Portal:Solar System/Selected article

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1 through 10[edit]

Portal:Solar System/Selected article/1

Eris (centre) and Dysnomia (left of centre), taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Eris was first spotted in 2003 by a Mount Palomar-based team led by Mike Brown but not identified until 2005. It is a trans-Neptunian object (TNO) native to a region of space beyond the Kuiper belt known as the scattered disc. Eris has one moon, Dysnomia; recent observations have found no evidence of further satellites. The current distance from the Sun is 96.7 AU, roughly three times that of Pluto. With the exception of some comets, the pair are the most distant known bodies in the Solar System. Because Eris is larger than Pluto, its discoverers and NASA called it the Solar system's tenth planet. This, along with the prospect of other similarly sized objects being discovered in the future, motivated the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define the term "planet" for the first time. Under a new definition approved on August 24, 2006, Eris was designated a "dwarf planet" along with Pluto and Ceres.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/2

The Sun with some sunspots visible.

The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. The Earth and other matter (including other planets, asteroids, meteoroids, comets and dust) orbit the Sun, which by itself accounts for about 99.8% of the Solar System's mass. Energy from the Sun—in the form of sunlight—supports almost all life on Earth via photosynthesis, and drives the Earth's climate and weather.

The Sun is composed of hydrogen (about 74% of its mass, or 92% of its volume), helium (about 25% of mass, 7% of volume), and trace quantities of other elements. The Sun has a spectral class of G2V. G2 implies that it has a surface temperature of approximately 5,500 K, giving it a white color which, because of atmospheric scattering, appears yellow as seen from the surface of the Earth. This is a subtractive effect, as the preferential scattering of blue photons (causing the sky color) removes enough blue light to leave a residual reddishness that is perceived as yellow.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/3

Reprocessed Mariner 10 image of Mercury.

Mercury is the innermost and smallest planet in the solar system, orbiting the Sun once every 88 days. It ranges in brightness from about −2.0 to 5.5 in apparent magnitude, but is not easily seen as its greatest angular separation from the Sun (greatest elongation) is only 28.3°. It can only be seen in morning or evening twilight. Comparatively little is known about the planet: the only spacecraft to approach Mercury was Mariner 10 from 1974 to 1975, which mapped only 40%–45% of the planet’s surface.

Physically, Mercury is similar in appearance to the Moon as it is heavily cratered. It has no natural satellites and no substantial atmosphere. The planet has a large iron core which generates a magnetic field about 0.1% as strong as that of the Earth. Surface temperatures on Mercury range from about 90 to 700 K (−180 to 430°C, −290 to 810°F), with the subsolar point being the hottest and the bottoms of craters near the poles being the coldest.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/4


Venus /ˈvnəs/ is the second-closest planet to the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. It is the brightest natural object in the night sky, except for the Moon, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6. Because Venus is an inferior planet, from Earth it never appears to venture far from the Sun: its elongation reaches a maximum of 47.8°. Venus reaches its maximum brightness shortly before sunrise or shortly after sunset, for which reason it is often called the Morning Star or the Evening Star.

Classified as a terrestrial planet, it is sometimes called Earth's "sister planet", for the two are similar in size, gravity, and bulk composition. Venus is covered with an opaque layer of highly reflective clouds of carbon dioxide, preventing its surface from being seen from space in visible light; this was a subject of great speculation until some of its secrets were revealed by planetary science in the twentieth century. Venus has the densest atmosphere of all the terrestrial planets, consisting mostly of carbon dioxide. The atmospheric pressure at the planet's surface is 90 times that of the Earth.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/5

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

Earth /ɜrθ/ is the third planet from the Sun and is the largest of the terrestrial planets in the Solar System, in both diameter and mass. Home to the human species, it is also referred to as "the Earth", "Planet Earth", "Gaia", "Terra", "the World", and "the Blue Planet".

The Earth is the first planet known to have liquid water on the surface and is the only place in the universe known to harbor life. Earth has a magnetic field that, together with a primarily nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, protects the surface from radiation that is harmful to life. The atmosphere also serves as a shield that causes smaller meteors to burn up before they strike the surface.

