Long ago, ancient people noticed "wanderers" among the stars, heavenly bodies that moved their position over time. Today, we know they were observing planets. Planets are bodies in space that move in orbit around a star.
There are over 4,000 known exoplanets beyond our solar system, and more are being discovered all the time. But the planets we are most familiar with are the ones that revolve around our own star, the Sun. We live on planet Earth, but there are seven other planets that are all a part of our solar system. These planets have a special relationship to each other because they all revolve around the sun.
Our Solar System
Our solar system has:
One central star called the Sun
Mercury (closest to the sun)
Neptune (farthest from the sun)
More than 200 moons
More than a million rocky asteroids
Thousands of icy comets
Five dwarf planets:
Questions and Answers
How old is the solar system? About 4.6 billion years old.
How was it formed? All of the solar system except the sun are loose particles left over from the formation of the Sun. Find out more at Amazing Space.
How big is the solar system?The Oort Cloud, a collection of comets and icy objects surrounding the solar system, is considered the boundary between our solar system and deep space. It lies about 50,000 astronomical units away from the sun (an astronomical unit is the distance between Earth and the Sun).
Do the planets have the same shaped orbit? No! All the planets have their own unique paths around the sun.
Can you see the planets? You can see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn without a telescope but not Uranus or Neptune.
Where do the planet names come from? Every planet, except for Earth, was named for an ancient Roman god or goddess.
Wasn't Pluto once called a planet? Yes, but scientists reclassified it as a dwarf planet in 2006. Scientists currently use three criteria to define a planet: (1) it must orbit a star, (2) it must have enough gravity to force a spherical shape, and (3) it must have cleared away all similar-sized objects from its orbit. When scientists began to detect other distant objects in Pluto's neighborhood, they found that Pluto did not meet the third criteria for a full-sized planet. Read more about this change at the Library of Congress's Q & A page.
What Is An Orbit?
An orbit is the path followed by an object in space as it moves moves around another object. Read more about orbits from NASA!
Earth takes 365 days to go around the sun, while Neptune takes 164 years. Makemake, a dwarf planet, takes 310 years to complete one orbit around our sun.
The Gas Giants are much larger than the rocky planets and are made mostly of hydrogen, helium, frozen water, ammonia, methane and carbon monoxide. They all have rings and moons.
Jupiter and Saturn contain the largest percentages of hydrogen and helium. Uranus and Neptune contain largest shares of ices — frozen water, ammonia, methane, and carbon monoxide.
Mercury has almost no atmosphere and can be very, very hot and very, very cold.
space probe orbited Mercury from 2011-2015 and helped us learn more about the closest planet to the sun. The European Space Agency launched BepiColombo, a mission to explore Mercury, in 2018.
Mars is the most intensely studied planet beyond Earth. Scientists have been sending spacecraft to Mars since 1960. NASA has been landing rovers on Mars since 1997. As of 2020, the rover Curiosity and the lander Insight remain active on the planet. Learn more about missions and what they have discovered.
Past Neptune there are a class of objects known the Trans-Neptunians or Kuiper Belt Objects. The most well-known of these is the dwarf planet, Pluto. But there are at least three more dwarf planets in this region, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea. Ceres, the only dwarf planet located in the inner solar system, is found between Mars and Jupiter.
Pluto is so small that some moons in the solar system are bigger than this dwarf planet. Pluto is usually farther away from the sun than Neptune, but its unique orbit sometimes brings it closer than the eighth planet. Pluto's surface is covered by ice made from frozen nitrogen.