The Solar System consists of the Sun and the other celestial objects gravitationally bound to it: the eight planets, their moons, five currently identified dwarf planets and their seven known moons, and billions of small bodies. This last category includes asteroids, Kuiper belt objects, comets, meteoroids and interplanetary dust. In broad terms, the charted regions of the Solar System consist of the Sun, four terrestrial inner planets, an asteroid belt composed of small rocky bodies, four gas giant outer planets, and a second belt, called the Kuiper belt, composed of icy objects. Beyond the Kuiper belt lies the scattered disc, the heliopause, and ultimately the hypothetical Oort cloud. In order of their distances from the Sun, the planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Six of the eight planets are in turn orbited by natural satellites, usually termed "moons" after Earth's Moon, and each of the outer planets is encircled by planetary rings of dust and other particles. All the planets except Earth are named after gods and goddesses from Greco-Roman mythology. The five dwarf planets are Pluto, Makemake, and Haumea, the three largest known Kuiper belt objects; Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt; and Eris, the largest known object in the scattered disc.
, 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
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
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.
Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun, is named after the Roman god of war because of its blood red color. Mars has two small, oddly-shaped moons, Phobos and Deimos, named after the sons of the Greek god Ares. At some point in the future Phobos will be broken up by gravitational forces. The atmosphere on Mars is 95% carbon dioxide. In 2003 methane was also discovered in the atmosphere. Since methane is an unstable gas, this indicates that there must be (or have been within the last few hundred years) a source of the gas on the planet.
- ...that the passing of the Great Comet of 1577 (pictured) caused almost century-long debate, during which Galileo argued that comets were merely optical illusions?