The Earth formed around 4.57 billion years ago and its only known natural satellite, the Moon, began orbiting it around 4.53 billion years ago. At present, the Earth orbits the Sun once for every roughly 366.26 times it rotates about its axis (which is equal to 365.26 solar days). The Earth's axis of rotation is tilted 23.5° (away from the perpendicular to its orbital plane), producing seasonal variations on the planet's surface.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/6

The Moon

The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite. The average center-to-center distance from the Earth to the Moon is 384,403 kilometres (238,857 miles), which is about 30 times the diameter of the Earth. The Moon has a diameter of 3,474 kilometers (2,159 m)—slightly more than a quarter that of the Earth. This means that the volume of the Moon is only about 1/50th that of Earth. Its gravitational pull is about a 1/6 of Earth's. The Moon makes a complete orbit around the Earth every 27.3 days, and the periodic variations in the geometry of the Earth–Moon–Sun system are responsible for the lunar phases that repeat every 29.5 days. The gravitational attraction, and the centrifugal forces generated by the rotation of the Moon and Earth around a common axis, the barycentre, is largely responsible for the tides on Earth. The energy dissipated in generating tides is directly responsible for the reduction in potential energy in the Moon-Earth orbit around the barycentre, resulting in a 3.8 cm yearly increase in the distance between the two bodies. The Moon will continue to move slowly away from the Earth until the tidal effects between the two are no longer of significance, whereupon the Moon's orbit will stabilize.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/7


Mars /ˈmɑrz/, the fourth planet from the Sun, is sometimes known as the Red Planet because of its reddish appearance as seen from Earth. The planet is named after Mars, the Roman god of war. A terrestrial planet, Mars has a thin atmosphere and surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the volcanoes, valleys, deserts and polar ice caps of Earth. It is the site of Olympus Mons, the highest known mountain in the solar system, and of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon. In addition to its geographical features, Mars's rotational period and seasonal cycles are likewise similar to those of the Earth.

Until the first flyby of Mars by Mariner 4 in 1965, it was speculated that there might be liquid water on the planet. This was based on observations of periodic variations in light and dark patches, particularly in the polar latitudes, which looked like seas and continents, while long, dark striations were interpreted by some observers as irrigation channels for liquid water. These straight line features were later proven not to exist and were instead explained as optical illusions. Still, of all the planets in our solar system, Mars is the most likely, other than Earth, to harbor liquid water, and perhaps life.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/8


Ceres (/ˈsɪərz/; Latin: Cerēs), also designated 1 Ceres (see minor planet names), is the smallest dwarf planet in the Solar System and the only one located in the main asteroid belt. Its name is derived from the Roman goddess Ceres — the goddess of growing plants, the harvest, and of motherly love. It was discovered on January 1, 1801, by Giuseppe Piazzi. With a diameter of about 950 km, Ceres is by far the largest and most massive body in the asteroid belt, and contains approximately a third of the belt's total mass. Recent observations have revealed that it is spherical, unlike the irregular shapes of smaller bodies with less gravity.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/9

An artist's rendering of the Oort cloud, the Hills cloud, and the Kuiper belt.

The Oort cloud is a spherical cloud of comets believed to lie roughly 50,000 AU, or nearly a light-year, from the Sun; this distance places the cloud at nearly a quarter of the distance to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun. The Kuiper belt and scattered disc, the other two known reservoirs of trans-Neptunian objects, are less than one thousandth the Oort cloud's distance. The outer extent of the Oort cloud defines the boundary of our Solar System.

The Oort cloud is thought to comprise two separate regions: a spherical outer Oort cloud and a disc-shaped inner Oort cloud, or Hills cloud. Objects in the Oort cloud are largely composed of ices such as water, ammonia and methane. Astronomers believe that the matter comprising the Oort cloud formed closer to the Sun, and was scattered far out into space by the gravitational effects of the giant planets early in the Solar System's evolution. While no confirmed direct observations have been made, the Oort cloud is likely the source of comets. The only known trans-Neptunian objects, 90377 Sedna and 2000 CR105, are considered possible members of the inner Oort cloud.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/10

Jupiter, as seen from Voyager (1979)

