from their star as Earth from the Sun, i.e. in the circumstellar habitable zone. On December 20, 2011, the Kepler Space Telescope team reported the discovery of the first Earth-sized extrasolar planets, Kepler-20e and Kepler-20f, orbiting a Sun-like star, Kepler-20. A 2012 study, analyzing gravitational microlensing data, estimates an average of at least 1.6 bound planets for every star in the Milky Way.
Around one in five Sun-like stars is thought to have an Earth-sized planet in its habitable zone.Scattered disc
The scattered disc (or scattered disk) is a distant circumstellar disc in the Solar System that is sparsely populated by icy small solar system bodies, which are a subset of the broader family of trans-Neptunian objects. The scattered-disc objects (SDOs) have orbital eccentricities ranging as high as 0.8, inclinations as high as 40°, and perihelia greater than 30 astronomical units (4.5×109 km; 2.8×109 mi). These extreme orbits are thought to be the result of gravitational "scattering" by the gas giants, and the objects continue to be subject to perturbation by the planet Neptune.
Although the closest scattered-disc objects approach the Sun at about 30–35 AU, their orbits can extend well beyond 100 AU. This makes scattered objects among the coldest and most distant objects in the Solar System. The innermost portion of the scattered disc overlaps with a torus-shaped region of orbiting objects traditionally called the Kuiper belt, but its outer limits reach much farther away from the Sun and farther above and below the ecliptic than the Kuiper belt proper.Because of its unstable nature, astronomers now consider the scattered disc to be the place of origin for most periodic comets in the Solar System, with the centaurs, a population of icy bodies between Jupiter and Neptune, being the intermediate stage in an object's migration from the disc to the inner Solar System. Eventually, perturbations from the giant planets send such objects towards the Sun, transforming them into periodic comets. Many objects of the proposed Oort cloud are also thought to have originated in the scattered disc. Detached objects are not sharply distinct from scattered disc objects, and some such as Sedna have sometimes been considered to be included in this group.Small Solar System body
A small Solar System body (SSSB) is an object in the Solar System that is neither a planet, a dwarf planet, nor a natural satellite. The term was first defined in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as follows: "All other objects, except satellites, orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as 'Small Solar System Bodies' ".
This encompasses all comets and all minor planets other than those that are dwarf planets. Thus SSSBs are: the comets; the classical asteroids, with the exception of the dwarf planet Ceres; the trojans; and the centaurs and trans-Neptunian objects, with the exception of the dwarf planets Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris and others that may turn out to be dwarf planets.Timeline of Solar System exploration
This is a timeline of Solar System exploration ordered by date of spacecraft launch. It includes:
All spacecraft that have left Earth orbit for the purposes of Solar System exploration (or were launched with that intention but failed), including lunar probes.
A small number of pioneering or notable Earth-orbiting craft.It does not include:
The great majority of Earth-orbiting satellites.
Space probes leaving Earth orbit that are not concerned with Solar System exploration (such as space telescopes targeted at distant galaxies, cosmic background radiation observatories, and so on).
Probes that failed at launch.The dates listed are launch dates, but the achievements noted may have occurred some time later—in some cases, a considerable time later (for example, Voyager 2, launched 20 August 1977, did not reach Neptune until 1989).
Missions in italics are unfinished, i.e. have not yet been designated as successes or failures. Some unitalicised missions are nevertheless still operational, some in mission extension phases.Voyager 1
Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977. Part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System, Voyager 1 was launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2. Having operated for 41 years,4 months and 13 days as of January 18 2019,the spacecraft still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and to transmit data to Earth. At a distance of 145.11 astronomical units (2.1708×1010 km; 1.3489×1010 mi) (21.708 billion kilometers; 13.489 billion miles) from Earth as of January 1, 2019, it is the most distant human-made object from Earth.The probe's objectives included flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn's largest moon, Titan. While the spacecraft's course could have been altered to include a Pluto encounter by forgoing the Titan flyby, exploration of the moon, which was known to have a substantial atmosphere, took priority. Voyager 1 studied the weather, magnetic fields, and rings of the two planets and was the first probe to provide detailed images of their moons.
After completing its primary mission with the flyby of Saturn on November 12, 1980, Voyager 1 became the third of five artificial objects to achieve the escape velocity, which will allow them to leave the Solar System. On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to cross the heliopause and enter the interstellar medium.In a further testament to the robustness of Voyager 1, the Voyager team completed a successful test of the spacecraft's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters in late 2017 (the first time these thrusters were fired since 1980), a project enabling the mission to be extended by two to three years.Voyager 1's extended mission is expected to continue until about 2025, when its radioisotope thermoelectric generators will no longer supply enough electric power to operate its scientific instruments.ʻOumuamua
ʻOumuamua (, Hawaiian: [ʔowˌmuwəˈmuwə] (listen)) is the first interstellar object detected passing through the Solar System. Formally designated 1I/2017 U1, it was discovered by Robert Weryk using the Pan-STARRS telescope at Haleakala Observatory, Hawaii, on 19 October 2017, 40 days after it passed its closest point to the Sun. When first seen, it was about 33,000,000 km (21,000,000 mi; 0.22 AU) from Earth (about 85 times as far away as the Moon), and already heading away from the Sun.
ʻOumuamua is a small object, estimated to be about 100 m–1,000 m × 35 m–167 m × 35 m–167 m (328 ft–3,281 ft × 115 ft–548 ft × 115 ft–548 ft) in size. It has a dark red color, similar to objects in the outer Solar System. ʻOumuamua showed no signs of a comet tail despite its close approach to the Sun, but has since undergone non-gravitational acceleration, potentially consistent with a push from solar radiation pressure. It has significant elongation and rotation rate, so it is thought to be metal-rich with a relatively high density. ʻOumuamua is tumbling, rather than smoothly rotating, and is moving so fast relative to the Sun that there is no chance it originated in the Solar System. It also means that ʻOumuamua cannot be captured into a solar orbit, so it will eventually leave the Solar System and resume traveling through interstellar space. ʻOumuamua's system of origin and the amount of time it has spent traveling amongst the stars are unknown.