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest planet within the solar system. It is two and a half times as massive as all of the other planets in our solar system combined. Jupiter, along with Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, is classified as a gas giant. When viewed from Earth, Jupiter can reach an apparent magnitude of -2.8, making it the fourth brightest object in the night sky. The planet was known by astronomers of ancient times and was associated with the mythology and religious beliefs of many cultures. Jupiter is primarily composed of hydrogen with only a small proportion of helium; it may also have a rocky core of heavier elements. The outer atmosphere is visibly segregated into several bands at different latitudes, resulting in turbulence and storms along their interacting boundaries. A prominent result is the Great Red Spot, a giant storm that is known to have existed since at least the seventeenth century. Surrounding the planet is a faint planetary ring system and a powerful magnetosphere. There are also at least 63 moons, including the four large moons called the Galilean moons that were first discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610. Jupiter has been explored on several occasions by robotic spacecraft, most notably during the early Pioneer and Voyager fly-by missions and later by the Galileo orbiter.


11 through 20[edit]

Portal:Solar System/Selected article/11

A photo of Uranus taken by Voyager 2.

Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun; it is the third largest and fourth most massive planet in the solar system. Uranus was the first planet discovered in modern times. Though it is visible to the naked eye like the five classical planets, it was never recognised as a planet by ancient observers due to its dimness. Sir William Herschel announced its discovery on March 13, 1781, expanding the known boundaries of the solar system. Uranus' atmosphere, although similar to Jupiter and Saturn in being composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, contains a higher proportion of "ices" such as water, ammonia and methane, along with the usual traces of hydrocarbons. It has the coldest planetary atmosphere in the solar system, with a minimum temperature of 49 K, and has a complex layered cloud structure in which water is thought to make up the lowest clouds, while methane makes up the uppermost layer of clouds. In 1986, images from the Voyager 2 space probe showed Uranus as a virtually featureless planet in visible light without the cloud bands or storms associated with the other giants. The wind speeds on Uranus can reach 250 m/s (560 mph).


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/12

Rings of Jupiter.

The rings of Jupiter are a system of planetary rings around the planet Jupiter. The Jovian ring system was the third ring system to be discovered in the Solar System after those of Saturn and Uranus. It was first observed in 1979 by the Voyager 1 spaceprobe and thoroughly investigated in the 1990s by the Galileo orbiter. It has also been observed by the Hubble Space Telescope and from the ground for the past 25 years. Ground-based observations of the rings require the largest available telescopes. The Jovian ring system is faint and consists mainly of dust. It comprises four main components: a thick inner torus of particles known as the 'halo ring'; a relatively bright, razor-thin 'main ring'; and two wide, thick and faint outer 'gossamer rings', named for the moons of whose material they are composed: Amalthea and Thebe. The main and halo rings consist of dust ejected by high-velocity impacts from the moons Metis, Adrastea and other unobserved parent bodies. High-resolution images obtained in February and March 2007 by the New Horizons spacecraft revealed a rich fine structure in the main ring. The age of the ring system is not known but it may have existed since the formation of Jupiter.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/13

Io (moon).

Io (pronounced /ˈaɪoʊ/ eye'-oe, or as Greek Ῑώ) is the innermost of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter and, with a diameter of 3,642 kilometers, the fourth largest moon in the Solar System. It was discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, along with the other Galilean satellites. This discovery furthered the adoption of the Copernican model of the Solar System and the development of Kepler's laws of motion. Unlike most satellites in the outer Solar System (which have a thick coating of ice), Io is primarily composed of silicate rock surrounding a molten iron or iron sulfide core. Io has one of the most geologically active surfaces in the solar system, with over 400 active volcanoes. This extreme geologic activity is the result of tidal heating from friction generated within Io's interior by Jupiter's varying pull. Several volcanoes produce plumes of sulfur and sulfur dioxide that climb as high as 500 km (310 mi). Io's surface is also dotted with more than 100 mountains that have been uplifted by extensive compression at the base of the moon's silicate crust. Some of these peaks are taller than Earth's Mount Everest. Most of Io's surface is characterized by extensive plains coated with sulfur and sulfur dioxide frost.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/14

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.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/15

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 centre, forming the Sun, while the rest flattened into a protoplanetary disc out of which the planets, moons, asteroids, and other small Solar System bodies formed. This widely accepted model, known as the nebular hypothesis, was first developed in the 18th century by Emanuel Swedenborg, Immanuel Kant, and Pierre-Simon Laplace. Beginning with the initial formation, the Solar System has evolved considerably. Many moons formed from circling discs of gas and dust around their parent planets, while many other moons are believed to have been captured or (in the case of the Earth's Moon) to have resulted from a giant collision. Collisions between bodies have occurred continuously up to the present day and are central to the evolution of the system. The planets' positions often shifted outward or inward, and planets have switched places. This planetary migration is now believed to be responsible for much of the Solar System's early evolution. Just as the Sun and planets were born, they will eventually die. In roughly 5 billion years, the Sun will cool and bloat 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 corpse known as a white dwarf.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/16

Makemake as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Makemake is the third-largest known dwarf planet in the Solar System and one of the two largest Kuiper belt objects (KBO) in the classical KBO population. Its diameter is roughly three-quarters that of Pluto. Makemake has no known satellites, which makes it unique among the largest KBOs. Its extremely low average temperature (about 30 K) means its surface is covered with methane, ethane and possibly nitrogen ices. Initially known as 2005 FY9 (and later given the minor planet number 136472), it was discovered on March 31, 2005, by a team led by Michael Brown, and announced on July 29, 2005. On June 11, 2008, the IAU included Makemake in its list of potential candidates to be given "plutoid" status, a term for dwarf planets beyond the orbit of Neptune that would place the object alongside Pluto and Eris. Makemake was formally classified as a plutoid in July 2008.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/17

Neptune, as photographed by Voyager 2.

Neptune is the eighth and farthest planet from the Sun in the Solar System. It is the fourth largest planet by diameter, and the third largest by mass. The planet is named after the Roman god of the sea. Discovered on September 23, 1846, Neptune was the first planet found by mathematical prediction rather than regular observation. Unexpected changes in the orbit of Uranus led astronomers to deduce the gravitational perturbation of an unknown planet. Neptune was found within a degree of the predicted position. The moon Triton was found shortly thereafter, but none of the planet's other 12 moons were discovered before the 20th century. Neptune has been visited by only one spacecraft, Voyager 2, which flew by the planet on August 25, 1989. Neptune is similar in composition to Uranus, and both have different compositions from those of the larger gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. Traces of methane in the atmosphere, in part, account for the planet's blue appearance. At the time of the 1989 Voyager 2 flyby, its southern hemisphere possessed a Great Dark Spot comparable to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. Neptune has a faint and fragmented ring system, which may have been detected during the 1960s but was only indisputably confirmed by Voyager 2.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/18

Voyager 2 picture of Uranus' rings

The rings of Uranus were discovered on March 10, 1977, by James L. Elliot, Edward W. Dunham, and Douglas J. Mink. Two additional rings were discovered in 1986 by the Voyager 2 spacecraft, and two outer rings were found in 2003–2005 by the Hubble Space Telescope. A number of faint dust bands and incomplete arcs may exist between the main rings. The rings are extremely dark—the Bond albedo of the rings' particles does not exceed 2%. They are likely composed of water ice with the addition of some dark radiation-processed organics. The majority of Uranus's rings are opaque and only a few kilometres wide. The ring system contains little dust overall; it consists mostly of large bodies 0.2–20 m in diameter. The relative lack of dust in the ring system is due to aerodynamic drag from the extended Uranian exospherecorona. The rings of Uranus are thought to be relatively young, at not more than 600 million years. The mechanism that confines the narrow rings is not well understood. The Uranian ring system probably originated from the collisional fragmentation of a number of moons that once existed around the planet. After colliding, the moons broke up into numerous particles, which survived as narrow and optically dense rings only in strictly confined zones of maximum stability.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/19

Io, with two plumes erupting from its surface.

Volcanism on Io, a moon of Jupiter, produces lava flows, volcanic pits, and plumes of sulfur and sulfur dioxide hundreds of kilometres high. This volcanic activity was discovered in 1979 by Voyager 1 imaging scientists. Observations of Io by passing spacecraft and Earth-based astronomers have revealed more than 150 active volcanoes. Io's volcanism makes the satellite one of only four known volcanically active worlds in the solar system. First predicted shortly before the Voyager 1 flyby, the heat source for Io's volcanism comes from tidal heating produced by Io's forced orbital eccentricity. Io's volcanism has led to the formation of hundreds of volcanic centres and extensive lava formations, making the moon the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Three different types of volcanic eruptions have been identified, differing in duration, intensity, lava effusion rate, and whether the eruption occurs within a volcanic pit. Lava flows on Io, tens or hundreds of kilometres long, have primarily basaltic composition, similar to lavas seen on Earth at shield volcanoes such as Kīlauea in Hawaii. As a result of the presence of significant quantities of sulfurous materials in Io's crust and on its surface, during some eruptions, sulfur, sulfur dioxide gas, and pyroclastic material are blown up to 500 kilometres (310 mi) into space, producing large, umbrella-shaped volcanic plumes.


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/20

Galileo image of 243 Ida. The tiny dot to the right is its moon, Dactyl.

243 Ida is an asteroid in the Koronis family of the main belt. It was discovered on 29 September 1884 by Johann Palisa and named after a nymph from Greek mythology. Later telescopic observations categorized Ida as an S-type asteroid, the most numerous type in the inner asteroid belt. On 28 August 1993, Ida was visited by the spacecraft Galileo, bound for Jupiter. It was the second asteroid to be visited by a spacecraft and the first found to possess a satellite. Like all main-belt asteroids, Ida's orbit lies between the planets Mars and Jupiter. Its orbital period is 4.84 years, and its rotation period is 4.63 hours. Ida has an average diameter of 31.4 km (19.5 mi). It is irregularly shaped and elongated, and apparently composed of two large objects connected together in a shape reminiscent of a croissant. Its surface is one of the most heavily cratered in the Solar System, featuring a wide variety of crater sizes and ages. Ida's moon, Dactyl, was discovered by mission member Ann Harch in images returned from Galileo. It was named after creatures which inhabited Mount Ida in Greek mythology. Data returned from the flyby pointed to S-type asteroids as the source for the ordinary chondrite meteorites, the most common type found on the Earth's surface. (more...)


20 through 30[edit]

Portal:Solar System/Selected article/21

A map of Jupiter produced by the Cassini probe

The atmosphere of Jupiter is the largest planetary atmosphere in the Solar System. It is primarily made of molecular hydrogen and helium in roughly solar proportions; other chemical compounds are present only in small amounts, and include methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and water. The latter one is thought to reside deep in the atmosphere—its directly measured concentration is very low. The oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and noble gas abundances in Jupiter's atmosphere exceed solar values by a factor of about three. The atmosphere of Jupiter lacks a clear lower boundary and gradually transitions into the fluid interior of the planet. From lowest to highest, the atmospheric layers are the troposphere, stratosphere, thermosphere and exosphere. Each layer has characteristic temperature gradients. The lowest layer, the troposphere, has a complicated system of clouds and hazes, comprising layers of ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide and water. The upper ammonia clouds visible at Jupiter's surface are organized in a dozen zonal bands parallel to the equator and are bounded by powerful zonal atmospheric flows (winds) known as jets. The bands alternate in color: the dark bands are called belts, while light ones are called zones. Zones, which are colder than belts, correspond to upwellings, while belts mark descending air. The zones' lighter color is believed to result from ammonia ice; what gives the belts their darker colors is not known with certainty. The Jovian atmosphere shows a wide range of active phenomena, including band instabilities, vortices (cyclones and anticyclones), storms and lightning. (more...)


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/22

Eris, the largest known scattered disc object

The scattered disc is a distant region of the Solar System that is sparsely populated by icy minor planets, a subset of the broader family of trans-Neptunian objects. The scattered disc objects have orbital eccentricities ranging as high as 0.8, inclinations as high as 40° and perihelia greater than 30 astronomical units. These extreme orbits are believed to be the result of gravitational "scattering" by the gas giants,

and the objects continue to be subject to perturbation by the planet Neptune. While the nearest distance to the Sun approached by scattered objects is about 30–35 AU, their orbits can extend well beyond 100 AU. This makes scattered objects "among the most distant and cold objects in the Solar System". The innermost portion of the scattered disc overlaps with a torus-shaped region of orbiting objects known as the Kuiper belt, but its outer limits reach much farther away from the Sun and farther above and below the ecliptic than the belt proper. Due to its unstable nature, astronomers now consider the scattered disc to be the place of origin for most periodic comets observed 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. (more...)


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Callisto, the third largest moon in the Solar System

Callisto is a moon of the planet Jupiter, discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei. It is the third-largest moon in the Solar System and the second largest in the Jovian system, after Ganymede. It is not a part of the orbital resonance that affects three inner Galilean satellites—Io, Europa and Ganymede—and thus does not experience appreciable tidal heating. Callisto rotates synchronously with its orbital period, so the same hemisphere is always turned toward Jupiter. It is composed of approximately equal amounts of rock and ices, with a mean density of about 1.83 g/cm3. Compounds detected spectroscopically on the surface include water ice, carbon dioxide, silicates, and organic compounds. Investigation by the Galileo spacecraft revealed that Callisto may have only partially differentiated interior covered by a thick icy crust and possibly a subsurface ocean of liquid water at depths greater than 100 km. Prominent surface features include multi-ring structures, variously shaped impact craters, and chains of craters and associated scarps, ridges and deposits. Callisto is surrounded by an extremely thin atmosphere composed of carbon dioxide and probably molecular oxygen, as well as by a rather dense ionosphere. (more...)


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Ganymede, the largest moon in the Solar System

Ganymede is a moon of Jupiter and the largest moon in the Solar System. Completing an orbit in roughly seven days, it is the seventh moon and third Galilean moon from Jupiter. Ganymede participates in a 1:2:4 orbital resonance with the moons Europa and Io, respectively. It is larger in diameter than the planet Mercury but has only about half its mass. It has the highest mass of all planetary satellites with 2.01 times the mass of the Earth's moon. It is composed primarily of silicate rock and water ice, and a saltwater ocean is believed to exist nearly 200 km below Ganymede's surface. Ganymede is the only satellite in the Solar System known to possess a magnetosphere, likely created through convection within the liquid iron core. The satellite has a thin oxygen atmosphere that includes O, O2, and possibly O3. Ganymede's discovery is credited to Galileo Galilei, who observed it in 1610. The satellite's name was soon suggested by astronomer Simon Marius, for the mythological Ganymede, cupbearer of the Greek gods and Zeus's beloved. (more...)


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Comet P/Halley as taken March 8, 1986, by W. Liller

Halley's Comet is the best-known of the short-period comets, and is visible from Earth every 75 to 76 years. Halley is the only short-period comet that is clearly visible to the naked eye, and thus, the only naked-eye comet that might appear twice in a human lifetime. Other naked-eye comets may be brighter and more spectacular, but will appear only once in thousands of years. Halley's returns to the inner solar system have been observed by astronomers since at least 240 BC, and recorded by Chinese, Babylonian, and mediaeval European chroniclers, but were not recognised as reappearances of the same object. The comet's periodicity was first determined in 1705 by English astronomer Edmond Halley, after whom it is now named. It last appeared in the inner Solar System in 1986 and will next appear in mid-2061. During its 1986 apparition, Halley's Comet became the first to be observed in detail by spacecraft, providing the first observational data on the structure of the comet nucleus and the mechanism of coma and tail formation. These observations supported a number of longstanding hypotheses about comet construction, particularly Fred Whipple's "dirty snowball" model, which correctly surmised that Halley would be composed of a mixture of volatile ices, such as water, carbon dioxide and ammonia, and dust. However, the missions also provided data which substantially reformed and reconfigured these ideas. (more...)


Portal:Solar System/Selected article/26

The dwarf planet Ceres

A dwarf planet is a celestial body orbiting the Sun that is massive enough to be spherical as a result of its own gravity but has not cleared its neighbouring region of planetesimals and is not a satellite. They are smaller than planets, but more massive than small solar system bodies. The term was adopted in 2006 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as a result of the increase in discoveries of trans-Neptunian objects that rivaled Pluto in size, and finally precipitated by the discovery of an even more massive object, Eris. The IAU currently recognizes five dwarf planets—Ceres (pictured), Pluto, Haumea, Makemake, and Eris. It is suspected that at least another 40 known objects in the Solar System are dwarf planets, but the number might be as high as 2,000. The 2006 definition has been both praised and criticized, and has been disputed by some scientists.


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Artist's impression of 90377 Sedna

90377 Sedna is a trans-Neptunian object currently about three times as far from the Sun as Neptune. For the majority of its orbit it is the most distant known object in the Solar System other than long-period comets. Roughly two-thirds the size of Pluto, Sedna is hypothetically large enough to be rounded by its own gravity, and thus would qualify as a dwarf planet under current definitions. However, its distance makes determining its shape difficult. Spectroscopy has revealed that Sedna's surface composition is similar to that of some other trans-Neptunian objects, being largely a mixture of water, methane, and nitrogen ices with tholins. Its surface is one of the reddest in the Solar System. Its exceptionally long and elongated orbit, taking approximately 12,000 years to complete, and distant point of closest approach to the Sun have led to much speculation as to its origin. Astronomer Mike Brown, who co-discovered Sedna in 2003, believes it to be the most scientifically important trans-Neptunian object found to date, as understanding its peculiar orbit is likely to yield valuable information about the origin and early evolution of the Solar System.


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Oberon, as photographed by Voyager 2 in 1986

Oberon is the outermost major moon of the planet Uranus. It is the second largest and second most massive of Uranian moons, and the ninth most massive moon in the Solar System. Discovered by William Herschel in 1787, Oberon is named after a character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Its orbit lies partially outside Uranus's magnetosphere. Oberon consists of approximately equal amounts of ice and rock, and is likely differentiated into a rocky core and an icy mantle. A layer of liquid water may be present at the core/mantle boundary. The surface of Oberon, which is dark and slightly red in color, appears to have been primarily shaped by asteroid and comet impacts. It is covered by numerous impact craters reaching 210 km in diameter. Oberon possesses a system of canyons (scarps) formed as a result of the expansion of its interior during its early evolution. This moon probably formed from the accretion disk that surrounded Uranus just after the planet's formation. As of 2010, the Uranian system has been studied up close only once: by the spacecraft Voyager 2 in January 1986. It took several images of Oberon, which allowed mapping of about 40% of the moon’s surface.


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Voyager 2 showing Neptune's full ring system with the highest sensitivity

The rings of Neptune were first detected in 1980, but only identified in 1989 by the Voyager 2 spacecraft. The rings are tenuous, faint and dusty, and resemble the rings of Jupiter more closely than those of Saturn or Uranus. Neptune possesses five known rings, each named for an astronomer who contributed important work on the planet: the Galle, Le Verrier, Lassell, Arago and Adams rings. Neptune also has a faint unnamed ring coincident with the orbit of Neptunian moon Galatea. The rings of Neptune are made of extremely dark material, likely organic compounds processed by radiation similar to that found in the rings of Uranus. The proportion of dust in the rings (between 20 and 70%) is high, while their optical depth is low, at less than 0.1. Uniquely, the Adams ring is divided into five discrete arcs, named Fraternité, Égalité 1 and 2, Liberté, and Courage. The arcs occupy a narrow range of orbital longitudes and are remarkably stable, having changed only slightly since their initial detection in 1980. How the arcs maintain stability is still under debate. However, their stability is probably related to the resonant interaction between the Adams ring and its inner shepherd moon, Galatea.


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Image of the Trojan asteroids in front of and behind Jupiter

The Jupiter Trojans are a large group of objects that share the orbit of the planet Jupiter around the Sun. Relative to Jupiter, each Trojan librates around one of the planet's two Lagrangian points of stability, L4 and L5, that respectively lie 60° ahead of and behind the planet in its orbit. Trojan asteroids are distributed in two elongated, curved regions around these Lagrangian points with an average semi-major axis of about 5.2 AU. The first Trojan, 588 Achilles, was discovered in 1906 by the German astronomer Max Wolf. A total of 2,909 Jupiter Trojans have been found as of January 2009. The name "Trojans" derives from the fact that, by convention, they each are named after a mythological figure from the Trojan War. The total number of Jupiter Trojans larger than 1 km is believed to be about 1 million, approximately equal to the number of asteroids larger than 1 km in the main asteroid belt. Like main belt asteroids, Trojans form families. Jupiter Trojans are dark bodies with reddish, featureless spectra. No firm evidence of the presence of water, organic matter or other chemical compounds has been obtained. The Trojans' densities (as measured by studying binaries or rotational lightcurves) vary from 0.8 to 2.5 g·cm−3. Trojans are thought to have been captured into their orbits during the early stages of the formation and evolution of the Solar System or slightly later, during the migration of giant planets.


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